COMMENTARY: It was the cheese that let John Kelly down


Why did White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly shift and grimace in discomfort when President Trump spoke about Germany being “totally controlled” by Russia?

“[Kelly] was displeased because he was expecting a full breakfast and there were only pastries and cheese,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told The Washington Post.

But it was nothing the president said, of course.

Kelly no longer hears anything the president says. Trump’s words are a kind of soothing low dog-whistle that plays in the background at all times, a sort of mosquito hum that he checks only periodically to make certain it is still complaining that anyone not from Norway would have the temerity to come to America seeking a better life, and then goes back to ignoring.

The reason Kelly shifted and bobbed uncomfortably in his seat while the president spoke about Russia and Germany, the reason Kelly wore the facial expression of someone who had hungrily de-voured a mouthful of expired egg salad, was certainly not anything the president said. It was not shame or chagrin that we were saying this right in front of our allies. It is just that Kelly was enraged by cheese. And pastries!

Kelly had been insulted with a continental breakfast — Barely! Barely! — rather than a full, hot one. The organizers of this summit had clearly treated the critical problem of breakfast with scarcely more regard than this administration gives to reuniting children with their families. It had been an afterthought — or less! Kelly was right to shake with rage.

Someone had “or whatever-ed” the essential question of what Kelly might consume that morning, instead of saving this laissez-faire attitude for the fate of children, where it more properly belonged. No wonder he quivered with discomfort. No wonder he shifted gloomily in his seat as though he wished the earth to swallow him whole. No wonder he looked embarrassed and sad, like a dog in a sweater.

That expression of shock and distaste — one that normally a chief of staff might wear when the president said something that embarrassed us on the world stage and alienated our allies to no clear end — is one Kelly reserves for the thought that he will not have any access to an omelet station. Think of being denied an omelet and see if you can make any possible face other than the one Kelly made. He had no English muffins, nor any French toast.

A pastry and cheese. This was as insulting as being told your country belonged to Russia, hypo-thetically, if anyone had said something like that. But to Kelly’s mind, no one did.

John Kelly sat writhing in the unspeakable agony of a remembered breakfast. He is not ashamed of the president’s remarks at all.

Alexandra Petri is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow her @petridishes.