Tag Archives: Mattis

Facing Up To The Challenge?

As protests continue and the “President” (note quotation marks) continues to unravel, I am seeing some hopeful signs of a national awakening. I’ve previously noted that–in contrast to the 60s–there is enormous diversity in the crowds that have taken to the streets demanding justice, and fortunately, most of the media is highlighting that diversity.

Media (with the predictable exception of Fox) is also taking care to note that much of the chaos and looting is attributable to the efforts of white nationalist “race war” agitators and opportunistic hoodlums, not the protestors. They are also covering the backlash against Trump’s clumsy, militarized crackdown on peaceful protestors in order to clear the path for his ludicrous (and arguably sacrilegious) “photo op.”

Particularly gratifying are the signs of a welcome–if belated–pushback by the military.

A retired colleague of mine sent me a copy of the letter issued by Mark Milley, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (a letter which Milley copied to what appears to be the entire military establishment). The letter began by reminding recipients that every member of the military takes an oath to protect the Constitution and the values embedded within it–values that include the belief that all people are born free and equal and entitled to “respect and dignity.” He also referenced respect for the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Assembly clauses.

Milley’s letter came at approximately the same time that General Mattis–finally!–spoke out:

“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” Mattis said in a statement published in The Atlantic.

“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.”

As these military men pointedly noted, their allegiance is to the Constitution–and by implication, not to the wannabe dictator occupying the Oval Office.

As reassuring as these reactions have been, I’m pinning my hopes for meaningful change on signs that unprecedented numbers of white Americans are ready to confront the realities of America’s social structures–ready to genuinely consider the longstanding effects of systemic racism and the dramatically-different realities experienced by white and black Americans.

A former student of mine has a once-in-a-while blog; I was struck by his most recent post, just a few days ago. He began by saying that, as “a privileged white male, I have been struggling with what I can add to the critical dialog on race during these turbulent times.”

He went on to take issue with the statement  that there is “only one race, the human race.”

While a beautiful sentiment, and a biological fact, for a white person to say that “there is only one race” discounts—in most settings—the lived experience of black and brown folk and shuts down any authentic conversation on race.  As one of my favorite writers on the subject, Dr. Robin DiAngelo explains in her lecture Deconstructing White Privilege,

“To say that we are all the same denies we have fundamentally different experiences. While race at the biological level is not real, race as a social construct based on superficial features is very real with significant consequences in people’s lives. The insistence that “we are all one” does not allow us to engage in that social reality.”

The entire post is worth reading, especially for his observation– only now beginning to be widely understood–  that racism is not (just) a moral problem; it is “a system of unequal social, cultural, and institutional power.” As he writes, so long as racism is seen as an individual moral failing, the structures and institutions designed to maintain white supremacy will remain in place.

About those structures…

It’s absolutely true that, as many defenders of the status quo like to say, laws can’t change what is in people’s hearts. What that facile truism fails to recognize is that laws do change behaviors, and that, over time, changing behaviors changes hearts.

Consider the effects of Loving v. Virginia, the case that struck down laws against miscegenation. One big difference between now and the 60s has been the increase in interracial marriages. Those unions haven’t simply allowed people who love each other to wed; they’ve educated–and changed– extended families, co-workers and friendship circles. 

The fire this time isn’t a repeat of the 60s. This time, more minds are open. This time, we can do better.

 

“Mad Dog” Departs

It’s disconcerting enough when the most level-headed and trusted member of an administration is nicknamed “Mad Dog.” It is positively terrifying when that individual concludes he can no longer restrain the actual madness of the President he serves. But that is where America finds itself today.

The full text of General Mattis’ resignation letter is eye-opening.

Mattis quit after the Child-In-Chief ignored his advice and that of the Pentagon and State Departments, and decided (evidently after consulting his “gut”) to pull American troops unilaterally out of Syria. This rash move leaves our Kurd allies at the mercy of the Turks who have threatened to eliminate them; it endangers Israel; and it plays directly into the hands of Iran and Russia.

A Washington Post column was one among the many pointing to the strategic consequences of Trump’s abrupt and foolhardy move, and Mattis’ departure:

From the day Jim Mattis took over the Pentagon, he was seen by Washington and the world as a safeguard against a president addicted to chaos and animated by a different moral code.

At home, he was the seasoned battlefield commander who was willing to check Trump’s often-impulsive instincts when it came to deploying force. As long as Mattis was at the helm of the Pentagon, Republicans and Democrats trusted there was someone who would fight to ensure military actions weren’t taken on a whim.

Overseas, Mattis was perhaps the only Trump administration official who had the unconditional trust of America’s closest allies.

In his resignation letter, Mattis described the “resolute and unambiguous” leadership style that he had tried to bring to his position, particularly when dealing with threats posed by countries such as Russia and China.

Unstated, but implied, was that Trump’s erratic and impetuous approach to foreign policy isn’t up to the threats America faces.

The implications of Mattis’ resignation, underscored by the unprecedented language he employed when he submitted it, are deeply worrisome. Mattis has been one of the very few members of Trump’s administration widely perceived to be competent and honorable. His departure will make it much more difficult for partisans to ignore the damage Trump is doing to America’s standing in the world community, and his constant, dangerous assaults on global stability.

In an administration that has seen unprecedented turnover, Mattis’s conclusion that he could no longer work with Trump is likely to alter the course of the administration’s foreign policy more than any other departure.

In Europe and Asia, Mattis often traveled in Trump’s wake and calmed allies who were unnerved by the president’s threats to abandon allies who didn’t pay more for their defense. His decades of service and commitment to alliances reassured allies who were put off by Trump’s tendency to kowtow to strongmen, such as Russia’s Vladi­mir Putin or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and insult traditional partners in Canada and Great Britain.

It is highly unlikely Trump will find anyone even minimally qualified who is willing to replace Mattis. (As one of my favorite bloggers, Juanita Jean, noted in her inimitable way, “Trump, you have no Secretary of State, no Attorney General, no Chief of Staff, no Secretary Defense, no border wall, and you probably don’t have a winkie. All you have left is the little Nazi-guy with the spray on hair.”)

Most of the people who were willing to join this administration have proved to be grifters, incompetents and/or outright thieves. A few, like Mattis, evidently concluded that duty to the country required subordinating concerns about working for an ignorant and manifestly unfit President.

Republican politicians who justified their public support for Crazy Town by reassuring themselves that people like Mattis would control the nuclear button, and Congressional Republicans willing to go along with a loony-tunes President in order to get those deficit-ballooning tax cuts for their rich patrons need to face up to the facts: America is being endangered daily by a mentally-ill narcissist who knows absolutely nothing about government or foreign policy,  is uninterested in learning, and unwilling to listen to people who do actually know something.

Congressional Republicans have been consistently willing to put party above country, and  must be held equally culpable for the incredible damage being done by this rogue administration. History will not be kind to them.