As President Trump ratchets up his fascistic power play amidst the ongoing civil rights protests that have rolled across America over the past two weeks, some of the nation's top military leaders have begun sounding the alarm that the president has taken this country into dark and uncharted waters.
In a statement released Wednesday, Trump's own former Secretary of Defense James Mattis castigated his onetime boss, writing that the president "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."
Of course, this is hardly news for anyone who's been awake for the past five years. But coming from the man Trump once trusted to run the entire military, it's nevertheless striking — as is the direct comparison Mattis drew between the president's divisiveness and Germany's Third Reich. He 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.
Predictably, Trump and his enablers were not thrilled. In a series of tweets (of course) the president attacked his former top military official as "the world's most overrated general," and lied about giving Mattis his "Mad Dog" nickname.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who morphed from a fierce Trump detractor during the 2016 election to one of the president's staunchest defenders, theorized on Fox News that Mattis had merely been bamboozled by "the liberal media."
All this would be noteworthy in and of itself, but it came the same day that several other top former U.S. military officials released similarly incendiary broadsides against the current commander-in-chief.
"I have to date been reticent to speak out on issues surrounding President Trump's leadership, but we are at an inflection point, and the events of the past few weeks have made it impossible to remain silent," former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen wrote in The Atlantic on Tuesday, after the president used military force to clear protesters outside the White House, all so he could wave a Bible in front of a nearby church.
"Whatever Trump's goal in conducting his visit, he laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country, gave succor to the leaders of other countries who take comfort in our domestic strife, and risked further politicizing the men and women of our armed forces," Mullen, who was appointed to the Joint Chiefs by former President George W. Bush, continued. "There was little good in the stunt."
On Wednesday, retired four-star Marine Gen. Mike Allen sounded perhaps the most straightforward alarm of all, writing in an essay for Foreign Policy that "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."
Taken together, this triptych of warnings from some of the most decorated soldiers in the country is plenty alarming. That things have gotten so bad that they're willing to break with the longstanding (albeit not absolute) tradition of not speaking out against the commander-in-chief is telling.
But take a step back, and their warnings — no matter how pointed and frightening they may be (and they certainly are!) — ring conspicuously hollow. Mattis served under Trump for two years — a period of time during which immigrant children were caged, foreign nationals were barred from entering the country based essentially on their religion, and the president coddled white nationalists as "very fine people."
It's only after the Trump began to appropriate the military for a photo-op that Mattis, Allen, and Mullen spoke out — seemingly solely out of concern for the sanctity of the military's aloof status as unassailably impartial. This sudden burst of bravery in publicly condemning Trump — sincere as it may be — likely comes as much from understanding that the tides have shifted far enough that they can do so without fear of retribution as the existence of any genuine concern or disgust on their part.
In other words, dire as their warnings are, they're being broadcast from the far back of the bandwagon.