There was a reason why he spent 42 years on active duty rather than run for mayor of Boston. He probably already knows, but if not he will soon learn, that he will be as dispensable as his predecessor, that Trump hates any of his subordinates being too powerful or too visible. And worst of all, he will soon find himself wrestling with the moral corruption that being close to this man entails. You cannot work directly for Trump while adhering to a code of honesty, integrity, and lawfulness. Sooner or later Kelly will have to defend the White House’s jabber about “fake news,” “alternative facts,” and “witch hunts.” He will have to ascribe to Trump virtues that he does not possess, and deny the moral lapses and quite possibly the crimes that he has committed.
There is one further reason to find this appointment depressing. It contributes to the continuing decay of American civil-military relations. Those of us who were relieved to see James Mattis as secretary of defense, H. R. McMaster as national-security adviser, and Kelly himself as secretary of homeland security, felt that way partly out of appreciation for the virtues of all three men, but also, very largely, out of relief that their sanity might contain their boss’s craziness. But it is inappropriate to have so many generals in policy-making positions; it is profoundly wrong to have a president regard the military as a constituency, and corrupting to have the Republican Party, such as it is, act as though generals have if not a monopoly then at least dominant market share in the qualities of executive ability and patriotism. It is unwise to have higher-level positions in the hands of officials who have openly expressed disdain for Congress—now a dangerously weak branch of government.