On Monday, riot police supported by both National Guard troops and other federal agencies rousted peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square so President Donald Trump could walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo op. Trump’s understanding of the protesters — and their anger with America’s longstanding problems with racism and police brutality — appears exceedingly limited. He described himself as “your president of law and order” and warned that the nation was “gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, or, arsonists, looters, criminals.”
In a series of striking critiques this week, senior retired military officers spoke out forcefully and unequivocally against the president.
But the nation’s top military leaders have a different perspective. In a series of striking critiques this week, senior retired military officers including former Secretary of Defense and retired Gen. James Mattis spoke out forcefully and unequivocally against the president. This is not a disagreement over policy, but rather an indictment of the commander in chief’s leadership and competency at a critical moment for the nation. For senior retired military officers to level such criticism against a serving president is unprecedented and signals a true constitutional crisis over American civil-military relations.
Mattis has been criticized for not speaking out previously about his disagreements with the president following his resignation. This week, he decided he could remain silent no longer. In a stunning critique published in the Atlantic, Mattis argued that citizens’ rights "peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances," as outlined in the Bill of Rights, have been violated across America. He urged “those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution” be held accountable. Such strong political condemnation from a former general is extraordinary for many reasons — but Mattis went even further. He excoriated Trump for dividing the nation and declared the country is "witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership."
Both attempted to distance themselves afterward from accusations that they had been used by the president as political props. As a political appointee, Esper’s future is problematic, and he may soon join the long list of senior officials who have resigned or been fired by the president.