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Gen. Mattis slams Trump, says he’s making a mockery of the Constitution

Secretary of Defense James Mattis speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., on August 28, 2018. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images/TNS)
June 04, 2020

On Wednesday night, retired U.S. Marine Gen. James Mattis and former Secretary of Defense condemned President Donald Trump’s response to the death of George Floyd in police custody and ensuring nationwide demonstrations.

Mattis said in a statement he provided to The Atlantic that he was “angry and appalled” by what he had seen in recent days.

“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,” Mattis wrote. “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. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.”

Mattis resigned from his role as Defense Secretary in December 2018, one day after Trump called for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops in Syria. While Mattis was at odds with the president, he has largely refused to criticize or undermine the president’s leadership while he is in office and even said another member of Trump’s staff had “surrendered his honor” for doing just that with a 2019 book. On Wednesday, Mattis appeared to break from that standard when he spoke out to blast Trump.

Mattis wrote, “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.”

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Immediately after drawing that dichotomy between the Nazi-era message of division and the American concept of strength, he wrote that Trump has not been a uniting factor for Americans.

“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. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”

After demonstrations around the country saw numerous cases of looting, arson, and violence, Trump made a Monday night White House address in which he called on state’s governors to call in their National Guards to “defend the life and property of their residents” and said he would deploy active military units for that purpose if they did not.

Following his address, Trump visited St. John’s Episcopal Church, located near the White House, to survey the damage caused by a fire in the previous night’s rioting. He has been accused of ordering riot police to chase off peaceful protesters prior to that visit to the damaged church.

“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” Mattis wrote. “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.”

Here’s Mattis full statement:

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.