As I watched President Trump give the commencement address at West Point, it reminded me of my own time as a cadet 50 years ago when I was introduced to the Honor Code: “A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do.” It is a simple code that all cadets are expected to live by; however, I could not help but think about the irony of the Commander-in-Chief standing before the graduating Class of 2020 who regularly violates this code and looks the other way when senior members of his administration do so too.
Abiding by the Honor Code is not just a morally good thing to do, but is important because it is the foundation of good leadership, trust. A leader must build trust with those whom he or she is attempting to lead, otherwise why would anyone follow them? Leaders build trust overtime by always telling the truth. When leaders lie, it undermines their trustworthiness with followers. Whether it is a “big” lie or only a “little” one makes no difference. If a leader makes an untruthful statement due to misinformation, then they should correct it at the earliest opportunity to restore trust. Anyone can make a misstatement occasionally, but a pattern of doing so is entirely different. Repeatedly making false statements and telling lies represents a callous disregard for the truth. It also exhibits a genuine lack of concern for those whom you are attempting to lead, in this case, American citizens.
Sadly, President Trump either does not understand how telling the truth is the cornerstone of good leadership or he simply doesn’t care. The Washington Post reported that the president has made over 16,000 false or misleading claims over the last three years. This does not include lies or misstatements made by other administration officials. Since his first days in office, he has lied about crowd sizes or twisted the facts in his favor on the economy or length of the border wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for. These claims might be dismissed as seemingly inconsequential; however, in the middle of a crisis, misstatements, deliberate or not, take on more significance. Whether the COVID virus outbreak is “under control,” “wearing a mask is optional,” or “anyone who wants a test can get one” have real world impacts: people get sick and some die. “Michael Flynn didn’t lie,” “The Mueller investigation was a hoax,” “The call with the Ukrainian President was perfect,” and “I didn’t get involved with firing the US Attorney,” are all lies or false statements. The truth of these claims can be verified with court documents, real-time video clips, or sworn testimony of participants with first-hand knowledge. Whether you agree or disagree with his policies is less important than whether you can trust him. Americans will soon get to answer that question. Remember, he has his finger on the nuclear arsenal, and a misstatement here could be catastrophic. The truth matters.