The recent forced resignation of the ultra-right Steve Bannon as chief strategic adviser to the White House was seen by many mainstream political elites in Washington as a major political triumph over the “alt-right” who have turned conventional political wisdom on its head and raised a lot of eyebrows in the US ever since President Donald Trump took office in January.
As a retired four-star Marine general and the incumbent Secretary for Homeland Security before he was appointed as the new White House chief of staff, John Kelly is perhaps the most prestigious and highly regarded figure in Trump’s administration.
Kelly is not only known for his ability to keep a very high standard of discipline wherever he is put in charge but also for being among a handful of political personalities in Washington who are above partisanship.
Besides, he also sees eye to eye with President Trump on certain key issues such as combating the influx of illegal immigrants and drugs from Mexico and has endorsed his proposal to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. In fact, his appointment did not come as a surprise at all because he is widely regarded as one of Trump’s most trusted men.
However, it is getting increasingly apparent that Kelly did not take the job just to advance his own political career under President Trump, but rather, to serve a “higher purpose”, which is to root out the remaining influence of the “alt-right” in the Trump administration and put things right in the White House on behalf of the military and the political establishment in order to ensure that every important decision made in the Oval Office would be in the best strategic interests of the US.
One of the major reasons the last White House chief of staff Reince Priebus was removed from office was that he was unable to maintain the most basic discipline and enforce rules in the West Wing. As a result, many “alt-right” rookies in the Trump administration simply bypassed him and talked to the president directly in order to influence his decisions.
Dismayed at the unfettered and chaotic situation around the president, mainstream Republican leaders found that an urgent task before them was to find someone who could enforce discipline in the White House and build a system which the president’s staff would respect, and John Kelly just happened to be exactly the person they were looking for.
And it seems Kelly did live up to their expectations. On day 1, he already vowed that he would strictly control both access and information flow to President Trump so that from now on not a single piece of unvetted information or message would be land on the president’s desk again.
Some political commentators have said that by imposing tight procedures and discipline on White House operations, Kelly was actually declaring war on the “alt-right”.
In the meantime, Kelly, who represents the vested interests of the military as well as the Republican establishment, played a pivotal role in firing the highly controversial Anthony Scaramucci just 10 days after his appointment as White House communications director and in successfully persuading President Trump into stepping up US military commitment to Afghanistan, a U-turn from the isolationist pledges he made during the election campaign.
At present, the military and the so-called “New York gang”, or financial officials in the Trump administration, are working closely together to completely eliminate the “alt-right” in Trump’s inner circle.
If they succeed, the Trump administration is likely to become a lot more stable and predictable. However, for those who voted for Trump in the hope that he can topple the political status quo, they will be very disappointed if things do play out that way.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 23
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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