During an interview on Fox News on Monday, President Donald Trump's chief of staff, John Kelly, made controversial remarks about the Civil War, suggesting that "the lack of an ability to compromise" led to the outbreak of war between the Union and the Confederacy. Kelly also referred to General Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate States of America, as an "honorable man." It's not difficult to understand why Kelly's remarks immediately sparked outrage. Ultimately, "compromise" wouldn't have ended slavery.
During the interview, Kelly spoke at length about how he did not believe it was acceptable to use modern standards to evaluate historical occurrences, saying, " ... 500 years later, it's inconceivable to me that you would take what we think now and apply it back then. I just think it's very very dangerous. It shows you how much of a lack of appreciation of history and what history is."
Kelly then more specifically addressed the civil war and reflected on how he believed the war was merely driven by the North and the South being unwilling to compromise:
[Confederate General] Robert E. Lee was an honorable man who gave up his country to fight for his state ... One hundred and fifty years ago, that was more important than country — it was always loyalty to state back in those days. Now it's different. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.
As several users on Twitter pointed out, Kelly's comments about "men and women of good faith on both sides" during the Civil War perhaps seemed to echo President Trump's controversial comments following the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia in August, in which a group of counter-protestors at a white nationalist rally were struck by a vehicle. In the wake of the tragedy, Trump controversially declared that there were some “very fine people on both sides" when referring to the white nationalists and the counter-protesters in Charlottesville.
Kelly's sentiments about the civil war, particularly in regards to preserving its legacy via statues of confederate leaders, also seem similar to those of Trump. When discussing his aforementioned take on historic standards, Kelly cited tearing down statutes as something that is "dangerous" and reflects a lack of historical appreciation.
Trump has expressed similar sentiments about preserving status of Confederate leaders, saying in August, "Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can't change history, but you can learn from it." Those who want the statues removed say they represent white supremacy since, as Vox noted, the American civil war was fought to maintain slavery and white supremacy in the U.S.
As CNBC pointed out, during his interview, Kelly did not suggest what type of compromise he believes could have ended the civil war — a war which was largely fought over the future of slavery in America, as the South's economy was highly dependent on slave labor. CNN noted that Kelly never made any mention of slavery during the interview.
Many on Twitter were aghast at Kelly's comments. In addition to making a linkage between Kelly's comments about the civil war and Trump's comments on Charlottesville, Twitter users also chastised him for suggesting compromise was possible, with one user noting "Chief of Staff John Kelly's comments are wrong. There is no compromise between slavery and freedom." Another user characterized Kelly's comments as " ... straight up white supremacy wrapped in faux civility and authority"
Kelly's remarks about the civil war were certainly controversial, to say they very least. Time will tell if Kelly (or Trump) will take note of the public's reaction to his remarks — and whether or not the president or his chief of staff will respond to public outcry on the issue.