Retired Commander Beth F. Coye reflects on the dissonance behind the values that propelled her and her father to serve the nation and those of President Trump. Standing up for what you believe in still works.
AS a little girl, I worried about my daddy’s safety fighting the bad people with his Naval submarine. I decided when I grew up I, too, would serve my country to protect America.
For instance, I served at the Supreme Allied Command, Atlantic (NATO), fighting to protect national values and prevent conflicts. My assignments included counterintelligence, operational and strategic intelligence.
What national values did I fight for and how is our government serving them today? Arguably the purposes of democratically elected governments are to establish and ensure, first, order and stability; second, freedom; and, third, equality. These aspirational values are reflected throughout our governing institutions in mission statements, strategies and policies.
Until recently, presidents have had to prove allegiance to these values to earn our votes.
I will focus on the first value, order, which my father and I helped to defend: National stability requires establishment and maintenance of institutions that endure in the face of stress, institutions including the executive branch, Congress, the judiciary, the intelligence community, political parties and our independent media.
American presidents have at least nominally supported these institutions, even as they railed against their checks on presidential power. President Donald Trump, however, chooses to disrupt our institutions, attacking their credibility, to promote the executive branch as the sole power broker.
His leadership style and personality conflict with securing any sense of national order and stability. He and his advisers are running roughshod over the Constitution’s preamble “to ensure domestic tranquillity,” instead encouraging tension and chaos domestically and abroad.
The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operate on three principles — honor, courage and commitment — and all service members are to respect them. Here is what we believe: “We will conduct ourselves in the highest ethical manner in all relationships with peers, superiors and subordinates. We are accountable for our professional and personal behavior. We will be mindful of the privilege to serve our fellow Americans.”
In his speeches and tweets, our commander-in-chief falls woefully short in conducting himself according to these core values. I question if, as the civilian leader of the military branches, he maintains any ethical framework.
Honor and civility are interwoven. The president does not model good citizenship; in fact, his manners are unforgivable. George Washington’s first rule of civility still applies: “Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.”
We cannot forget that the president is the commander-in-chief. Admiral Chuck Larson writes: “The personal responsibility of military leaders is as important as the authority that is vested in them by law. The manner and completeness in which they accept and discharge that responsibility indicates to a large degree their capacity for leadership….” By this definition, President Trump has already proved to the majority of Americans that he lacks both the experience and capacity to lead this nation.
Order, honor, courage, freedom, commitment and equality are American values. During this time of national crisis, I urge my fellow Americans to integrate such values into our own lives, demand more of our leaders, and hold our president rigorously accountable under the Constitution.
What dangerous lessons will be learned if there is no accountability? When a leader abuses formal authority, neglects to assume responsibilities, or acts erratically, the outcome usually involves severance of the leader from the institution. In the military, a commanding officer may be relieved for cause; in a spiritual community a minister might be subject to a “negotiated resignation;” and at the presidential level — when the leader has committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” — our nation has resorted to impeachment or resignation.
What happened to my father and his little girl? My father earned three Navy Crosses and continued to serve his country through the rank of rear admiral. I joined the WAVES to serve my country. Unable to accept the military’s policy toward gays, I retired early. Along with other Americans, I fought for the value of equality for gay military members and won.
Standing up for what you believe still works in our country.