On Wednesday, the White House told 18 officials who had been appointed by former President Donald Trump to serve on the boards of U.S. military service academies to resign or be dismissed. Those included former advisor Kellyanne Conway, press secretary Sean Spicer and national security adviser H.R. McMaster. Each was told to resign by 6pm or they’d be dismissed.
While it isn’t normal for appointees to be fired, the issue in this case is that Trump had filled some of the positions at West Point, the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy in the final months of his presidency. Each comes with a three-year term and it appeared that President Joe Biden sought to cut those terms short.
Not Fading Away By Any Means
Instead of taking a cue from the late Gen. Douglas McArthur to “fade away” and perhaps go quietly, a few of the Trump Administration appointees created a minor firestorm on social media by posting their responses – stating they’d have to be fired, and certainly wouldn’t resign
Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls) tweeted out a copy of the letter she sent to President Joe Biden on Wednesday. In her tweet she added, “President Biden, I’m not resigning but you should.”
It didn’t take long for responses to pour in, calling out former President Donald Trump’s advisor, who had been named to the Board of Visitors to the United States Air Force Academy. Among those to respond was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who called out Ms. Conway directly.
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From her @AOC account, the Congresswoman wrote, “A predictable, if not unfortunate, outcome. Clinging onto vestiges of power against the people’s will is kind of your /Trump’s / the GOP’s thing. When you’re fired, don’t let the fascist victim complex hit you on the way out.”
Both Conway and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez found their respective detractors and supporters, which was almost to be expected.
“This is just the latest reflection of the polarization of our society on social media,” said Chris Haynes, associate professor of political science and national security at the University of New Haven.
Spicer, who was appointed to the Naval Academy, took to Twitter to suggest Biden should focus on Afghanistan; while Russ Vought, also appointed to the Naval Academy, posted his letter with the caption, “No. It’s a three year term.”
Jonathan Hiler, a Navy Academy alumnus who served as director of legislative affairs for Vice President Mike Pence and was appointed to the Naval Academy, was less direct and actually explained why he shouldn’t be expected to resign.
“I am not resigning. As an alum and former naval officer, I believe developing leaders capable of defending our country’s interests at sea—USNA’s mission—is not something that should be consumed by partisan politics. Apparently, President Biden feels differently. @WhiteHouse,” Hiler wrote from his @jHiler account.
What Is Being Debated?
At issue is that the board of visitors serves in a position that much like a board of trustees are charged with overseeing affairs at a university. In this case, the president can appoint six people to each of the service academies, while Congress appoints the rest.
“I will let others evaluate whether they think Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer and others were qualified, or not political, to serve on these boards,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday when questioned on the matter. “But the president’s qualification requirements are not your party registration. They are whether you’re qualified to serve and whether you are aligned with the values of this administration.”
The fact that the White House has asked them is not unprecedented but it is unique.
“You don’t typically see this in a normal politics,” said Haynes. “This never really occurred in the pre-Trump days, and certainly not the pre-George W. Bush days.”
What may be at issue for the White House is that it may feel some of the appointees may not be ‘qualified’ for the positions.
“Kellyanne Conway was imminently qualified to be a political operative, but there is nothing—and I mean nothing—in her record that qualifies he her to sit on the U.S. Air Force’s Board of Visitors.’ She has no military service or experience whatsoever,” said James R. Bailey, professor of leadership at the George Washington University School of Business.
“She was an eleventh hour Trump appointee; the perfect example of political favoritism,” added Bailey.
A case could be made that Hiler at least could be politically motivated, especially given that he was a Navy academy alumnus.
“This may not be a case that Biden was looking to clean house exactly, but as the president he does have the right to do so,” added Haynes.
What is undeniable is that such responses by Conway and Ocasio-Cortez certainly riled up their respective followers. So the question must be asked whether such continued bickering ever helps bring the nation together and whether this is even good for our democracy.
“That is a tough question,” said Haynes. “The appointees have a right to express their views, just as AOC has right to express her opinion. But what we’re seeing is that each side uses the social media platforms to stir up their base and to energize their party faithful. AOC has certainly learned how to use social media to stir up her supporters, just as Kellyanne Conway is no stranger to being able to put out a message that supports her party.”
Both of the women rose to prominence through their use of social media, but Haynes said it was still the former president who revolutionized a lot of the way social media has become politically weaponized.
“What we’re seeing now with this polarization for political purposes is concerning, as neither side is doing anything to pull us together,” warned Haynes. “This isn’t good for our democracy because it distracts from more important issue. That is the fact of the new political playbook from both parties – where they drive these wedge issues to distract us from what is actually at play.”
Conway’s refusal to resign is as much a distraction as was her call to do so.
“The firestorm that the request for her to resign is curious at best, baffling at worst,” said Bailey. “The same people who argue that our military deserves pristine support oppose her forced resignation, even though she knows nothing about the military, and thus would make an inept and impotent advocate.
“Why would one advocate for her presence on this prestigious board if she lacks the competence to advance the Air Force’s mission and strengthen our military,” pondered Bailey. “Because, they reason, she’s ‘one of us.’ That she was a Trump official and apologist is enough in the mind of the Trump supporters who stalk social media. And oh my how the Trump supporters will howl when Biden appoints a questionable candidate. Political appointments have been abused by politicians ever since there have been politics. But when our dialogue about that reverts to simple-minded ‘us versus them’ accusations, our collective democracy further erodes.”