To the men and women of the Trump White House–the curious, the hopeful, the desperate and the dubious–the all-hands summons was a little out of the ordinary.
It invited everyone to a meeting the next day in an unusual place: not a room in the cramped West Wing or the much larger South Court Auditorium, which is typically used for such sessions, but the quieter marbled entryway of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House. After almost 200 days of infighting, leaks and operatic staff shake-ups, morale was running a bit thin. Hundreds of people, including dozens who have been exiled from the West Wing for a sorely needed renovation, turned up to meet the new boss.
No introduction was needed. John Kelly simply stepped to the microphone and said, “Hi. Nice to meet you. I’m from Boston.” As the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and other senior aides watched from the wings, the retired four-star Marine general then rallied the embattled troops and laid down new rules of engagement. He urged his staff to stop the infighting and set their egos and agendas (and any leaking) aside. With a nod to the Marine credo–God, Country, Corps–he told his audience that they must start serving a hierarchy that put the nation, and not the President, first: “Country, President, Self,” he said.
So began a new era at Donald Trump’s White House, one that might be his best, or last, chance for success. Almost overnight, Kelly shut the always-open door to the Oval Office, sent hangers-on back to their desks, fired the combustible communications director Anthony Scaramucci and told all the leaders of all the many White House factions to report to him, not to the President. No one knows whether Kelly will succeed, how long he might last or if the general’s starched-shirt discipline will be rejected by the client. Early results were mixed, and skeptics are not hard to find. But Kelly clearly arrived with a mission: to fix a broken system that the nation and the world depends on every day to keep the ship called Earth in the middle of the channel.
Of course, almost any new order is better than the chaos that reigned in the White House before July 31. “It’s at rock bottom,” said one White House aide of the mood when Kelly took over. That doesn’t mean brighter days ahead. “Well, with this White House, it could always get worse.”