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Michael A. Cohen

America is being run by racists

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

See if you detect a pattern here.

When John Kelly was picked to be head of the Department of Homeland Security, he declared that the American people had voted in November 2016 to “take back sovereignty at our borders and put a stop to political correctness” dictating national security decisions.

Once on the job, Kelly, who said “American values had a mortal enemy called radical Islam,” was a frequent defender of President Trump’s Muslim ban, which he had the responsibility for implementing.

He became an enthusiastic apparatchik in Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants, with a 40 percent increase in deportation arrests during the six months that he held the job. He created an office at DHS that focused on the victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, which he claimed had long been ignored. In public speeches he depicted the threat from undocumented immigrants in apocalyptic terms, arguing in April that Americans are “under attack from criminals who think their greed justifies raping young girls at knifepoint, dealing poison to our youth, or killing just for fun.”

As White House chief of staff, Kelly recently got into a public fight with Frederica Wilson, a black congresswoman from Florida, who criticized Trump for the phone call he made to Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed earlier this month in Niger. Kelly called Wilson an “empty barrel” and falsely accused her of publicly grandstanding at the dedication of a new FBI headquarters in 2015.


On Monday, he said he would never apologize for his comments.

Kelly also refused to apologize to Johnson, who Trump made cry when he called her to console her over the loss of her husband. In fact, Kelly accused the Gold Star widow of politicizing the issue.


In the same interview, Kelly called Robert E. Lee “an honorable man who gave up his country to fight for his state.” He also said that “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War” and that “men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”

The pattern in Kelly’s behavior is not hard to discern: He unambiguously embraces the bigoted ethos of the Trump administration.

It’s yet another shocking example of the extent to which America is today a country governed by racists.

We all know about Trump’s 2016 race-baiting campaign, in which he called undocumented Mexican immigrants rapists and said a federal judge could not give him a fair trial because of his “Mexican heritage.” As president, Trump refused to condemn neo-Nazis and said there some “very fine people” who marched in Charlottesville under a swastika flag. In recent weeks, he said Confederate statues represent “our heritage,” which will no doubt come as a shock to the millions of black Americans who are descended from slaves.

Meanwhile, Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general, has made a career out of limiting nonwhite immigration to America and had previously been rejected for a judgeship because of past racist comments. One of Sessions’ former aides, Stephen Miller, who shares Sessions’ hard line on immigration, is one of Trump’s top domestic policy advisers. Trump’s closest aide for the first few months of his presidency, Steve Bannon, had previously run Breitbart, which regularly trafficked in racist and anti-Semitic tropes and even had a news section titled “Black Crime.”


Now Trump employs a chief of staff who believes the failure to “compromise” over the enslavement of black people is what caused the Civil War, rather than the refusal of some Americans to compromise over the actual enslavement of black people.

At a time when America is increasingly becoming a multicultural society, with whites making up 60 percent of all Americans, compared to 85 percent in the mid-1960s, we have a president who not only continues to govern almost exclusively for white America, but who also regularly disrespects and belittles the dignity of minority Americans. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be a black person witnessing the White House chief of staff praising a Confederate general, but yet here we are.

I try to be an optimist when it comes to politics. I still think the arc of history bends toward justice – though my confidence has been severely tested over the past two years. One wants — almost needs — to believe that the better angels of our nature will prevail. But in the way that racists like Jeff Sessions, Stephen Miller, and, yes, John Kelly, have embraced Trump’s wretched political agenda is an unfortunate reminder that the forces of darkness will not give up without a fight.


Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.