Wilkinson: 100 days and a fistful of broken promises

Khristy Wilkinson

We are 100 days into the Trump presidency, and we've learned a lot about our new leader.

One salient feature of President Trump thus far seems to be an inability to keep his promises. In 2015, then-candidate Trump promised not to take vacations, yet he's spent at least a quarter of his presidency at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, wining and dining foreign leaders and costing taxpayers millions. Combine that with another promise - to end wasteful spending - and you get two broken promises in a single weekend.

Candidate Trump also promised to release his tax returns post-audit; now we know that he has no intention of ever doing so on his own. He promised health care reform that would "take care of everybody," yet the plan he put forward would have forced 24 million Americans off their health insurance. Trump's campaign appealed largely to rural Americans, yet he's trying to slash funding to rural clean water and business initiatives under the Department of Agriculture. Trump's budget also cuts funding to the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Southern Conservancy Corps, an organization that, in the last year, has improved 107 miles of hiking trails and waterways in the Chattanooga region alone.

The list of unkept promises goes on, but there is one broken promise that stands as most egregious: President Trump's inability to keep the promise he made when he took the Oath of Office. Upon taking this oath, the president-elect swears, either on the Bible or the Constitution, that he will "faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of [his] ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." It's a far more important promise to keep than any other presidential promise could pretend to be.

In addition to accepting innumerable and indescribable payments from representatives of foreign governments, there are a number of ways in which President Trump has not kept the promise of his oath - including requiring a religious test as part of vetting immigrants, refugees and travelers from a handful of countries; dropping 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria without congressional approval; and issuing an executive order denying federal funding to cities that refuse to force deportation of undocumented immigrants.

Fidelity to promises is a civic virtue at least dating back to ancient Greek and Roman ethics, and probably to the origins of society. Aristotle thought promise-keeping was mandated by the virtues of honesty and justice. Cicero said nothing was more noble and venerable than truth and fidelity. Dido, the once-great Queen of Carthage, committed suicide after breaking a promise she made to her dead husband. Her infidelity became the proxy for the infidelity of one of Rome's greatest enemies, Hannibal, the Carthaginian general well-known for breaking his promises. During the Enlightenment, philosophers argued that breaking promises actually damaged the notion of promises itself, detracting from their significance and meaning altogether. The idea that promises ought to be kept is one of our most intuitive and widely shared moral beliefs. Yet we do not find it in the man we elected to serve in our highest office.

I'm less worried about President Trump's broken campaign promises than I am about the violation of the oath of his office; every president fails to do some of the things they say they'll do during their campaigns. But, President Trump's inability or unwillingness to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution harms our nation's credibility and the very institutions that make America great.

Khristy Wilkinson is a philosopher-mom and former candidate for Tennessee State Senate. She now serves as chairwoman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party.