I disagree with retired Gen. James Mattis. While I appreciate his many years of service to our wonderful nation, my status as a civilian does not prohibit me as a free American from disagreeing with anyone on policy or any issue, military or not. We do not live in some military state, we live in the United States of America. Appeals to authority and attempts to place civic participation out of the reach of Americans based on ideological differences is itself unAmerican. With that said, Mattis misses the mark in his recent letter on the administration and riots.
For some time now the media has been angling for the storied Mattis vs Trump battle. What media fail to realize is that they’re not pitting Mattis against Trump, they’re pitting Mattis against millions of voters who elected Trump. At first, Mattis smartly declined the bait, saying “The duty of silence. If you leave an administration, you owe some silence. When you leave an administration over clear policy differences, you need to give the people who are still there as much opportunity as possible to defend the country. They still have the responsibility of protecting this great big experiment of ours. I know the malevolence some people feel for this country, and we have to give the people who are protecting us some time to carry out their duties without me adding my criticism to the cacophony that is right now so poisonous.” It’s almost like he’s describing the exact time we are in right now, so what changed? Well, we’re a year closer to an election (five months away) and so far the left’s attempts to undermine the current administration have failed: the “his taxes!” plan didn’t work, the Russia witch-hunt failed spectacularly with Rosenstein yesterday writing the epitaph of the whole mess answering, after Senator Graham asked if he would have signed off on the warrant then knowing what he knows now, “No, I would not.”
It was time to bring in or otherwise exploit the heavy artillery, so to speak. (And I don’t mean Antifa’s molotov cocktails, brick-throwing, beating and shooting people in the streets, and burning down businesses.)
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.
Mattis chastises us for being “distracted” by rioters’s arson, murder, assault, and robbery that has been in large enough number to occur in cities all across the country. We aren’t discussing protestors, though, we are discussing rioters. You can support peaceful protest and condemn violent riots. Many others have purposefully conflate peaceful protestors with violent rioters for two reasons: 1) to dodge responsibility in condemning the violence, murder, and destruction and 2) so they can illogically accuse Republicans of persecuting protestors and violating the First Amendment.
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 are apparently now in so godless an era that people are more upset with a president for taking a photo at a church than they are over progressive militants setting that same church on fire the night before. What rights does Mattis refer to here? Who has ordered any troops to violate rights? Unless the First Amendment includes clauses for burning down churches and shooting dead retired black police captains, this is a disingenuous argument. Peaceful protestors have a right to protest. Large gatherings where people are committing arson and/or throwing bottles at police does not fir the definition of “peaceably to protest.” The administration discussed the possibility of using the military for law and order after cities across the countries burned, businesses, even a home in Richmond where rioters unsuccessfully stopped firefighters from arriving and rescuing the child trapped inside. Mattis is so concerned over the rights of the people committing acts of violence, but I can’t seem to find concern for the First Amendment rights of the business owners whose livelihoods were burned to the ground. Where is the concern for Korboi Balla’s rights to not have his entire livelihood destroyed? Where is the concern for this woman’s right to not be beaten in the street because looters wanted to destroy her store? Where is the concern for retired police captain David Dorn’s right to not be murdered by rioters in my hometown who wanted to pillage the store he was protecting for his friend? What about the rights of the four other officers shot in my hometown by rioters? Or the rights of my friend, a decorated Navy SEAL and business owner whose building was riddled with rioters’s bullet holes? Where is Mattis’s concern for this Atlanta business owner who was almost beaten to death by angry rioters after they caught him checking on his business? What about the right of this Las Vegas LEO to not be shot in the head by violent rioters? Or the rights of this man who was attacked and beaten by violent rioters? Their rights, safety, lives matter too, right? It’s the price the left and others are willing to pay for the illusionary optic of infringement when smoke and tea gas is deployed to reign in the mayhem.
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.
Mattis should be happy then, because under this administration more than previous, Trump has refused to send our military to participate in every single fight to which they’re invited all around the world. The Insurrection Act has been invoked before by presidents, most recently by George H. W. Bush for the L.A. riots in 1992, and while I lean to side with Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in this particular case, to intimate that it’s an unwarranted notion isn’t exactly logical or unsupported by precedent. The President has the authority to do so even though the situation does not warrant it at this time, a reality that the left and others apparently believe is a statement of total action.
And yes, keeping order does rest with the states, but what an interesting gambit: blue state governors or mayors who allow law and order to break down to the point of mass arson and assault as a game of chicken to see if Trump will send in the troops so Democrats can accuse him of statism “right around the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre,” they note without irony. Also without irony: George Floyd was killed by a police officer run by a Democrat-appointed chief (the first black police chief in the department’s history, good on the city for catching up to 2020), in a town with a Democrat mayor, a town that has been shaped and led by Democrat leaders for forty years, in a historically Democrat state that has voted for more Democrat presidents since the 70s than any other. But the problem is somehow Trump.
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. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. 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.
I’m not even sure what to make of this. If you were to present this to me without my already knowing that Mattis wrote it, I wouldn’t believe you. Trump condemned the killing of George Floyd and asked the DOJ and FBI to investigate while telling governors and mayors across the state to protect their localities. He had the National Guard protect the Lincoln Memorial and other historic sites after rioters defaced the WWII Memorial and other landmarks and proposed the possibility of using the military to protect citizens during violent riots, something the majority of Americans said they supported in recent polling. Yet Mattis has more words here for Trump than the militant progressive group whose flags appear at every riot, the group Democrats refuse to condemn by name. Joe Biden donated to the bail fund for looters and rioters, what about the business owners they destroyed — if we’re speaking about division. What of the division created by shaming business owners for wanting to protect their ability to earn an income? There were riots in Ferguson under the previous administration, should we follow Mattis’ example here and specifically pin that on Barack Obama? Should I adopt the ridiculous reasoning of progressives, when they claimed my hourglass in a promo announcing forthcoming programming constituted a “threat,” and assume that Mattis’s line here “We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society” is some equally silly suggestion of a coup? Those are the rules, aren’t they?
I understood why Mattis initially declined to start a war of words with the President of the United States, he wanted the distance provided by retirement, but his acuity as a military tactician does not extend to the world of political tactics. We aren’t witnessing these things as a result or consequence of Trump — and while insisting otherwise is a nice way to make excuses for the actual causes, it’s no more closer to the truth than a lie. What we’re witnessing is the result of government schools and colleges teaching kids that dissent is itself “violence” and physical violence and property destruction are “protected speech;” that it’s not racism if the person demonstrating bigotry is a white Hillary Clinton voter, that skin color cannot be authenticated unless you’re a Biden voter; that selfishness for someone else’s earnings is virtuous but earnings gone unshared by the actual laborer is greed; that diverse opinion is treason and tolerance is a one-way street.
I am once again humbled by this new reminder to place not my trust in men, no matter how much I admire them for their service.
*UPDATE: Trump responds:
I thought this letter from respected retired Marine and Super Star lawyer, John Dowd, would be of interest to the American People. Read it! pic.twitter.com/I5tjysckZh
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 4, 2020