Generals

Speaking Truth To Power

by Lt. Gen. Clarence E. McKnight, Jr.

There is a drumbeat of criticism surrounding President Trump in his first few weeks in office. I heard one fellow say 25 percent of the people hate him, 25 percent love him and 50 percent are undecided.

Count me among the 50 percent. I am well aware the President has made some poor decisions and drawn a lot of unnecessary flak. But to some extent, he is simply being the same guy he was on the campaign trail, and that is the guy the people elected. No one should be surprised.

A great deal of the heat being applied to President Trump is coming from a privileged sector of our society that is openly contemptuous of working people – the same working people who do the tough jobs and send their sons and daughters to defend our country. I like to think myself public spirited and I most assuredly do care about the environment. But I also care about the tens of thousands of coal miners and their families who have been tossed aside in our pell-mell campaign against coal. In terms of global impact, I do believe the big problem with coal is in China and India, not here.

It needs to be said that President Trump is doing some things right. Foremost on this list must surely be the appointment of three tough-minded generals to senior positions: Jim Mattis as Secretary of Defense, H.R. McMaster as National Security Advisor and John F. Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security. All three have distinguished themselves as leaders who are not in the least shy about speaking truth to power. Mattis and McMaster in particular are ardent historians who have an expansive perspective of our country’s place in the world. As a young officer, McMaster wrote a penetrating book, “Dereliction of Duty,” about the failure of senior military command during the Vietnam War to stand up against unwise political decisions. That could have derailed his career in the military, but he took the chance. Kelly sent two sons into the military, one of whom was killed in Afghanistan. These three men know the price of freedom, and they are alert to the dangers of precipitous military adventures.

The President’s choice of Rep. Rick Mulvaney as Director of the Office of Management and Budget is another decision that suggests our leader welcomes opposing views among his senior people. Mulvaney is a budget hawk who will surely throw up roadblocks against Trump’s plans to spend trillions on the military, infrastructure and that absurd wall along the Mexican border. These appointments suggest a more subtle intelligence at work than is being depicted in the news media.

We can only hope that one or all of these tough-minded people will confront the President about his foolish tweeting. He should have his staff carefully parse his remarks and stop kicking up dust storms to no purpose. As President Calvin Coolidge observed long ago, he was never called upon to explain something he didn’t say.

Lt. Gen. Clarence E. “Mac” McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of “From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications,” published by The History Publishing Company.

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