Commentary: A Camel’s Back And A World’s Worth Of Straw


By Michael Leppert

The idiom “the straw that breaks the camel’s back” is often defined as the final terrible thing that makes a situation unbearable. Other sources describe the “last straw” as an otherwise minor or routine event that taken in the collection with all the others, makes the cumulative effect unacceptable.

America’s patience and the strength of its proverbial camel’s back are clearly being tested by Rob Porter and John Kelly.

Porter is the soon to be former staff secretary in the White House. He resigned on Wednesday in the face of abuse allegations raised against him by three women, two of whom are his ex-wives. Both of his ex-wives were interviewed by the FBI in January of 2017 as part of a routine background check for Porter’s necessary security clearance.

He has never received that clearance.

Porter’s first ex-wife, Colbie Holderness, shared a photo with investigators last year and now the media of herself with a black eye she got after a punch from him. The photo was taken in the summer of 2005. Jennifer Willoughby, his second ex-wife, disclosed to the bureau the protective order she obtained against Porter in June of 2010. She also shared news of another police intervention at their home following a domestic violence incident. These are public records.

Both women were contacted by a third woman in 2016 claiming to be Porter’s girlfriend. She sought them out for advice and support while she was dealing with abuse from him as well.

All of the details of these accounts were provided to the FBI more than a year ago.

White House Chief of Staff, Gen. John Kelly, had been informed of at least portions of the information last fall after taking over the reins from Trump’s first chief, Reince Priebus.

When the women’s stories began to publicly surface this week, dignitaries in D.C. rushed to the defense of Porter’s character. Kelly’s initial statement included this description of Porter: “a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him.”

His former boss, Sen. Orrin Hatch, sung Porter’s praises on Wednesday before a retraction on Thursday. Kelly is not veering so much because doing so would amount to an admission of wrongdoing on his part. That moment will come on this one eventually.

It is important to know what the White House staff secretary does. Job titles like that can mean just about anything. But this job is in charge of the flow of paperwork, the record, often times classified documents in the office of the president. There is a flood of pictures online of Porter with Trump. He travels with him. He shook the hand of China President Xi Jinping. Some refer to him as a deputy chief of staff.

To add to the drama, Porter is now in a romantic relationship with White House Communications Director Hope Hicks. Her place in Trump’s inner circle precedes everyone else in the administration.

Yet still, he has not received his permanent security clearance. Now we know he won’t ever receive it.

So, why was his presence allowed to continue after the White House was informed of this?

Was it that Porter’s dad worked for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush? Was it that he graduated from Harvard and Oxford? Was it that he served as a Mormon missionary?

He has a resume that would make his profile as a domestic abuser simply hard to believe. Right?

Wrong. His violent past is documented. Believe it. The FBI believes it. Furthermore, abusers come in all shapes and sizes.

Hopefully, someday soon, presidential administrations will be so intolerant of domestic abuse and abusers, that the mere mention of it will cause appropriate alarm. I think that day might be upon most other Americans already. The rest of the country is experiencing a different #metoo moment.

All of this makes Porter, and possibly Kelly susceptible to blackmail. The lengths some have already taken to hide this is scandalous.

The Trump administration has spent the entire first year of its term obliterating protocols. Some were destroyed on purpose. Others were destroyed because the character of this team is incapable of complying. This particular straw seems like a combination of both of those things.

But is this the last straw?

It should be for Gen. Kelly. He was supposed to be the adult in the room. His gaffes are piling up, and the word is that Trump did not know about Porter’s checkered past.

Or was it the FBI who had finally had enough of Trump that led to the reports of this humiliating vulnerability? Could be.

No matter how heavy it seems, there will be a straw that breaks the camel’s back of America. It may not happen until the next election, but our knees are clearly wobbling and a broken back feels all but inevitable.