On May 17, at the commencement exercises for the United States Coast Guard Academy, President Donald Trump gave his first commencement address. This was the speech in which he said,
“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history—and I say this with great surety—has been treated worse or more unfairly.”
Also delivering remarks at the ceremony that day was Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. At one point Secretary Kelly mentioned the oath that academy graduates would take:
“I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will 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 on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
“So where did the oath come from?” Kelly asked, and then he answered his own question with a few sentences that have, as far as I can tell, received absolutely no public scrutiny:
“As the story goes it’s generally accurate as I understand it. They were about to inaugurate our very first president, who’d never done that before, George Washington, in our first capital, New York City. They were just about to go out and do it, and someone said, don’t we need an oath? Because up until then they had been Englishmen and Englishmen and Englishwomen and had always taken their oath to the sovereign. So they sat down and wrote up the oath that you generally are about to take and handed it to George Washington before he became President. The only thing he added to that oath was so help me God.”
In any context except the Trump administration, this would be unbelievable. Yes, Secretary Kelly, we need a presidential oath of office, and fortunately there’s one in the Constitution.
I sometimes suspected that the Homeland Security people had never really read the Constitution.
And don’t get me started on the “so help me God.”
Author’s Note: With thanks to Ray Soller, who caught the Kelly quote and passed it on.