Friday, May 26, 2017

Secretary John Kelly fails U.S. history

By Mathew Goldstein

Here is a recap of some late 18th United States history that is taught in middle schools: The constitution of the United States was drafted in 1787 and ratified in 1788, with ratification by all 13 states completed in 1790.  The one sentence presidential oath of office recited by all presidents during their inauguration is specified in that constitution.  George Washington was unanimously elected to be the first president in January 1789 and he recited the aforementioned two year old oath during his inauguration in late April of that year.

On May 19 Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly gave a short speech during the U.S. Coast Guard Commencement ceremony with president Trump sitting nearby on the stage drinking water from a plastic bottle. He advocated for the leadership to defend the self-interests of the rank and file and for the rank and file to speak the truth with courage to the leadership.  Then he cited 18th century history to emphasize the uniqueness of our oath of office's focus on upholding our constitution.  Then he said the following:

"So where did the oath come from? As the story goes it’s generally accurate as I understand it. They were about to inaugurate our very first president, who’d never done that before, George Washington, in our first capital, New York City. They were just about to go out and do it, and someone said, don’t we need an oath? Because up until then they had been Englishmen and Englishmen and Englishwomen had always taken their oath to the sovereign. So they sat down and wrote up the oath that you generally are about to take and handed it to George Washington before he became President. The only thing he added to that oath was so help me God."

This is palm on face embarrassing ignorance.  Does anyone at the Office of Homeland Security vet their Secretary's speeches?  All it takes are a couple of one minute searches of the Internet to verify that the oath was written over a year before George Washington was elected president.  Shouldn't Secretary John Kelly be committed to telling his audience the truth when he is requesting that they tell their leadership the truth?  Shouldn't he be aware that the presidential oath is found in the constitution when he is emphasizing that the federal government oath of office is centered on respecting the contents of that same document?  Instead, he is conflating the same day provisioning of a bible, as required by 18th century NY state oath law, with the by then two year old constitutional provisioning of a presidential oath.  Or maybe he has in mind the first bill passed by the House of Representatives on April 27, three days before the inauguration, which defined the oath of office for government officials other than the president. Or maybe he does not care who or what he is refering to, which explains his repeated use of the vague "they" in a prepared, teleprompter, speech.

Surely someone remembers enough from U.S. history class in public school to recognize that the presidential oath is in the constitution which predates the first presidential by several years, contrary to John Kelly's assertions that the presidential oath was written on the day of the first inauguration, and that the presidential oath is the same as the oath of office taken by the Coast Guard, are "generally accurate" stories.  Furthermore, the eyewitness evidence we have regarding what was said indicates George Washington did not add so help me God to that oath.  Yet this very public assertion of very confused "history" by a federal government executive branch leader appears to have drawn little, if any, attention or criticism.  President Trump and his cabinet repeatedly and shamelessly promote falsehoods, with time remaining for many more.  This is my small contribution to trying to prevent this one, among the many, from slipping by unnoticed.


Don Wharton said...

Mathew, thank you for your most excellent post. However, I sincerely doubt that this administration cares one twit about the accuracy of anything that is said. What they care about is power. A secondary factor they care about is money because that is the source of perceived power. Nothing else matters.

Explicit Atheist said...

The argument I made is not dependent on assuming anything about what this administration does not, or does, care about. Hillary Clinton, while looking at his wife and children, said that he cares about his family. Everyone prioritizes to some extent that way, there is no practical alternative. My perspective is that truth and honesty are important. Without integrity we lack a foundation for trust, and without trust it is everyone for themselves which promotes chaos and violence.