3 June 2020   Leave a comment

I had the sense today that there was a dramatic shift in attitudes toward the Trump Administration occasioned by his decision to deploy active military units to the demonstrations in Washington, DC. Such a move is not technically forbidden by the Constitution which remains obscure on many important issues. But the clear sense throughout US history, that deploying active troops (not National Guard troops) is an act that should be reserved only for the most extreme circumstances. The demonstrations by those who support the Black Lives Matter movement hardly qualify as a national emergency. There has been looting, but the looters are not participants in the protests, but rather organized gangs taking advantage of the chaos in the streets (some of those gangs have brought power tools to assist in their looting). The protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful.

The breaking point seems to have been the decision to break up the protest in Lafayette Square so that President Trump could walk from the White House to a church and hold up a bible. That particular protest was not accompanied by any looting (there are no businesses near Lafayette Square) and the press reports indicate that there were no assaults upon police officers from the protesters. The decision to break up the demonstration was a decision to deny citizens of the US the right to exercise their First Amendment rights to assemble and speak freely–in other words, to break the law. And the decision to break the law was backed up by the active military forces of the US.

This act was a bridge too far for many. President Trump’s first Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, a highly regarded Marine General, issued a statement which was both forceful and unexpected, since Mattis had always held that he did not think it appropriate for him to criticize the Commander in Chief. His statement was published in The Atlantic:

The following is a statement by former Secretary of Defense James Mattis published by The Atlantic. Mattis, a four-star U.S. Marine Corps General, served as President Donald Trump’s 26th Secretary of Defense from 2017 to 2018.

In Union There is Strength

“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled. The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.

“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.

“We must reject any thinking of our cities as a ‘battlespace’ that our uniformed military is called upon to ‘dominate.’ At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict—between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part. Keeping public order rests with civilian state and local leaders who best understand their communities and are answerable to them.

“James Madison wrote in Federalist 14 that ‘America united with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat.’ We do not need to militarize our response to protests. We need to unite around a common purpose. And it starts by guaranteeing that all of us are equal before the law.

“Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that ‘The Nazi slogan for destroying us…was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.’’ We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics.

“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.

“We can come through this trying time stronger, and with a renewed sense of purpose and respect for one another. The pandemic has shown us that it is not only our troops who are willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of the community. Americans in hospitals, grocery stores, post offices, and elsewhere have put their lives on the line in order to serve their fellow citizens and their country. 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. At the same time, we must remember Lincoln’s ‘better angels,’ and listen to them, as we work to unite.

“Only by adopting a new path—which means, in truth, returning to the original path of our founding ideals—will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad.”

Second, Admiral Mike Mullen, the former Director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, published the following letter in The Atlantic:

“It sickened me yesterday to see security personnel—including members of the National Guard—forcibly and violently clear a path through Lafayette Square to accommodate the president’s visit outside St. John’s Church. I have to date been reticent to speak out on issues surrounding President Trump’s leadership, but we are at an inflection point, and the events of the past few weeks have made it impossible to remain silent.

“Whatever Trump’s goal in conducting his visit, he laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country, gave succor to the leaders of other countries who take comfort in our domestic strife, and risked further politicizing the men and women of our armed forces.

“There was little good in the stunt.

“While no one should ever condone the violence, vandalism, and looting that has exploded across our city streets, neither should anyone lose sight of the larger and deeper concerns about institutional racism that have ignited this rage.

“As a white man, I cannot claim perfect understanding of the fear and anger that African Americans feel today. But as someone who has been around for a while, I know enough—and I’ve seen enough—to understand that those feelings are real and that they are all too painfully founded.

“We must, as citizens, address head-on the issue of police brutality and sustained injustices against the African American community. We must, as citizens, support and defend the right—indeed, the solemn obligation—to peacefully assemble and to be heard. These are not mutually exclusive pursuits.

“And neither of these pursuits will be made easier or safer by an overly aggressive use of our military, active duty or National Guard. The United States has a long and, to be fair, sometimes troubled history of using the armed forces to enforce domestic laws. The issue for us today is not whether this authority exists, but whether it will be wisely administered.

“I remain confident in the professionalism of our men and women in uniform. They will serve with skill and with compassion. They will obey lawful orders. But I am less confident in the soundness of the orders they will be given by this commander in chief, and I am not convinced that the conditions on our streets, as bad as they are, have risen to the level that justifies a heavy reliance on military troops. Certainly, we have not crossed the threshold that would make it appropriate to invoke the provisions of the Insurrection Act.

“Furthermore, I am deeply worried that as they execute their orders, the members of our military will be co-opted for political purposes.

“Even in the midst of the carnage we are witnessing, we must endeavor to see American cities and towns as our homes and our neighborhoods. They are not ‘battle spaces‘ to be dominated, and must never become so.

“We must ensure that African Americans—indeed, all Americans—are given the same rights under the Constitution, the same justice under the law, and the same consideration we give to members of our own family. Our fellow citizens are not the enemy, and must never become so.

“Too many foreign and domestic policy choices have become militarized; too many military missions have become politicized.

“This is not the time for stunts. This is the time for leadership.”

Third, the current US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, openly defied US President Trump by repudiating the idea of using active military troops to enforce domestic law. Esper made a straightforward statement quoted in The Military Times:

“‘The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire of situations,’ Esper told reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon. ‘We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.’

It is not clear how long Esper will remain as Defense Secretary. The reports are that President Trump is quite angry about the statement.

Finally, on a more personal note, the son of one of my college roommates served in the Marine Corps and did three tours of duty in Afghanistan. Yesterday, he posted the following note on Facebook:

“Enough. If you’re reading this and you love and respect me, know that I love and respect you too. Especially to those with whom I was lucky enough to serve in harms way, know that it will forever be the greatest honor of my life to call you my brothers and sisters. You are my brothers and sisters still. For a long time I’ve kept my mouth mostly shut around politics. It’s been too difficult to navigate those conversations, especially with people who I love and respect so much, who I know feel differently about the state of the nation and the conduct of our president than I do. So I’ve stayed quiet. I haven’t responded when you’ve praised him or defended him. I haven’t challenged you when you’ve stayed silent. When he disrespected Gold Star mothers. When he disrespected General Mattis, the closest thing to a living saint us Marines may ever have. When he abandoned our allies. When he mocked the disabled. You were silent, and I didn’t challenge you. I treasured our bonds too much to put up with the discomfort of confronting those issues with you. I was a coward. I can’t do that anymore. This is wrong. It’s been wrong for so goddamned long. We are at the point now where we have to decide if we are ready to rebuild some semblance of American goodness and decency- if we are ready to stand for something other than brute strength and ‘I win, you lose’ tribalism. I’m ready for that. I’m so desperately ready for that, and I’m done keeping my mouth shut. If the way that you see the President leading this country right now looks good and right to you, then you need to understand that you and I do not share the same values anymore. If a crowd of lawfully assembled protestors being tear gassed and trampled out of the way so a President can stand in front of a church, hold up a Bible he’s never read, and declare his readiness to deploy military force on American soil against American citizens sounds right to you, then I don’t know how to relate to you anymore. If you are commenting online right now about how eager and ready you are to kill other Americans then you are no friend and no brother of mine. This is wrong.

For me, the statement was a sure sign that President Trump’s decision to try to “dominate” the protesters was a significant political mistake, one from which he will likely never recover.

Posted June 3, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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