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?