WASHINGTON: Cracks are starting to appear in the Trump administration and in the Republican Party after Tuesday’s fiasco involving President Donald Trump’s use of the military to evict peaceful protestors in front of the White House so he could pose in front of a church with a bible in hand — and his general eagerness to deploy the military to contain civic strife.
US Defense Mike Esper and the military establishment have now made it known that they were virtually conned into accompanying Trump on his photo-op walk-across to the church opposite to the White House after protestors were dispersed with brute force even before curfew in the area. They have also conveyed they do not support deploying active duty troops to quell protests, even as Trump has shown an alarming keenness to use the military and its lethal weapons against protestors, ostensibly to contain the violence and looting.
“The option to use active duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act,” Esper said during a briefing at the Pentagon, contradicting the President, a self-confessed militarist who has reportedly been inquiring about the use of military tanks, helicopters, and other hardware to quash what he sees as an insurrection.
The differences arose even as former President George Bush, at least four Republican Senators, and a former four-star general chastised Trump for his general approach and handling of the unrest and his use of the church and bible for a photo-op as America burned with rage following the daylight murder of a black man by a white police officer. A top policy official at the Pentagon, James Miller, also resigned from his role on the Defense Advisory Board due to what he said was Esper’s visible support for law enforcement officers’ violently clearing of protestors in front of the White House
“It remains a shocking failure that many African Americans, especially young African American men, are harassed and threatened in their own country. It is a strength when protesters, protected by responsible law enforcement, march for a better future. Those who set out to silence those voices do not understand the meaning of America — or how it becomes a better,” former President Bush said in a statement that was seen as critical of Trump and his policies, even though he did not mention the President by name.
Some Republican lawmakers were more direct. “There is a fundamental — a constitutional — right to protest, and I’m against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop,” said Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, while his Maine colleague Susan Collins said it was “painful to watch peaceful protesters be subjected to tear gas in order for the president to go across the street to a church that I believe he’s attended only once.”
Criticism also came from the US military quarters after a shocking spectacle emerged of Mike Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the highest-ranking officer in the United States Armed Forces, accompanying Trump on his church sortie after the attack on peaceful protestors.
“It sickened me yesterday to see security personnel—including members of the National Guard—forcibly and violently clear a path through Lafayette Square to accommodate the president’s visit outside St. John’s Church. Whatever Trump’s goal in conducting his visit, he laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country… and risked further politicizing the men and women of our armed forces,” his predecessor Mike Mullen said in a commentary, expressing concern that “members of our military will be co-opted for political purposes.”
Some White House aides meanwhile threw the President’s daughter Ivanka Trump and advisor Hope Hicks under the bus for the church fiasco, leaking that the photo-op was their idea to mollify Trump who was apparently enraged by the previous day’s coverage that described him hiding in a bunker as protests got louder. Ivanka in fact carried the bible that Trump held aloft (and upside down, to much derision) in what was described as a $1,540 MaxMara bag. Wire service photos also showed the humiliating spectacle of a President, who constantly boasts of his ratings, walking past a wall of graffiti scrawled with copulatory expletives addressed to him.
Trump meanwhile continued to rage against the protests — and the media — in a ceaseless Twitter rant on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. “So pathetic to watch the Fake News Lamestream Media playing down the gravity and depravity of the Radical Left, looters and thugs, ripping up our Liberal Democrat run (only) cities. It is almost like they are all working together?” he asked in one tweet. In another, he boasted that he had done more for Black Americans than any President in US history with the “possible exception” of Abraham Lincoln.