USA

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis finally speaks out, calling Trump a threat to the Constitution

ARLINGTON, VA - JUNE 20: U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis waits for the arrival of German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen outside the Pentagon June 20, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. Von der Leyen will also meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during her visit to Washington. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis

In a damning indictment of Donald Trump, former Defense Secretary James Mattis has finally taken off the gloves and gone to bat for the U.S. Constitution.

“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,” Mattis wrote in a statement published by The Atlantic, calling himself "angry and appalled" at the week's events. “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."

Mattis' statement is one part excoriation and one part call to arms, steeped in a history lesson of the ages. He recalled that during World War II, the Nazi slogan for destroying its adversaries was “Divide and Conquer.” The American answer was “In Union there is Strength." 

"We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics," Mattis urged.

And in the battle between the Trump administration and The People, Mattis came down squarely on the side of First Amendment rights. When he joined the military some 50 years ago, Mattis said, “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.” The protesters, he noted, are "rightly demanding" equal justice under the law, adding that we cannot be distracted from this "unifying demand" 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," Mattis wrote, calling on Americans to reject "those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.”

When Mattis abruptly resigned his post in 2018, he took an indefinite vow of silence. That he is finally breaking that silence at this particular moment should be lost on no one. Though many had hoped he would end it sooner and were disgusted that he didn't, Mattis is a well-known student of history. He clearly seems to sense that the time is now or never to meet this political moment head-on. 

Here’s the statement in full, via The Atlantic:

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. —James Mattis                                                              

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