Email #278: “much needed leadership”?

You said after last year’s election:

“Regardless of which candidate you supported, the most important thing we can do is to come together and rally around the freedoms with which we are blessed. Let’s unite and get to work. I’m ready to do just that.”

You must be especially pleased then to see the President finally following your advice. After a surprisingly productive meeting with Democratic leaders Rep. Pelosi and Senator Schumer last week, President Trump said:

“I think we will have a different relationship than we’ve been watching over the last number of years. I hope so. I think that’s a great thing for our country. And I think that’s what the people of the United States want to see. They want to see some dialogue. They want to see coming together to an extent.”

The bipartisan change follows General Kelly taking over as the President’s chief of staff. After he replaced Reince Priebus, Kelly ousted several extremist members of the White House staff, most prominently chief strategist Steve Bannon. I think even conservatives should recognize this as a good move given the negative influence Bannon had on the President. Bannon said on 60 Minutes that he prevented Governor Chris Christie from receiving a cabinet position when Christie did not defend Donald Trump after the release of the Billy Bush tape in which the President bragged about committing sexual assault.

Kelly also ousted Fox News commentator and Breitbart employee Sebastian Gorka as deputy assistant, who said in his resignation letter: “It is clear to me that forces that do not support the [Make America Great Again] promise are — for now — ascendant within the White House,” because Gorka’s prefered term “Radical Islam” did not appear in the President’s Afghanistan speech.

Even Keith Schiller, the President’s personal assistant, has left. According to “Schiller has told friends that working under Kelly is very different, and that he doesn’t like the job as much. He has said he believes that Kelly doesn’t like Trump personally and is serving as chief of staff predominantly out of a sense of duty to country… That has been deeply demoralizing for Schiller, who is accustomed to Trump being surrounded by devoted employees.”

Schiller could no longer walk freely into the Oval Office once Kelly took charge.” Other staff members have lost similar privileges. Omarosa Manigault, a former star on the President’s reality TV show The Apprentice, is one of several White House aides now barred from “principals only” meetings. Reportedly doors to the West Wing lobby and to the halls and rooms surrounding the Oval Office are now kept closed and access to the President requires a formally approved appointment–including for his own daughter unless she needs to speak to her father about a private family matter. Kelly has limited phone access too, with some outside advisers complaining that their calls are no longer being returned. Kelly is also controlling the flow of print-outs the President receives, especially from alt-right news sites such as Breitbart and The Daily Caller.

One former aide said: “It was like a fraternity house the first six months and now it’s a military compound — it’s a fort.” As a result the President told a senior aide: “I now have time to think.”

Kelly has not curtailed the President’s use of Twitter or his constant viewing of Fox News, and Kelly was visibly upset when the President veered from a prepared statement during a press conference to defend his remarks regarding the KKK rally in Charlottesville. Still, last week’s bipartisan gestures suggest that Kelly’s efforts are bearing fruit.

Since you commended the Senate for confirming Kelly as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in January, you must have been equally pleased when he moved to the more pivotal role of White House Chief of Staff. Regarding Homeland Security, you said, “He will bring much needed leadership to a department that was deeply politicized during the Obama Administration.” He is now bringing that much needed leadership to the deeply dysfunctional Trump White House. And yet you have not praised or in any way commented on the changes Kelly has made. Are you pleased to see Bannon, Gorka, and other fraternity-like extremists leave and the White House operating under an orderly system?

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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