Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis excoriated President Donald Trump’s response to nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd, writing Wednesday he had abused his power and sown division rather than working to unite outraged Americans.
“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try,” Mattis wrote in a letter to The Atlantic. “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.”
(Read the full letter at The Atlantic.)
The comments are an extraordinary rebuke of the president. Trump has been roundly criticized by Democrats after he vowed to unleash the force of the U.S. military on anti-racist protests around the country and for the violent removal of largely peaceful demonstrators near the White House this week so the president could have a photo-op in front of a nearby church.
But few Republicans have joined in.
Trump responded to the letter later Wednesday, saying he was “glad” Mattis was gone and didn’t like “his ’leadership style or much else about him.”
“Probably the only thing Barack Obama and I have in common is that we both had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated General,” the president wrote on Twitter. “I gave him a new life, things to do, and battles to win, but he seldom ‘brought home the bacon.’”
Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, died last week after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. His death has sparked more than a week of demonstrations calling for dramatic police reform and accountability for the treatment of people of color in custody.
Four officers were fired and have been charged in the killing, and the Minnesota attorney general upgraded charges Wednesday against Derek Chauvin, the officer who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck, to second-degree murder without intent.
Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general, resigned at the end of 2018 in protest after Trump chose to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria. He had largely remained quiet about his former boss, although he told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg: “There is a period in which I owe my silence. It’s not eternal. It’s not going to be forever.”
That silence ended Wednesday. In his letter, he wrote that he had watched the week’s events “angry and appalled,” saying the protests were “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 directly pointed to the response outside the White House on Monday when heavily armed officers used gas canisters and flash-bang grenades to clear Lafayette Square.
“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” he wrote. “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.”