Since resigning as Secretary of Defense, Gen. James Mattis has been reluctant to criticize President Trump. No doubt, Mattis has grievances against President Trump, but his soldierly and patriotic instincts counseled against airing them.
Mattis’s instincts were sound. He should have kept following them.
Instead, the former Secretary lashed out at Trump this week. He said:
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. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.
So it’s wrong to be “distracted” when rioters loot, vandalize, and burn our cities? Of course not. We can respect protesters and still condemn rioters and do what it takes to stop them.
What is Mattis prattling on about when he talks about “those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution”? His claim seems to be that Trump violated the First Amendment rights of protesters when authorities cleared the area between the White House and a nearby church Trump wanted to visit — a church that had been set on fire by the rioters Mattis doesn’t want us to be distracted by.
There seems to be some uncertainty about Trump’s role in the decision to clear out the area and his knowledge about what was going on at the time. Let’s put that aside and assume that Trump ordered what happened.
Citizens have a First Amendment right to protest, and to do so next to the White House. But that right doesn’t mean the U.S. president must either remain sheltered in place at the White House or, if he walks across the street, be confronted by a mob.
Protesters in Washington D.C. have been exercising their First Amendment rights virtually non-stop for days on end. Their rights aren’t diminished if they have to move a block or two for a while so the president can walk across the street securely. The First Amendment does not grant protesters the indefinite run of a city. Protests have always been subject to time and place restrictions.
Mattis states: “We do not need to militarize our response to protests.” We didn’t. The military was deployed in response to riots.
In Washington, D.C., the local police, guardsmen, and secret service members were outnumbered and outmatched by Antifa agitators and their thug shock troops. According to this report, more than 60 US Secret Service Uniformed Division officers and special agents were injured between Friday night and Sunday morning near the White House. They were injured because some protesters threw projectiles such as bricks, rocks, bottles, and fireworks at them. In addition, personnel reportedly were directly physically assaulted — kicked, punched and exposed to bodily fluids.
If Mattis considers attacks on Secret Service a mere distraction, he’s become too clueless to be taken seriously. Maybe we should be thankful he’s no longer our Secretary of Defense.
Mattis also sniffs, “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try.” But Trump’s response to recent events is what, broadly speaking, we should want from a president. He condemned the killing of George Floyd, calling it a tragedy, and members of his Department of Justice have been assigned to Minnesota to investigate. When rioting broke out, he condemned the rioters, urged mayors and governors to protect American citizens effectively, and deployed a small military presence to protect the nation’s capital.
American should be able to unite behind this response. It’s not Trump’s fault that we can’t.
UPDATE: In posting this, I don’t mean to minimize Gen. Mattis’s outstanding record of service to our country. I consider Mattis an American hero.
I just believe that, like a great many people, he’s not thinking clearly about what’s been going on in America this past week.