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Do not forget Lafayette Square on Election Day

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Donald Trump sits atop the most corrupt, dysfunctional presidency in American history. But five years of relentless political carnage – from extortion, graft, conspiracy-mongering and unconstitutional profiteering to four Vietnam wars’ worth of dead Americans – risk fueling apathy at the worst possible time. Indeed, scandal fatigue is a core component of the president’s unscrupulous playbook.

Trump’s latest violation – suppressing peaceful protest – is his most egregious abuse of power yet.

But why should Americans care?

Well, for one, Trump seems to have a bizarre affinity for authoritarian despots. Worse, there is a disturbingly real possibility that he will not voluntarily leave office on January 20, 2021.Yes, Trump said last week that he would “certainly” leave office if he loses, but can we believe him?

Without venturing into the complex debate over policing and racism in the United States, all Americans must agree that their compatriots have a right – enshrined in the U.S. Constitution – to demonstrate peacefully.

Yet, at the exact moment that Trump declared himself “an ally of peaceful protestors,” multiple law enforcement agencies forcefully dispersed a demonstration just blocks from the White House. 

Abundant video evidence, bolstered by accounts from National Guardsmen on the scene, make clear that the June 1, 2020 protest outside of Lafayette Square was overwhelmingly peaceful. Moreover, despite repeated denials, law enforcement resorted to using tear gas and unnecessary force against nonviolent demonstrators.” 

As one National Guardsman recalled, “As a military officer, what I saw was really f—ed up … I’m here to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and what I just saw goes against my oath.” Several others present echoed this sentiment.

Trump’s blatantly unconstitutional abuse of power then segued into a truly despicable political stunt: His now-infamous Bible-wielding photo op.

Never mind that when asked, Trump could not name a single Biblical verse. Forget his blatantly un-Christian treatment of the poor, sick and downtrodden, or the laundry list of ways that his personal conduct is the antithesis of biblical teachings; deploying force against peaceful protestors for a demagogic political statement is an egregious violation of basic American principles.

Unsurprisingly, this authoritarian and un-Christian exploit outraged the Episcopal bishop overseeing the church that served as the backdrop for Trump’s shameful photo op.

Moreover, Trump’s asinine stunt prompted some of America’s most respected retired generals – a group not typically eager to wade into the chaos of domestic politics – to speak out forcefully against the president’s proto-despotism.

Retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, Trump’s former secretary of defense and a demigod among the military establishment, delivered a blistering rebuke of the president, writing “We know we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our constitution.”

General Mattis’ sentiment was echoed by retired General John Kelly, another former Trump official and a legend in the Marine Corps whom I had the distinct honor of working for. 

Retired four-star Marine General John Allen spoke up too, warning that Trump’s authoritarian crackdown on peaceful protest may signal “the beginning of the end of the American experiment.” 

Taken together, these men represent the finest, most revered voices of the United States Marine Corps. Their words must not be taken lightly.

High-ranking veterans of other military branches also broke their silence on Trump’s rashly immoral behavior.

Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was “sickened” to see security personnel “forcibly and violently clear a path through Lafayette Square” for Trump’s asinine photo op. Army General Martin Dempsey, another widely-respected former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, slammed Trump’s threat to use the military on American streets.

Admiral William McRaven, the Navy SEAL who oversaw the killing of Osama bin Laden, rightly noted that “there is nothing morally right” about the use of force against peaceful protestors.

Combined, these warriors have served the United States honorably on foreign battlefields and in the nation’s capital for well over a century.  

If they are compelled to speak out again on January 21, 2021, the world will know that America ignored their rare and forceful rebukes of a recklessly amoral president.

Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.

Tags Donald Trump George Floyd protests James Mattis John Allen John Kelly killing of George Floyd Martin Dempsey Trump presidency William McRaven

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