Gen. Kelly has been hacked by the president

Gen. John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE was just hacked. Not by Russian trolls, but by President Donald Trump’s pernicious and voracious need to be vindicated. It was a disappointing turn of events to see a Marine-turned-chief-of-staff take the White House lectern and complete his transformation from the adult in the room to a political attack dog.

This new role serves neither his boss nor the nation well.

It was a stunning development in what already had become a vulgar couple of days; a sacrosanct ceremonial act — the president calling the families of fallen soldiers to express his deepest sympathies — had turned into a series of insults and accusations, started by President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer chairman of Wisconsin GOP party signals he will comply with Jan. 6 committee subpoena Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon tells Russia to stand down Billionaire GOP donor maxed out to Manchin following his Build Back Better opposition MORE himself.


Gen. Kelly’s comments in a vacuum were not off target. His frustration regarding the disgusting state of our civil discourse is shared by most Americans — and the rest of the world. Many would also agree that things that used to be sacred no longer are — women, religion, Gold Star families.

But what was so jaw-dropping about Kelly’s comments was that they were not made in a vacuum. They were made from the press room of a White House whose current occupant was the perpetrator of the vile actions that violently stripped the sacredness out of the very things — and people — Kelly was talking about.

Did Gen. Kelly forget that it was Trump who callously attacked a Gold Star family — the Khans — during the summer political conventions of 2016? Did he forget that it was Trump who viciously insulted a war hero — Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden seeks to ward off second Ukraine-Russia fight Voto Latino CEO: Sinema will have a 'very difficult pathway' in 2024 reelection Meghan McCain rips 'selfish' Sarah Palin for dining out despite COVID-19 diagnosis MORE (R-Ariz.) — when he said that he likes heroes who weren’t captured?

Did Gen. Kelly forget that it was his boss who was caught on tape bragging about committing sexual assault and attacking any woman he wanted by grabbing her by the genitals? Did he forget that it was his boss — and later Kelly himself as the secretary of Homeland Security — that disrespected a whole religion by trying to implement the Muslim ban?

I understand why Gen. Kelly was upset. After all, his own son’s death had been brought into the putrid spiral of Trump rhetoric. What's more, I am not convinced that it was Gen. Kelly’s choice to come out and play the role of partisan pundit and political henchman for Trump.


But he did, and by doing so, he has descended into the muck of uncivil partisanship that he himself was deriding.

Did Gen. Kelly have to insult Rep. Frederica WilsonFrederica Patricia WilsonFlorida Democrats call on DeSantis to accept federal help to expand COVID-19 testing In their own words: Lawmakers, staffers remember Jan. 6 insurrection FAA levies 5K in fines against unruly passengers this year MORE (D-Fla.) who was standing up for the young Gold Star widow who felt Trump had disrespected her, the memory of her fallen husband and their family? What's worse, we now know some of the things Gen. Kelly asserted about the congresswoman are not true

Yes, the Congresswoman took it up a notch by going on TV to stick up for the young wife who was upset by Trump’s call.

But Gen. Kelly is a retired four-star Marine general and chief of staff to the president of the United States. Isn’t it his role to calm the storm, represent real valor and integrity and seek to unify the country after an incredibly difficult but self-inflicted misstep, especially when his boss is completely unable and unequipped to do so?

But he chose not to. Furthermore, Gen. Kelly did a huge disservice to Trump when he shared with him how he was informed by his friend and colleague, Gen. Joseph Dunford, that his son was killed on the battlefield in 2006.


I don’t believe Gen. Kelly intended to give his boss bad advice, but when he mentioned the words that were used with him, ones similar to what Trump used when he spoke to the young widow of fallen soldier, Sgt. La David Johnson, he should have differentiated between the varying contextual realities that exist between his life and that of Ms. Johnson’s.

The words “he knew what he was signing up for …” or any variation thereof, will fall very differently on the ears of an older, lifelong Marine general than they would on the ears of a 24-year-old mother of two — who has another on the way — especially when they are coming from someone who didn’t even seem to know her husband’s name.

We know Trump can do better. We know he has the ability to at least seem empathetic. We recently heard a very different call he placed to another young widow. In that call, Trump used appropriately sensitive language.

Gen. Kelly should have told him to repeat those sentiments exactly, or he should have sought out better advice for his boss on how to handle these sensitive calls. He should not have shared the words he received and passed them on as if Trump should use the same approach.

But when Kelly stepped up to the national podium to try to vindicate and defend the indefensible with hypocritical statements full of sad irony, he not only did a huge disservice to Trump, he also sadly did a huge disservice to himself and to the nation he has loved and served all of his life.

Maria Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.