The voices denouncing Donald Trump’s latest lurch into divisive and authoritarian behavior just acquired an astounding new participant: highly decorated career Marine officer and the Secretary of Defense for the first half of Trump’s term, James Mattis. In a statement published by The Atlantic, Mattis bridles at Trump’s suggestion that U.S. military personnel may be ordered to violate the constitutional rights of protesters, and is clearly horrified that his successor at the Pentagon alongside military personnel were complicit in the president’s bizarre June 1 photo op at St. James Episcopal Church:
When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.
Mattis’s condemnation of Trump goes deeper than this one incident:
Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.
Think about that. There have been 13 presidents in Mattis’s lifetime. Only Trump strikes him as hopelessly divisive. He was in Trump’s Cabinet for two of the three years of “this deliberate effort” to divide the country — three years “without mature leadership.” Mattis has presumably spent as much time around this strange man as anyone beyond his inner circle. And he clearly believes Trump is a threat to the Republic:
We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Park. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.
If the old Marine Mattis is willing to go public with this kind of criticism, the fears about Trump expressed earlier this week by former Joint Chief of Staff chairman Mike Mullen may reflect broader concerns in military circles.
It’s not a promising sign for a militarist president when he provokes expressions of rebellion from military leaders trained for quiet discipline.