Words and phrases matter. If we slip into accepting a way of talking that threatens our basic values, we contribute to their downfall. And so it is with the all-too-common tendency to use “my” when presidential candidates refer to admirals and generals who will be on active duty during their administrations. They aren’t the president’s generals. They are “our” or “the” generals. And the distinction matters.
The Supreme Court is not peopled by the president’s justices. We’d be shocked to hear a president refer to the SCOTUS as “my justices.”
“My generals” moves us away from democracy where such people work for the people. In the U.S., the president has a Cabinet. He or she may refer to these selected advisors as “my Cabinet” without deleterious effect. The same is not true of military leaders. The president is their commander-in-chief, but they ultimately work for the people.
I’m waiting for a press interview where a presidential candidate is asked: “Will they be your generals?” The answer will tell us a lot.