Donald Trump backed down from his attempts to turn Washington, DC, into a site of Armageddon with full-status military soldiers on the street Thursday night when he allowed Defense Secretary Mark Esper to resume sending home segments of the 1,600 active duty troops from the 82nd Airborne Division.
Esper had attempted to start sending the troops, never deployed for stationed just outside the nation’s capital, back to their base at Fort Bragg, N.C. but Trump angrily reversed that order and started talking about replacing his latest appoint as defense chief, but aides apparently calmed him down and removal of the troops began late Thursday night.
A Pentagon official said privately that 700 members of the airborne unit are on their way to North Carolina and the remaining 900, along with a military police unit from Fort Drum, N.Y., are expected to start heading home Friday.
But tensions between the bombastic Trump and the Pentagon remain high as the supposed commander-in-chief spent most of Thursday in a constant tirade against Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, because of their public opposition to attempts to deploy active duty troops into the nation’s cities because of widespread protests from the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd, a black man killed while in custody over an incorrect claim he had passed a $20 counterfeit bill.
Trump’s actions have sparked a raging revolt his actions in the middle of a re-election campaign.
“This is a critical moment to decide whether the Department of Defense is going to be independent of the politics of the moment and focus on its principal role of defending national security or whether it’s simply going to become a political arm of the president,” says former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who served under Mr. Obama.
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski praised the actions of former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who said Trump is using the military to violate the Constitution of the United States and is dividing the nation.
General Milley, the Joint Chiefs chairman, sent a message to top military commanders Wednesday reminding them that thier top oath if to defend the Constitution and that it “gives Americans the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.”
“It’s a start,” says retired admiral and NATO commander James Stavridis.
Even National Guard commanders, often used in protest and riot duty, worry about getting caught between conflicting oaths to the Constitution and an unhinged president.
“We in America should not get used to or accept uniformed service members of any variety having to be put in a position where they are having to secure people inside the United States of America,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden of the Georgia National Guard.
“While we are glad to do it and honored to do it, this is a sign of the times that we need to do better as a country, and we ought to look at this as a forcing function for our country to do better,” General Carden said. “We stand ready to do this mission anytime we are called on to do it, but I pray I never have to do it again.”
The officers are not alone. More and more Americans are questioning the actions of Trump.
Richard Kohn, professor of emeritus at the University of North Carolina and an acknowledged expert on civil-military relations, calls the actions of Trump “especially troubling.”
“There is the stench of authoritarianism and intimidation — and even illegality — in Mr. Trump’s attitude and bluster and his intended actions,” he said.
Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy studies at The American Enterprise Institute and a former national security aide to President George W. Bush, calls Trump’s actions are “corroding the professional of the military.”
“The fact that so many active-duty officers and former officers are speaking up in support of the Constitution,” she tells The Washington Post, “shows the damage this is doing to the covenant between the American people and the military.”
A newspaper columnist now calls Trump “the Antichrist.”
“The leading cause of the chaos sweeping the streets of the United States is Donald Trump,” writes Helaine Olen. “What has happened to our nation over both the past nearly 3½ years and the past week is exactly what we should expect to happen when the person in charge has no stated beliefs other than his self-interest, and little agenda other than tearing down the accomplishments of others.”
Damn good observation. She continues:
Trump possesses no sense of the gravity of the office he holds, no belief in its greater purpose. He has looted our government of its ability to perform its functions, destroying agencies from the inside out. He has fired, forced out and humiliated government officials, bureaucrats and politicians who have attempted to hold him accountable for his violations of law and constitutional norms.
The welfare of the public barely registers with Trump. His administration took apart the pandemic response team assembled under the Obama administration. As the coronavirus pandemic bore down on the United States, Trump did not heed appeals for a coordinated federal response, apparently in an attempt to keep the stock market climbing. He resisted activating the Defense Production Act, forcing states, cities and health-care systems to compete for scarce medical protective gear, needed medications and equipment such as ventilators. Unable or unwilling to organize the government to provide adequate testing and contact tracing for covid-19, Trump promotes quack cures, going so far as to seem to suggest people inject bleach to cure the potentially deadly illness.
Nothing is too low for Trump, she says.
“His own rioting and looting apparently do not register as a problem. He blames, threatens and incites, hurling insults, invective and provocations from Twitter,” she says. “In the wake of the protests and looting that occurred in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, Trump echoed the segregationist language of the 1960s, claiming, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Can it get worse. It has.
“He subsequently threatened people with “ominous weapons” and “vicious dogs.” she adds. “Peaceful protesters were tear-gassed Monday night so he could stage a photo op, holding a Bible in front of Washington’s historic St. John’s Episcopal Church.”
Trump is now roundly criticized by religious leaders, retired military officers and people of real religious faith.
Trump and his questionable administration, writes columnist Catherine Rampell, are “after all, must be among the most lawless and disorderly in U.S. history.”
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