Thursday Reads: Could This Be A Turning Point?

Good Morning!!

Could we finally have reached a turning point? Suddenly Trump is getting blowback from some powerful and respected quarters. Former presidents, the current Secretary of Defense, Trump’s former Secretary of Defense, retired generals, and former presidents are speaking out about Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and his misuse of the military. Even some in his evangelical base are speaking out.

The Atlantic: James Mattis Denounces President Trump, Describes Him as a Threat to the Constitution.

James Mattis, the esteemed Marine general who resigned as secretary of defense in December 2018 to protest Donald Trump’s Syria policy, has, ever since, kept studiously silent about Trump’s performance as president. But he has now broken his silence, writing an extraordinary broadside in which he denounces the president for dividing the nation, and accuses him of ordering the U.S. military to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens.

“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” Mattis writes. “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.” He goes on, “We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our 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 writes. “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.”

He goes on to contrast the American ethos of unity with Nazi ideology. “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.”

For some of us, it may be too little too late, but it’s possible Republicans will be influenced by retired general and former Defense Secretary James Mattis’ condemnation. Read the full statement at NPR.

Yesterday the current Secretary of Defense also distanced himself from Trump’s attempt to use the military to put down protests. Elizabeth N. Saunders at The Washington Post: The secretary of defense spoke out against Trump’s approach to the protests. Yes, this is a big deal.

At a Pentagon news conference Wednesday morning, Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper said he opposed invoking the Insurrection Act and using active-duty military forces to help calm the largely peaceful protests that have been taking place around the country. Esper’s comments directly contradict President Trump, who in a nationally televised speech Monday threatened to use the military to “quickly solve the problem,” implicitly suggesting that he would invoke the 1807 law.

Esper’s comments also came after many criticized him for walking across Lafayette Square with the president and posing for a photo in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, as well as using language like “we need to dominate the battlespace” on a Monday call with governors. On Tuesday evening, James Miller, a member of the Defense Science Board, which advises the Pentagon, wrote to Esper a letter, published in The Washington Post, to resign his position and to urge Esper to “consider closely both your future actions and your future words.”

It is tempting to dismiss Esper’s comments as words rather than action. He is not resigning in protest, as his recent predecessor, Jim Mattis, did in December 2018.

However, for Esper to give televised remarks from the Pentagon podium — something that is rare in this administration in normal times — is a significant development.

Click the link to read the reasons why this is so significant.

Retired Marine General John Allen at Foreign Policy: A Moment of National Shame and Peril—and Hope.

The slide of the United States into illiberalism may well have begun on June 1, 2020. Remember the date. It may well signal the beginning of the end of the American experiment.

The president of the United States stood in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday, railed against weak governors and mayors who were not doing enough, in his mind, to control the unrest and the rioters in their cities, and threatened to deploy the U.S. military against American citizens. It was a stunning moment. But, in particular, it was notable for three important reasons.

First, Donald Trump expressed only the barest of condolences at the murder of George Floyd, but he also said nothing about the fundamental and underlying reasons for the unrest: systemic racism and inequality, a historic absence of respect, and a denial of justice. All of these factors are centuries old and deeply engrained in an American society that systematically delivers white privilege at the expense of people of color.

Yes, he mentioned George Floyd, but he did not touch on long-standing societal problems at all. He sees the crisis as a black problem—not as something to be addressed by creating the basis and impetus for a move toward social justice, but as an opportunity to use force to portray himself as a “law and order” president. The reasons were irrelevant to the opportunity. Remember the supposed invasion of the southern border and his deployment of federal troops ahead of the 2018 midterm elections? The president’s failure to understand the reality of the problem was on full display when, on Saturday, he attempted to explain that his supporters, the so-called Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement, “love African American people. They love black people. MAGA loves the black people.” Evidently his movement, MAGA, is a coherent thing, and it’s white, which leads to the next point about his speech.

Second, Trump was clear he views those engaged in the unrest and criminal acts in these riots as terrorists, an enemy. He said so, ostensibly as justification to deploy the U.S. military to apply federal force—his “personal” force—against the riots. Indeed, the secretary of defense used the military term “battlespace” to describe American cities.

Read the rest at Foreign Policy.

The Washington Post: All four living ex-presidents draw a sharp contrast with Trump on systemic racism.

Four U.S. presidents spoke this week about systemic racism and injustice. They used their platforms to illuminate the humanity in all Americans and to decry the dehumanization of some. And they summoned the nation to confront its failures, make change and come together.

A fifth U.S. president spoke instead this week about using military force to dominate Americans who are protesting racial injustice. He declared winners and losers among state and city officials trying to safeguard their streets. And, with his reelection campaign in mind, he sought to apply a partisan political lens to the national reckoning over racial inequities.

The outlier was President Trump.

Of course, Trump has long zigged when his four living predecessors zagged, and proudly so. But rarely has the dichotomy been clearer than this week, when Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter injected their voices into the national discussion of race and justice following last week’s death of George Floyd.

Though each weighed in separately and in his own distinctive voice, the four former presidents were measured and compassionate in tone and conveyed an urgency in their lengthy messages. It presented a sharp contrast with the incumbent’s hard line and unemotional leadership.

“They’re all saying, essentially, that Donald Trump is not doing a very big part of his job, and we have to stage an intervention, even if that intervention is not coordinated,” historian Michael Beschloss said. “Foremost in the president’s job is to try to unite the country, especially in crisis. . . . These statements and gestures are saying, ‘Donald Trump is not carrying out these essential functions of the presidency, so we have to step in.’ ”

Head over to the WaPo to read the rest. Read Jimmy Carter’s full statement here.

Even some evangelicals are unhappy with Trump’s performance with a bible on Monday. The Guardian: Trump’s Bible photo op splits white evangelical loyalists into two camps.

On Monday when Donald Trump raised overhead a Bible – the Sword of the Spirit, to believers – he unwittingly cleaved his loyal Christian supporters into two camps.

His most ardent evangelical supporters saw it as a blow against evil and described his walk from the White House to St John’s Episcopal church, over ground violently cleared of protesters, as a “Jericho walk”….

But evangelicals are not monolithic: some saw the gesture as cynical, a ploy by a president whose decisions, both private and public, do not align with biblical principles.

“I guess it’s a sort of Rorschach test, then,” said Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, who is one of Trump’s most important defenders among the faithful. “You see what you expect to see.”

But that’s not true, Trump’s emerging evangelical critics say: an objective measure is contained in the very book Trump wielded.

“Blessed are the peacemakers! Blessed are the merciful! It’s right there in the Sermon on the Mount,” said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College. “Just read Jesus.”

“Pelting people with rubber bullets and spraying them with teargas for peacefully protesting is morally wrong,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “What we need right now is moral leadership – from all of us, in the churches, in the police departments, in the courts, and in the White House. The Bible tells us so. So do our own consciences.”

The day’s events left Moore “alarmed”, he said.

Even crazy Pat Robertson is unhappy with Trump.

The staunchest of evangelicals, 90-year-old televangelist Pat Robertson, split from Trump on Tuesday.

He told his television viewers of the president: “He said, ‘I’m ready to send in military troops if the nation’s governors don’t act to quell the violence that has rocked American cities.’ A matter of fact, he spoke of them as being jerks. You just don’t do that, Mr President. It isn’t cool!”

More important stories to check out today

Jonathan Allen at NBC News: Trump lacks the consent of the governed.

NBC News: U.S. Park Police officers placed on administrative duty over assault on Australian journalists.

The Washington Post: Trump and allies try to rewrite history on handling of police brutality protests.

Matt Bai at The Washington Post: The Carterization of Donald Trump.

Susan Glasser at The New Yorker: #BunkerBoy’s Photo-Op War.

The Washington Post: A dangerous new factor in an uneasy moment: Unidentified law enforcement officers.

Masha Gessen at The New Yorker: Donald Trump’s Fascist Performance.

What do you think? What stories are you following today?


Lazy Caturday Reads: Tinderbox America

Good Morning!!

The photos in today’s post are by Chinese photographer Wu Hongli, who has photographed street cats across China and several other countries. Read more about him and his project at National Geographic.

This week the U.S. added 1968-style violent protests to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and the growing madness of the monster in the White House who is doing his very best to make both of these crises so much worse.

Michelle Goldberg: America Is a Tinderbox. Scenes from a country in free fall.

The last two and a half months in America have felt like the opening montage in a dystopian film about a nation come undone. First the pandemic hit and hospitals in New York City were overwhelmed. The national economy froze and unemployment soared; one in four American workers has applied for unemployment benefits since March. Lines of cars stretched for miles at food banks. Heavily armed lockdown protesters demonstrated across the country; in Michigan, they forced the Capitol to close and legislators to cancel their session. Nationwide, at least 100,000 people died of a disease almost no one had heard of last year.

Then, this week, a Minneapolis police officer was filmed kneeling on the neck of a black man named George Floyd. As the life went out of him, Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe, echoing the last words of Eric Garner, whose 2014 death at the hands of New York policemen helped catalyze the Black Lives Matter movement. Floyd’s death came only days after three Georgia men were arrested on charges of pursuing and killing a young black man, Ahmaud Arbery, whom they saw out running. A prosecutor had initially declined to charge the men on the grounds that their actions were legal under the state’s self-defense laws.

In Minneapolis protesters poured into the streets, where they met a far harsher police response than anything faced by the country’s gun-toting anti-lockdown activists. On Wednesday night, peaceful demonstrations turned into riots, and on Thursday Minnesota’s governor called in the National Guard.

For a moment, it seemed as if the blithe brutality of Floyd’s death might check the worst impulses of the president and his Blue Lives Matter supporters. The authorities were forced to act: All four of the policemen involved were fired, police chiefs across the country condemned them and William Barr’s Justice Department promised a federal investigation that would be a “top priority.” Even Donald Trump, who has encouraged police brutality in the past, described what happened to Floyd as a “very, very bad thing.”

But Trump can never allow himself to support human beings against authoritarian power.

But on Thursday night, after a county prosecutor said his office was still determining if the four policemen had committed a crime, the uprising in Minneapolis was reignited, and furious people burned a police precinct. (One of the officers was arrested and charged with third-degree murder on Friday.) On Twitter, an addled Trump threatened military violence against those he called “THUGS,” writing, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Whether Trump knew it or not, he was quoting a racist phrase from the 1960s used by George Wallace, among others. The president later tried to tamp down outrage by saying he was just warning of danger — the Trump campaign has hoped, after all, to peel off some black voters from the Democrats — but his meaning was obvious enough. This is the same president who on Thursday tweeted out a video of a supporter saying, “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.”

The Trump presidency has been marked by shocking spasms of right-wing violence: the white nationalist riot in Charlottesville, Va., the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the mass shooting targeting Latinos in El Paso. But even as the country has simmered and seethed, there hasn’t been widespread disorder. Now, though, we might be at the start of a long, hot summer of civil unrest.

It certainly looks that way.

Julie Pace at the Associated Press: Analysis: Trump fuels new tensions in moment of crisis.

Over 48 hours in America, the official death toll from the coronavirus pandemic topped 100,000, the number of people who filed for unemployment during the crisis soared past 40 million, and the streets of a major city erupted in flames after a handcuffed black man was killed by a white police officer.

It’s the kind of frenetic, fractured moment when national leaders are looked to for solutions and solace. President Donald Trump instead threw a rhetorical match into the tinderbox. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he declared ominously in a late-night tweet.

Trump’s words were so jarring that Twitter attached a warning to his post — as well as to an identical message from an official White House account — saying that the president of the United States was “glorifying violence.” It’s the first time the social media giant has taken such a step with any world leader, prompting new claims of bias from Trump and some of his conservative allies.

The episode encapsulated Trump’s approach to the presidency and to this time of national crisis, which has upended nearly every aspect of American life and put his November reelection prospects at risk. He’s latched on to personal grievances and cast himself as a victim, while making only occasional references to the staggering loss of life across the country. He’s willingly stoked partisan divisions over public health, and now racial divisions in the face of a death, rather than seeking opportunities to pull the nation together.

Read the rest at AP.

Matt Zapotosky and Isaac Stanley-Becker at The Washington Post: Gripped by disease, unemployment and outrage at the police, America plunges into crisis.

America’s persistent political dysfunction and racial inequality were laid bare this week, as the coronavirus death toll hit a tragic new milestone and as the country was served yet another reminder of how black people are killed by law enforcement in disproportionately high numbers. Together, the events present a grim tableau of a nation in crisis — one seared by violence against its citizens, plagued by a deadly disease that remains uncontained and rattled by a devastating blow to its economy.

“The threads of our civic life could start unraveling, because everybody’s living in a tinderbox,” said historian and Rice University professor Douglas Brinkley.

Barbara Ransby, a historian at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a longtime political activist, said the toll of the coronavirus outbreak made long-standing racial inequities newly stark. Then, images of police violence made those same disparities visceral.

“People are seething about all kinds of things,” said Ransby, the author of “Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the Twenty-First Century.” “There are major turning points and ruptures in history. . . . This is one of these moments, but we’ve not seen how it will fully play out.”

Read more at the WaPo.

This seems really ominous from James LaPorta at the Associated Press: Pentagon puts military police on alert to go to Minneapolis.

As unrest spread across dozens of American cities on Friday, the Pentagon took the rare step of ordering the Army to put several active-duty U.S. military police units on the ready to deploy to Minneapolis, where the police killing of George Floyd sparked the widespread protests.

Soldiers from Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Drum in New York have been ordered to be ready to deploy within four hours if called, according to three people with direct knowledge of the orders. Soldiers in Fort Carson, in Colorado, and Fort Riley in Kansas have been told to be ready within 24 hours. The people did not want their names used because they were not authorized to discuss the preparations.

The get-ready orders were sent verbally on Friday, after President Donald Trump asked Defense Secretary Mark Esper for military options to help quell the unrest in Minneapolis after protests descended into looting and arson in some parts of the city.

Trump made the request on a phone call from the Oval Office on Thursday night that included Esper, National Security Advisor Robert O’ Brien and several others. The president asked Esper for rapid deployment options if the Minneapolis protests continued to spiral out of control, according to one of the people, a senior Pentagon official who was on the call.

I’m not a lawyer, but I thought it was illegal for the U.S. military to police American citizens. More from the AP story:

The person said the military units would be deployed under the Insurrection Act of 1807, which was last used in 1992 during the riots in Los Angeles that followed the Rodney King trial.

“If this is where the president is headed response-wise, it would represent a significant escalation and a determination that the various state and local authorities are not up to the task of responding to the growing unrest,” said Brad Moss, a Washington D.C.-based attorney, who specializes in national security.

Members of the police units were on a 30-minute recall alert early Saturday, meaning they would have to return to their bases inside that time limit in preparation for deployment to Minneapolis inside of four hours. Units at Fort Drum are slated to head to Minneapolis first, according to the three people, including two Defense Department officials. Roughly 800 U.S. soldiers would deploy to the city if called.

One more and I’ll end this catalog of horrors. I read this post at bellingcat a couple of days ago, and Michelle Goldberg discusses it in her NYT op-ed quoted up top: The Boogaloo Movement Is Not What You Think.

As Minneapolis exploded over the death of a another black man at the hands of police, members of a weird political subculture weighed a response.

On the internet, meanwhile, a largely white, and far right movement publicly contended over what risks its members should take to support a black man killed by police.

Wu Hongli and his rescued cat

On the Facebook page, Big Igloo Bois, which at the time of writing had 30,637 followers, an administrator wrote of the protests, “If there was ever a time for bois to stand in solidarity with ALL free men and women in this country, it is now”.

They added, “This is not a race issue. For far too long we have allowed them to murder us in our homes, and in the streets. We need to stand with the people of Minneapolis. We need to support them in this protest against a system that allows police brutality to go unchecked.”

One commenter added, “I’m looking for fellow Minneapolis residents to join me in forming a private, Constitutionally-authorized militia to protect people from the MPD, which has killed too many people within the last two years.”

These exchanges offer a window into an extremely online update of the militia movement, which is gearing up for the northern summer. The “Boogaloo Bois” expect, even hope, that the warmer weather will bring armed confrontations with law enforcement, and will build momentum towards a new civil war in the United States.

Mostly, they’re not even hiding it. And for the last several months, their platform of choice has been Facebook.

Like many other novel extremist movements, the loose network of pro-gun shitposters trace their origins to 4chan. What coherence the movement has comes from their reverence for their newly-minted martyrs and a constellation of in-jokes and memes

The article describes how this subculture has used Facebook to advance its agenda. Facebook is aiding numerous violent right wing movements and actively enabling the campaign of Donald Trump. Read more at these links:

Zeynep Tufekci at The Atlantic: Trump Is Doing All of This for Zuckerberg.

John Stanton at The Daily Beast: Mark Zuckerberg Profits from Rage as Much as Donald Trump Does.

Donnie O’Sullivan at CNN Business: Mark Zuckerberg silent as Trump uses Facebook and Instagram to threaten ‘looting’ will lead to ‘shooting.’

That’s it for me. What do you think? What stories are you following today?