John Kelly’s forthcoming departure as White House chief of staff is a reminder of an important but underpublicized distinction among those who have chosen to support or work for President Donald Trump.The distinction is between those whom Trump has made bad, and those who have been revealed as bad through their association with this man. (There’s also a small “not yet bad” category, which I will get to later on.)
In the first category,“made bad,” are people who in other circumstances might have taken a harder, higher-minded path. They might have chosen to stand on principle, to take the long view, to seek out reasonable compromises, to defend the norms and values of American institutions—and, overall, to behave in a way they’d be happy to talk about later on. Many of these people have actually made those choices at previous times in their life.
The way Trump has made them bad is to put them in a corner where day-by-day they have to choose: Do they maintain their place within his organization, sheltered against his ridicule or wrath? Do they remain, even if it means accepting Trump’s lies, lying when necessary themselves, ignoring the standards they’d apply to any other leaders, and renouncing the policy goals they had defended through their previous careers? For today’s Republicans, those goals would include at least a lip-service interest in reducing deficits, a ferocious opposition to talk of trade wars and tariffs, at least a rhetorical reverence for the military, and an assumption that immigration was overall a plus for the United States. This is to say nothing of the modern GOP’s hair-trigger willingness to investigate possible conflicts of interest or abuses of executive power by the Clinton and Obama administrations.