White House chief of staff John Kelly caught some flak after he praised Confederate leaders on Fox News on Monday night, calling Robert E. Lee “an honorable man” and arguing that “the lack of ability to compromise caused the Civil War.”
The quotes led some historians to describe the interview as ‘‘strange,’’ ‘‘highly provocative,’’ ‘‘dangerous,’’ and ‘‘kind of depressing.’’ Meanwhile, some also poked fun at Kelly’s head-scratching recollection of historical facts.
of course lack of compromise caused the civil war!— Alexandra Petri (@petridishes) October 31, 2017
if iron man had just—
oh the actual civil war?
no that was definitely because of slavery
Who exactly should have been compromising in the lead-up to the Civil War? Because I feel like slaves weren't given a choice in the matter.— Michael Ian Black (@michaelianblack) October 31, 2017
So how would the White House defend President Trump’s chief of staff’s comments?
Standing before a packed press room on Tuesday, press secretary Sarah Sanders took a question from New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush, who asked her to expand on what Kelly meant about “compromise” leading to the Civil War.
“Look, all of our leaders have flaws — Washington, Jefferson, JFK, Roosevelt, Kennedy. That doesn’t diminish their contributions to our country and it certainly can’t erase them from our history,” Sanders responded. “General Kelly was simply making the point that just because history isn’t perfect doesn’t mean that it’s not our history.”
When Thrush followed up about honoring the more despicable Confederate figures of the Civil War — using Nathan Bedford Forrest as an example — Sanders dodged the question.
“I don’t think we should sit here and debate every single moment of history,” she said. “I think those moments took place — there are moments that we’re going to be a lot less proud of than others, but we can’t erase the fact that they happened.”
Sanders also said that Trump thinks states should be able to decide amongst themselves what to do with local statues of Confederate leaders.
“That’s who I’m representing here today,” Sanders said, referring to the president, “so I’m not going to get into the back and forth on it.”
However, several minutes later, a different reporter brought up Kelly’s comments, also resurrecting Trump’s previous puzzling claims about Andrew Jackson being upset about the Civil War — which started 16 years after his death — before asking Sanders again what “compromise” Kelly was referring to.
“I don’t know if I’m going to get into debating the Civil War,” Sanders replied. “I do know many historians, including Shelby Foote and Ken Burns’ famous Civil War documentary, agree that a failure to compromise was a cause of the Civil War. There are a lot of historians that think that, and there are a lot of different versions of those compromises. I’m not going to get up here and relitigate the Civil War, but there’s certainly, I think, some historical documentation that many people, and there’s pretty strong consensus — people from the left, the right, the North and the South — that believe that if some of the individuals engaged had been willing to come to some compromises on different things, it might not have had occurred.”
“Compromises on different things?” an incredulous reporter could be heard asking before another journalist forged ahead with a question on a new topic.
The exchange led “Shelby Foote” to briefly trend on Twitter.