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Military leaders stand up for Constitution, put Trump in his place

This region has a proud military heritage. Battles of independence that established a free nation were fought here. Submarines that ply the depths and deter all enemies that would militarily challenge our republic are both built here and make their home port. The future officers of the Coast Guard are educated and prepare here. Our communities are filled with the ranks of the military retired.

So, it is with particular pride that we note how recent past military leaders have again stepped up to serve their country, to even in retirement fulfill their oaths “to support and defend the Constitution.”

They did not act in the traditional duty of generals and admirals. Their days of preparing battle plans, of leading men and women in defense of the nation, are over. But they are arguably performing an even more important duty speaking up about a threat that confronts the United States from the pinnacle of power — the presidency.

When President Trump on June 1 suggested and then demonstrated a willingness to use U.S. troops against citizens in the streets of American cities, a succession of top former military leaders spoke up in defense of constitutional ideals and reminded, or perhaps educated, the president about the limited role of the military in our republic.

On the evening of June 1 in Washington, after a prior night that included rioting and destruction amid the protests, and after telling governors they needed to “dominate the streets,” Trump demonstrated the iron-fist approach he seems far too eager to emulate in other U.S. cities.

Battle-clad security forces — Secret Service, Park Police, DC National Guard — pushed and gassed peaceful protesters out of Lafayette Square, where they were exercising the First Amendment “right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In this case, an end to the unequal treatment of African-American citizens in policing and the criminal-justice system.

President Trump, joined by members of his cabinet, then strode triumphantly through the cleared square to pose in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, damaged by vandals during earlier demonstrations.

Gen. James Mattis, who resigned as secretary of defense in the Trump administration in December 2018, would soon write that he was “angered and appalled” by “the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square.”

“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstances to violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens,” Mattis stated.

If not checked by voices of great respect, such as Mattis, it is not a stretch to imagine Trump ordering troops to repeat the spectacle in other cities, driving a wedge between the people and an institution that has its respect — the military — as he tries to build a case as the law-and-order president retaking the streets.

As Trump held up a Bible in front of St. John Church, it was mindful of Middle East leaders who have wielded the Koran and religious fidelity as an excuse to crush opposition.

This was not lost on retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who wrote that Trump’s actions “laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country, gave succor to the leaders of other countries who take comfort in our domestic strife and risked further politicizing the men and women of our armed forces.”

Others also spoke up in denunciation, including Gen. Martin Dempsey, another former chair of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Tony Thomas, a former commander of U.S. Special Operations, and Gen. John Allen, former commander of U.S. and Allied Forces in Afghanistan.

“The slide of the United States into illiberalism may well have begun on June 1, 2020,” wrote Allen.

Illiberalism meaning restriction of freedom of thought or behavior.

We’re afraid the threat began much earlier in this administration, Gen. Allen, when a free press was labeled the “enemy of the people,” when the prospects of locking up political opponents was raised, and when a foreign leader was coerced in an effort to get dirt on a future opponent.

We’re confident the people and their Constitution will prevail.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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