When I was young, one of the first lessons my parents taught me was that words have meaning. If you make a promise, you keep it. The one thing you don’t do is break your promise because doing so is a betrayal of trust.
Throughout my life I made promises and took oaths: on becoming a Girl Scout, as a delegate to Girls State. These were personal and heartfelt. Then, at age seventeen I made the life-changing decision to take that extra step and serve our country in the military. On the Plain at West Point, together with my fellow plebes, I raised my right hand and said, “I, Donna Michele Matturro, do solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation – or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to embark. So help me God.”No longer was I a young girl taking pride in personal accomplishments and local commitments. Now I was placing myself in the service of our nation.
That oath was repeated a second time on May 27, 1987, when I graduated West Point and was commissioned an officer in the U.S. Army. I repeated it when I was promoted, and years later, now a civilian, when I was sworn in to serve on the Defense Advisory Committee for Women in the Service. This oath has no expiration date.
The burden of responsibility and accountabilityconveyed in the words of that oath both weighed on me and was an uplifting source of inspiration.
Members of every nation’s military take oaths of service. But the oath taken by those who choose to serve in America’s military is unique. We pledge ourselves in service to no king; to no government; to no political party; no despot; no tyrant. Ours is an oath to serve a set of principals and an ideal expressed in the greatest political document written in the history of humankind: The Constitution of the United States. Through it and its Amendments, we have freedom of the press, of assembly, of religion, of equal protection under the law regardless of race, color, or creed—these and other freedoms that are impossible dreams in far too many nations around the world. Freedoms that we have taken for granted for too long and that are now under siege by a man who daily violates his oath of office with his Twitter attacks on those freedoms.
One phrase in the oath for federal service is a constant: “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” That phrase has meaning to Lt Col. Alexander Vindman, to Ambassador Bill Taylor, to Ambassador Maria Yovanovitch, to Dr. Fiona Hill who have paid a public price for refusing to enable the president’s actions. And it has meaning to Utah’s Representative Ben McAdams, “I was sworn in, taking an oath to uphold the Constitution and the Constitution requires me to study the articles of impeachment and to vote on them. To fulfill that duty, I will vote yes.”
Michigan Representative Elissa Slotkin, another first-term Democrat in a district that voted for Trump, who upon stating that she will be voting for impeachment, received loud and boisterous booing from a suburban Detroit audience. The blowback from her constituents has been viral. She has stood fast. Her response is “If impeachment costs me my seat, so be it.” And if the voters do replace her, “I will accept that and walk away with my head held high that I’ve made decisions based on principle, and not political calculus.” She refuses to enable the head of an administration that claims to drain the swamp, but that has instead created a larger, more toxic one. Both McAdams and Slotkin are upholding their oaths and doing their duty in service to our country.
Donald Trump said that according to the Constitution, “I can do whatever I want as President.” In other words, he claims that as president he is above the law. That he is not accountable for his actions. That he is not accountable for using the office of the president to enrich himself and those of his family. That he is not accountable to use the office of the presidency to reward his friends with lucrative government contracts and deny them to those he sees as his enemy. That he is not accountable for soliciting aid from Ukraine to smear a political rival for political gain. Moreover, that he is not accountable for obstructing Congress as it tries to exercise its Constitutional duty.
James Madison, author of the first draft of the Constitution, Founding Father and Fourth President of the US: “If Men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and the next place, oblige it to control itself.”
As tempting as it is to point fingers, I will instead ask you this question: What is the value of your word to pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to preserve and protect the Constitution? And then ask that question of those members of the House of Representatives and Senate. I can only hope they be like Representatives Slotkin and McAdams and cast their votes “based on principle” and the facts, and hold President Trump accountable and not choose the route of “political calculus” and cast a vote that enables him.
Remarks delivered by Donna McAleer in Salt Lake City on 17 Dec 2019.