Character, Schmaracter: Honor Violations at the Highest Levels
Author: Kyle M
30 October 2017
As I discussed in my speech at convocation, the Honor Council handles cases of lying, cheating, and stealing. I pointed out then that cheating and plagiarism dominate our case load, while lying and stealing are fairly minor at most. However, it’s lying that I want to focus on today, because while here at Shorecrest it appears to be a non-issue, it’s starting to become worryingly entrenched in the current presidential administration.
On Sunday, October 15, President Trump declared that week (which corresponded with our Homecoming) to be “National Character Counts Week.” The series of events that followed was, somewhat entertainingly, not a prime example of robust character on the part of the administration.
On Monday, when asked at a press conference about the deaths of four U.S. soldiers in Niger, the President Trump deflected, stating “if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls.” On Tuesday, he doubled down on this, and also claimed, “I think I’ve called every family of someone who’s died.”
These are both simply lies. Multiple aides to former Presidents Bush and Obama protested vociferously, and it’s clear that both presidents made calls or wrote letters to the families of fallen soldiers. Reporters also later found that President Trump has not called a large number of families, and, in some cases, did not even write.
On Tuesday night, he apparently bungled a call to the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson, clumsily telling her that “he knew what he signed up for” and repeatedly referring to Sergeant Johnson as “your man” instead of “your husband” or using his name. All this is according to a Democratic Congresswoman, Frederica Wilson, who was present for the call.
The Trump administration then attacked the congresswoman for relating the story, calling her account a “total fabrication” (despite it being supported by the widow) and accusing her of politicizing the death of a soldier (despite doing the same thing at the press conference on Monday).
On Thursday, the President’s Chief of Staff, four-star General John Kelly, attacked Congresswoman Wilson again. Calling her an “empty barrel,” Kelly asserted she had politicized the deaths of servicemen in the past. He cited the dedication of an FBI building in Miami in 2015 in which she, according to him, claimed to have “ just called up President Obama” to secure funding and bragged to her constituents about it.
The Sun-Sentinel, a South Florida paper, promptly found video of the congresswoman’s speech, in which she did no such thing. In fact, she credited multiple legislators of both parties in helping her secure the naming rights – not the funding – for the building.
Finally, on Friday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that questioning the Chief of Staff’s account would be “highly inappropriate” because of his military status – a strangely authoritarian statement in a democratic government – and doubled down further on his clearly false story.
So, what’s the tally for National Character Counts Week? Numerous lies and misrepresentations, a general’s reputation – before this week praiseworthy – now tarnished, and yet another military family in a feud with the commander-in-chief.
I don’t mean to single out one side of the aisle here – I fully acknowledge that both sides bend or ignore the truth, and I don’t want to use this column in a one-sided manner – but this administration in particular has consistently proven itself to be untrustworthy on literally hundreds of matters. This past week is just one sad example.
Where does this leave us as a nation? In a “post-truth” world, as some have suggested we are now in, how can we tell fact from fiction? What can be done to ensure that discourse – on any range of issues – is truthful? How can the Honor Council hold students to a standard that isn’t kept up once they leave the walls of Landy?
These questions require introspection on our part as a community. Last week’s Willis Lecture is just one part of that; journalism can be a lens through which the world is illuminated. As we sail through uncharted political waters, we’d be smart to consider these ideas thoroughly and thoughtfully, for we might need the answers wherever we’re going.