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Because they were raised during the holidays when much of the public was distracted by personal activities, the alarms from three respected senior military officers are likely to go largely unheeded. That not only is unfortunate but could prove dangerous for the country.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned in what amounted to protest over President Trump’s ill-advised and hasty decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, abandoning our Kurdish allies in the process.
Mattis retired from the Marine Corps as a full four-star general, having risen through the officer ranks, with commensurate commands, from a reserve second lieutenant’s commission. His appointment by Trump as defense secretary sooner than seven years after military retirement required a congressional waiver from a provision of the National Security Act. General George C. Marshall in 1950 was the only other person granted such a waiver. That and the fact the Senate confirmed Mattis as secretary by a 98-to-one vote testify to the professional esteem he has earned.
His resignation letter was carefully worded but was nevertheless a strong rebuke of the President. "While the U.S. remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies,” he wrote.
“Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model – gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic, and security decisions – to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.”
Less vocal in his public criticism was another retired four-star general who is stepping down from the Trump administration this week, John F. Kelly. He served 46 years in the Marines – from the Vietnam War to the rise of Islamic State – making him the military’s longest-serving general when he retired in January, 2016. Again, there is no question about his credentials. First as Homeland Security secretary and then in 18 months at the White House as chief of staff, he presided over some of the Trump administration’s most controversial immigration and security policies.
In a long interview with Molly O’Toole of the Los Angeles Times, published Sunday, Kelly defended his rocky tenure, arguing that it is best measured by what the President did not do when Kelly was at his side. When Trump picked him to be chief of staff, officials from the Pentagon to Capitol Hill expressed hope that Kelly would be one of the “adults in the room” to manage a mercurial President. To critics, Kelly failed at that task, unable to rein in Trump’s angry tweets or bring order to executive decision-making. Kelly’s supporters say he stepped in to block or divert the President on dozens of matters large and small. They credit him, in part, for persuading Trump not to pull U.S. forces out of South Korea, or withdraw from NATO, as he had threatened.
Retired Army General Stanley A. McChrystal, a former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan who has not been in the Trump administration, sharply criticized the President during an interview on ABC News on Sunday, calling him immoral and untruthful and taking aim at his foreign policy decisions. He told host Martha Raddatz, “I don’t think he tells the truth.” The general also responded affirmatively when asked whether he believes Trump is “immoral.”
McChrystal added that although he couldn’t tell others not to support Trump, Americans should ask themselves whether the President embodies the country’s values. “If we want to be governed by someone we wouldn’t do a business deal with because their background is so shady – if we’re willing to do that, then that’s in conflict with who I think we are,” he said. “And so I think it’s necessary at those times to take a stand.”
As President Trump’s legal and political jeopardy mounts at an accelerating pace there are hints that Vice President Mike Pence is preparing to take over on short notice and, in the process, declaring that he will restore to the nation’s highest office the dignity and respect it should rightly command.
The eulogy he delivered during funeral rites for former President George H. W. Bush was nothing short of presidential in tone. It was in sharp contrast to the early-morning and late-night ‘tweets’ which reflect the warped ideas of the present occupant of the White House.
Since then we have had the apparently unfathomable decision by Mr. Pence’s chief-of-staff Nick Ayres to reject an offer to serve Mr. Trump in the same capacity. Why would an ambitious person in his mid-30s do so -- unless, of course, he has reason to believe he can aspire in the not-too-distant future to serve in the same position a recognizably more responsible President.
Then there was the display this week of the Vice President’s non-responsiveness during the televised conference between President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. We suspect there was more truth than comedy in Stephen Colbert’s satiric musing about what was going through Mr. Pence’s mind at the time: “President Pence … the Pence administration … the Michael Pence Presidential Library and Casino.”
Those developments took us back to September 5 when the New York Times violated a sound journalistic principle and published an anonymous opinion essay under the headline ‘I Am Part of the Resistance’. The author was said to be a “high official” in the Trump Administration. Vice President Pence was among the first of many “high officials” to deny writing it.
Even so, it’s not illogical to consider him to be in a group calling itself “the resistance” on whose behalf it was written. The group is said to be doing everything it can to mitigate damage resulting from the actions of an irresponsible President.
To be sure there have been some recent reports quoting authoritative, but unidentified, knowledgeable sources to the effect that Mr. Trump has begun to question Mr. Pence’s personal loyalty.
We believe that the justification for the Times, considered by most people to be the nation’s premier conveyor of news, to violate a precedent so fundamental to the integrity of the profession goes well beyond protecting the job of a news source. More likely, we think, is that the editors sought to avoid instigating a constitutional crisis of the highest magnitude while fulfilling its obligation to inform the public of a significant situation.
No one knows how soon President Trump could be removed from office by impeachment or criminal proceedings. That depends upon how soon Special Counsel Robert Mueller has accumulated a critical mass of evidence to convince perhaps as many as a third of the American public that Mr. Trump’s wrongdoing has far exceeded the “high crimes and misdemeanors” spoken of in the Constitution.
If Mr. Pence were to succeed him, don’t expect an abrupt change in political direction. As the September 5 article specifically stated: “To be clear, ours is not the popular ‘resistance’ of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous. But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the President continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.”
By Peter Baker
NEW YORK TIMES
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — The show onstage might well have been called Fox & Friend. As President Trump wrapped up the midterm election cycle with a late-night rally in southeast Missouri on Monday, he was joined by a trio of conservative media rock stars.
Introducing the president as he stumped for Republican candidates was Rush Limbaugh, the radio host who was born and raised in Cape Girardeau. Then after Mr. Trump took the microphone, he invited two Fox News personalities, Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro, to join him on stage, where each also delivered a short speech backing the president.
The line between the Trump White House and Fox has always been a little blurry, but in that moment at least, the fusion of president and network seemed complete.
The strangest political campaign in U.S. history – which may well determine what the country will be like in the foreseeable future – will end tomorrow when, hopefully, a record number of voters in a mid-presidential term election turns out at the polls. Although his name isn’t on the ballot in any state, it is clearly a referendum on President Donald Trump.
The question to be decided is the extent to which Americans are willing to assent to the course this most divisive of presidents has set for the country. Will future generations ask why we didn’t stop him when we had a relatively easy opportunity to do so?
Beyond the emotions of the moment we see early signs of the much more invidious threat that Mr. Trump poses.
The campaign rallies that have been the focus of his electioneering, for instance, have been well choreographed occasions for a hodgepodge of demagogic bombast. The Washington Post, which has kept a running count since he took office, recently reported that the President made more than 1,100 misleading or blatantly false statements while barnstorming during October alone. Assembled supporters were cued to cheer and wave professionally-produced slogan signs after nearly each one. There’s no question that President Trump is both an effective and a persuasive public speaker. Imagine him at some future time haranguing a similarly enthusiastic capacity crowd in one of the large football stadiums.
Mr. Trump many times has demonstrated he is a bigoted racist. Blacks, Latinos and Islamists are favorite targets of his stereotypical hatred, but he isn’t loathe to spread it around among others he deems ethnically undesirable or objectionable at any given moment.
He is prone to advocate violence, preferably in his view to inspire others to carry it out. He’s equally ready to disclaim any responsibility for the logical consequences of tough talk. He isn’t big on displaying empathy, but will reluctantly mouth platitudes when needs be and then go right on talking that way.
In recent days there have been three significant examples which portend real danger to American democracy. Mr. Trump has demonstrated willingness to chip away at the Constitution by using executive fiat to eliminate its provision for birthright citizenship. He has misused his authority as commander-in-chief by ordering units of our professional military to the southwestern border on a political fool’s errand to counter a non-existent threat from people seeking traditional asylum. And he stands not very far from behind state-level supporters willing to compromise their public obligation by weakening citizens’ voting rights of American Indians, blacks and other targeted people.
If there is any tendency to brand these comments as unduly alarmist, consider that it was President Trump himself who just a few days ago declared publicly and with considerable pride that he is a confirmed nationalist. It’s not necessary to hunt for hidden meanings for that word. A cursory brush with world history of the past century or two tells what happened to the freedom of those who fell under the sway of movements identified by that title.
Be sure to vote tomorrow. Before doing so apply some serious critical thinking to the choices you’re about to make.
Delaware voters can do their part by returning TOM CARPER to the Senate and LISA BLUNT ROCHESTER to the House of Representatives.