This past weekend, amidst the short-lived government shutdown, Vice President Mike Pence made comments to U.S. military personnel service near the Syrian border, placing the blame for the shutdown squarely on the opposition party. As NBC News reported at the time, Pence told the assembled troops:

Despite bipartisan support for a budget resolution, a minority in the Senate has decided to play politics with military pay. But you deserve better. You and your families shouldn’t have to worry for one minute about whether you’re going to get paid as you serve in uniform.

Leaving aside the merits of the Vice President’s claim, his comments are yet another example of the Trump administration’s effort to politicize the military. As I’ve discussed previously, President Trump repeatedly refers to the military in personal terms—using the phrases “my military” or “my generals.” Referencing his election, Trump told military personnel at MacDill Air Base in Tampa, Florida last year, “And I saw those numbers, and you liked me, and I liked you.” And at the commissioning of the USS Gerald Ford, he told the assembled sailors to call their Senators to support his defense budget and the Republican plan to repeal Obamacare.

This persistent politicization is probably not a concerted effort by the administration. More likely, it represents an ad hoc effort to link the administration to one of the few public institutions that American people still hold in high esteem (see the chart below) by leading civilian officials with little respect for civil-military norms.

Still, norms against politicizing the military are important. As Alice Friend Hunt of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has explained, maintaining an apolitical military is necessary both for the proper functioning of the military itself, and the character of our political institutions:

A politicized military exercises loyalty to a single political party and/or consistently advocates for and defends partisan political positions and fortunes. An apolitical, nonpartisan military is one of the norms underpinning American democracy and a feature of American military professionalism. The military serves the Constitution through obedience to democratically elected civilian officials without regard for political party or partisan positions. This idea underwrites the peaceful transfer of power between presidential administrations and ensures that the American people can make governance choices free from the threat of coercion. Knowing that partisan intentions do not inform professional military advice also allows elected officials to trust the expertise and advice provided by senior officers. Moreover, if the military took partisan positions or exercised partisan loyalties, voters might reasonably assume that the opposition party would not be able to control the military if voted into office. In other words, the democratically elected representatives of the people would not be able to count on the faithful execution of national security policy if the military expressly favored the other party. Such conditions would break down the public’s confidence in either the disfavored party or in the military itself and damage the functioning of the government.

Another critical result of a nonpartisan force is that it protects the military: because the American military serves elected representatives from different political parties equally, there is no reason for those representatives to treat the military differently based on partisan affiliation. Decisions about the funding, size, shape, and use of the military are much less likely to be motivated by a desire to defend partisan power and much more likely to be driven by wider strategic, economic, and public values. Moreover, service personnel management can remain a professional—not political—process.

As Hunt notes later, politicization is most problematic when it involves those in the chain of command. And that does not include the Vice President. But Pence’s comments show that the administration’s tendency to politicize the military for personal or partisan gain is not limited to the president.