Donald Trump's protests response 'divisive and immature', says former defence secretary

4 June 2020, 01:01

James Mattis (R) has described Donald Trump (L) as a threat to the US Constitution
James Mattis (R) has described Donald Trump (L) as a threat to the US Constitution. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Donald Trump is "deliberately" trying to turn Americans against each other, says former US defence secretary James Mattis.

The former general, who resigned from Mr Trump’s administration in 2018, made a rare intervention on Wednesday by criticising the US President's response to the protests over the death of George Floyd.

Writing in The Atlantic, Mr Mattis said he was "angry and appalled" by the actions of the US leader over the past week, who he described as both "divisive" and lacking in "mature leadership".

He explained that protesters are "right to demand" people are treated equally under the law.

Speaking about those who have looted and rioted, he added: "We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers."

The former defence secretary said he "never dreamed" a president would use the military "to violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens," after Mr Trump said he would send the National Guard into cities and states that fail to deal with violent demonstrators.

"We do not need to militarise our response to protests," he said.

"We need to unite around a common purpose. And it starts by guaranteeing that all of us are equal before the law."

Mr Mattis added: "Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try.

"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.

"We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society.

"This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children."

The former general urged US citizens to unite and respect each other following the joint sacrifices made during the coronavirus pandemic and the protests.

"Americans in hospitals, grocery stores, post offices, and elsewhere have put their lives on the line in order to serve their fellow citizens and their country," he said.

"We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square (when Mr Trump had peaceful protesters cleared out the way for a photo opportunity at a church).

"We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution."

Mr Mattis has remained quiet since resigning from Mr Trump's administration in 2018, following the president's surprise decision to withdraw US troops from Syria.

His extraordinary attack comes amid mounting criticism of Mr Trump for his government's response to nationwide unrest.

Earlier in the week, the president threatened to deploy the US military to American cities to deal with looting and violence by a minority of protesters.

“If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Mr Trump said from the White House Rose Garden.

While making those remarks, peaceful protesters outside the building were tear-gassed by riot police, with one video on social media showing a police officer repeatedly ramming a cameraman with a riot shield.

Following his statement, the US leader walked to the St John's Episcopal Church, known as The Church of the Presidents, which suffered fire damage in recent demonstrations.