WASHINGTON – Former Defense Secretary James Mattis denounced President Donald Trump Wednesday in an statement that hammered his former boss as a threat to American democracy.
Trump is needlessly dividing the country and “militarizing” America’s response to the protests, Mattis wrote in a statement published by The Atlantic magazine.
“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,” he wrote.
“We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort,” he continued. “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.”
Mattis took aim at the White House’s decision Monday to forcibly clear protesters from a park in front of the White House, so Trump could walk across the street and pose with a Bible in front of a historic church. Mattis called it an abuse of power.
Noting his own oath to uphold the Constitution when he first joined the military, 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.”
Mattis expressed hope that the USA would emerge from this wrenching moment stronger and more unified, holding up as heroes the grocery store cashiers, doctors and other essential workers who helped Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Park,” he said. “We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.”
Trump lashed out at Mattis on Twitter Wednesday night, calling him “the world’s most overrated General.”
” … I gave him a new life, things to do, and battles to win, but he seldom ‘brought home the bacon’,” the president wrote. “I didn’t like his ‘leadership’ style or much else about him, and many others agree. Glad he is gone!”
His spokeswoman, Kayleigh McEnany, called Mattis’ statement “a self-promotional stunt to appease the DC elite.”
Mattis is highly respected, and he has largely kept quiet since he left the administration.
In breaking his silence Wednesday, the former general also offered a full-throated endorsement of the demonstrations, which have unfolded across the USA after George Floyd, an African American man, was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer.
In his statement Wednesday, Mattis took a swipe at his successor, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who urged state officials this week “to dominate the battle space” as some protests turned violent.
Esper has come under withering criticism for using that term, and he backpedaled Wednesday: “In retrospect, I would use different wording so as not to distract from the more important matters at hand.”
Trump has used similar language, calling for local officials to “dominate the streets” and touting what he described as “overwhelming force” and “domination” of protesters in Washington.
“We must reject any thinking of our cities as a ‘battlespace’ that our uniformed military is called upon to ‘dominate,’ ” Mattis wrote.
“At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors,” he wrote. “Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict – a false conflict – between the military and civilian society.”
He said the decision to deploy the military “erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect.”
He said the protesters are “rightly demanding” equal justice under the law and urged Americans not to be distracted by a small number of “lawbreakers” who have used the protests to engage in looting and other violence.
“It is a wholesome and unifying demand – one that all of us should be able to get behind,” Mattis said. “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.”