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Trump appointment tarnishes honor at the Air Force Academy

Trump appointment tarnishes honor at the Air Force Academy
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At the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA), there is a courtyard near the cadet chapel overlooking the cadet area. It’s called the “Honor Court,” a place where I took my first oath as an Air Force cadet over 45 years ago. It’s called the Honor Court because it’s dedicated to the fundamental principle, emblazoned on one of its walls, that as Air Force cadets and officers, “We will not lie, steal, or cheat nor tolerate among us anyone who does.”

The other military academies have similar honor codes. They reflect every military member’s commitment to integrity and character in the service of our nation.

Today, the military academies’ honor codes may seem out of place – anachronisms in a world increasingly beset with lying, stealing, and cheating. Yet, every American who serves or has served in uniform understands that without the trust that comes from knowing your buddy won’t lie to you, steal from you, or cheat you, there can be no honor, no discipline, no military.

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Four years ago, it became clear to me that our new commander-in-chief didn’t share our commitment to these principles. It appeared clear to me that he had succeeded in business by following behaviors our honor codes eschew. Many of us expected he would govern the same way. And we were right.

Nevertheless, my image of the Air Force Academy and what it stands for hasn’t changed: It remains, literally and figuratively, a shining city on a hill — a mountain, actually. 

Much has been written over these past four years, about how our president’s lies have jackhammered the foundations of our institutions while his political cronies lacked either the interest or courage to stop him.

Now it has come home for me.

The outgoing president is now making lame-duck appointments to federal advisory panels like the Defense Business Board, which is supposed to be an apolitical board of advisors to the Secretary of Defense. The outgoing president fired a number of highly-qualified board members and installed political loyalists.

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A lesser-known but equally destructive move was his appointment of Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayGeorge Conway calls for thorough Lincoln Project probe: 'The lying has to stop' Claudia Conway advances on 'American Idol,' parents Kellyanne, George appear The swift death of the media darlings known as the Lincoln Project MORE to the Air Force Academy Board of Visitors, an advisory board for the USAFA superintendent.

While I acknowledge the president’s authority to place anyone he chooses on any of these advisory boards, I am horrified by the message his appointment of Conway sends: that a purveyor of “alternative facts,” as she once described them, should be placed in a position of trust and influence at an institution responsible for teaching future generations of military leaders about honor, integrity, and character. It’s a cynical act of defiance from a president whose lack of character contributed to his defeat.

How can President-elect Biden restore truth and ethics in government? He should begin by expressing his concern about Conway’s appointment and reversing it as soon as the law permits. If he doesn’t, I fear USAFA, that shining city on the mountain, will join the ethical rubble left in his predecessor’s wake.

If Biden really wants to “build back better,” he must do the same for the other “loyalists” whose lame-duck appointments served only to perpetuate the DNA of a presidency built on lies. Our new president would thus send a new message: America will no longer — and hopefully will never again — be governed by people who intentionally disregard the ethical principles and norms upon which our nation was built.

Steven J. Lepper is a retired Air Force major general. He served from 2010 to 2014 as Deputy Judge Advocate General of the Air Force. He was also Deputy Legal Counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the senior “crisis communicator” for the Department of the Air Force.