Authority

On Friday, October 20, 2017, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders chastised the media for questioning a couple of purely factual statements. “But I think,” she said, “that if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.”

I want to know why she thinks it’s inappropriate. Does she think that the truth or falsity of a statement depends on who says it? Does she think that there is a military rank high enough to confer infallibility? Does she think that someone skilled in the art of war, or in command of weaponry, must prevail in any factual dispute?

Or does she think that General John Kelly is our superior?

The members of our military deserve great respect, for their dedication, their prowess, and their willingness to sacrifice. None of these attributes ensures that their powers of recollection are better than those of others; and their loyalty does not make them more likely to tell the truth in the face of what they see as an attack.

Two of the questions involved in this imbroglio are purely factual: whether President Trump, in a telephone call to a grieving widow, which General Kelley did not hear, made a particular statement; and, whether, in a speech made a couple of years earlier, Frederica Wilson, a member of Congress from Florida, had made another particular statement.

The President himself had raised the issue of how he handled condolences in the case of fallen soldiers, in comparison with his predecessors.  General Kelly had apparently briefed him before this particular call, so that it would go well, and that may be one reason that the General assumes that it did. If that presumption is more powerful than actual evidence, I want to know why.

Is it just that the Administration assigns moral authority based on service?

Do they mean to propose a better basis for belief than truth?

Or is it that they expect to be able to command us not to question assertions made on their behalf? It must be tempting to confuse military and civilian authority. There is little doubt that a soldier’s politics are informed by the military’s needs. How efficient to convince the citizenry that its duties are similar.

There is a word for enforced patriotism.

There is a word for using the military to govern.

There is a word for substituting power for truth.

You’re not going to like it.