We are living through a remarkable moment in American history. Many of the nation’s most distinguished former military leaders—including Donald Trump’s own former secretary of defense, James Mattis—are rising up to express alarm at Trump’s leadership during this national crisis. At the same time, current military leaders are using their platforms to both publicly express their own policy preferences and to present a sharply different message than the message coming from the White House.
What is going on? The answer is simple. The president went too far—in both his rhetoric and actions—and now there is genuine alarm that Trump is willing to abuse the reputation and power of the military, not just to restore order but also for political gain.
Let’s look at the timeline. On May 29, as widespread rioting and looting touched off across the United States in response to the police killing of George Floyd, Donald Trump tweeted this:
The next night, after protesters swarmed the streets around the White House, Trump congratulated the “professional” and “very cool” Secret Service for protecting the executive mansion, but he also made threats regarding the “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” that awaited anyone who breached the fence. He indicated that young agents were “just waiting for action.”