It is not easy to admit when you are wrong. But the mark of the character of a man is when he can do so. A man who cannot, or will not, apologize when he is in the wrong is not a real man no matter how many ribbons are pinned to his chest.
Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps.
combat pilot and human rights activist
who practices law in Virginia.
On Oct. 19, Gen. John Kelly, Donald Trump’s chief of staff, publicly made an erroneous statement about U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. The statement was meant to show her in a poor light and to damage her credibility. But the statement was factually incorrect and did more to damage the public perception of John Kelly than Congresswoman Wilson.
This incident arose from a botched condolence call from Donald Trump to the widow of La David Johnson, a Green Beret soldier killed in action the week before. The story was in the headlines for over a week until reporters and pundits began focusing on more recent events to serve to their viewers and readers. But John Kelly’s role and the subsequent ugliness that unfolded should not be so easily forgotten or dismissed.
Kelly, often characterized by White House observers as one of the “adults in the room,” is thought by many to be a stabilizing influence within the Trump Administration. But his recent actions have proven that he is infected with the foolishness and dishonesty that hangs around Donald Trump like an odorous fog.
For starters, Kelly used his white privilege to assert who is and is not allowed to be with a grieving family while they mourn the loss of a loved who has fallen in combat. Knowing nothing of the relationship between La David Johnson’s family and Congresswoman Wilson, the former Marine general dictated that the congresswoman was not worthy to accompany the fallen soldier’s family at their time of distress.
The optics of a white man, who knew nothing of a Black soldier who was killed in action or his family relationships, believing himself to have the competence to vette that soldier’s friends and family raises a great deal of resentment within the Black community. The unmitigated gall of General Kelly to attempt to assert such authority is disgusting and illustrates in yet another way how many white Americans believe they can control every aspect of Black folks’ lives.
But this bit of Kelly’s presumptuousness is not the extent of his bad behavior. After having clearly made himself to appear the fool by trying to regulate who could and could not grieve with the Johnson family, he then took it upon himself to attack a member of Congress who has a close relationship with La David Johnson’s family. This attack took the form of inferring that Congresswoman Wilson is a liar and an “empty barrel;” the latter term being one he has claimed his mother used to refer to individuals with little or no substance.
In order to give weight to his accusations against Congresswoman Wilson, Kelly purported to give witness to an incident where the Congresswoman falsely took credit for having secured the funds necessary to construct an FBI building. Soon after Kelly claimed to have witnessed this incident, it was proven not to have happened. Kelly was wrong, and he had given false witness against Congresswoman Wilson in a very public way.
The facts surrounding John Kelly’s lie are well known and need not be detailed at length here. But what needs to be pointed out is that nearly a week after having been proven a liar, John Kelly refuses to apologize to Congresswoman Wilson for blatantly bearing false witness against her in an effort to besmirch her character. There is only one way to explain Kelly’s behavior.
John Kelly is not man enough to apologize to Congresswoman Wilson. He is either too dishonest or too weak to do so. It may be that he is too dishonest to admit that he clearly lied in an attempt injure Congresswoman Wilson’s reputation or it may be the case that he is too weak to stand up to a twisted and despicable boss who pressures him to stick to his lie. In either case, Kelly’s behavior is not the behavior of a real man.