The Myth of the Adult in the Room

National stories – about national principles – apply to places big and small, including Whitewater, Wisconsin.

Monica Hesse’s John Kelly and the myth of the ‘adult in the room’ summarizes about a national figure a myth that’s common locally, too:

If you can remember back to Kelly’s appointment, six thousand years ago in 2017, the event was met with hopefulness bordering on fan fiction. “The kind of discipline he’s going to bring is important,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told CNN. “He will bring some plain-spoken discipline,” The Washington Post offered. It quoted an anonymous friend of Kelly’s who heralded the appointment as “the end of the chaos.” He would be — as Washington’s most favored way of describing non-Trumpish White House employees would have it — the adult in the room.


Amid tumult and partisanship, Kelly was appointed, and here was an upstanding father-figure for us all, ready to take on rancor, sloppiness and general ineptitude. He could fix things. He had epaulets.

As his tenure progressed, of course, he couldn’t bring discipline. Nobody could. There’s simply no way to enforce structure on a commander in chief who apparently abhors it.

And as Kelly’s tenure progressed, it also became clear that he couldn’t bring an end to rancor and controversy either. Because, it turns out, he brought controversy with him.

Yes: supposed maturity means nothing without principle, and principle requires reading, observation, and reasoning that mere age does not assure.

Years are only meaningful for policymakers if they produce and then sustain sound judgment.

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