John Kelly’s comments about the Civil War, according to historians, were “strange,” “sad” and “wrong.” One thing they shouldn’t be, however, is surprising.

The immediate online backlash to Kelly’s assertion that the country’s bloodiest conflict resulted from “the lack of an ability to compromise” belied a troubling reality: The chief of staff is actually in good company. In 2011, a 48 percent plurality of Americans in a Pew poll said the war was mostly about states’ rights. Most teachers tell their students more or less the same thing, and history textbooks for decades have hawked the false tale of the Lost Cause. Even the U.S. citizenship test accepts “economic reasons” and “states’ rights” as correct responses to the prompt, “Name one problem that led to the Civil War.”

The Civil War, of course, was about slavery. But when so many still subscribe to the alternative narrative, there’s no reason to expect a Republican president’s right-hand man to do any different. There was also no reason to expect Kelly not to defend his boss when he got into a spat with a Gold Star widow this month, or not to wade into the culture wars (women are “sacred,” society cares too little for the “dignity of life”) at the same time.

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Kelly knew what he was signing up for — when he came on as chief of staff, and when he was sworn in as homeland security secretary for a president whose campaign platform centered on building a massive wall to block out Mexicans. And still, people seem shocked at his supposed fall from grace. Why? Because it does not fit into the comforting story they’ve been telling themselves about the man they see as the only thing stopping President Trump from blowing the world to smithereens.

This attitude toward Kelly, especially from those who oppose everything Trump has ever stood for, fits a pattern. Some progressives are so desperate to see Trump contained that they are willing to view men such as Kelly and Rex Tillerson as allies. But those men serve at the pleasure of the president, and so they are doomed to disappoint.

Progressives are also so desperate to see Trump countered that they’re willing to view the men and women on the Hill who sometimes stand up to his agenda as allies, too. A snarky interview, a strident op-ed or a stirring speech transforms even an establishment Republican into a hero of the resistance. These senators and representatives are not in Trump’s Cabinet, which means they may not let the left down by catering to the president’s worst tendencies. But there are many other ways they’ll fall short.

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Last week, while many Democrats still were fawning over Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) for calling on conservatives to condemn Trump, Flake was back on the Senate floor voting to make it harder for consumers to sue the financial industry. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), another unlikely “resistance” hero, was doing the same thing. So were Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). These senators are also all likely to back a tax bill that, however it comes out, will help rich Americans and drag down the rest of the economy.

The disaster of Trump has led to a widespread lowering of standards. Kelly, in the end, has proved unable to reach a bar that now rests close to the ground. But even those who meet that diminished mark don’t deserve wholesale approval from liberals who, independent of Trump, wouldn’t agree with most of the things they stand for. If we fall into that trap, we’re in for many more unpleasant “surprises.”

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