Speaking Truth To Power–Very Softly

A number of Republicans who reluctantly voted for Donald Trump  in 2016 did so under the assumption that he would compensate for his lack of government knowledge and experience with solid appointments–people familiar with the ins and outs of governance, to whom he would listen and from whom he would learn.

To observe that that didn’t happen would be the understatement of the century.

Initially, Mr. My-gut-already-knows-everything-so-I-don’t-need-any-advice did include a few competent, ethical advisors among the crowd of sycophants, family members, know-nothings and outright gangsters he assembled, but those individuals are all long gone–frustrated by their inability to get through the grandiosity, bluster and mental issues in order to affect policy.

One of the frustrated individuals who departed was Jim Mattis, who has now written a book. Raw Story has a description.

Mattis shared an excerpt from his upcoming book “Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead” with the Wall Street Journal, which published an essay based on those writings that explains his decision to accept Trump’s offer to lead the Pentagon — and touches on his decision to step down.

“Using every skill I had learned during my decades as a Marine, I did as well as I could for as long as I could,” Mattis wrote. “When my concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated, it was time to resign, despite the limitless joy I felt serving alongside our troops in defense of our Constitution.”

The retired U.S. Marine Corps general took several veiled shots at the president, his domestic leadership and his understanding of the United States’ role in the world.

“Nations with allies thrive, and those without them wither,” he wrote. “Alone, America cannot protect our people and our economy.”

The article refers to Mattis’ shots as “veiled,” and that’s accurate. Mattis is clearly reluctant to follow in the path of other ex-employees, several of whom have written tell-alls after departing through the White House’s ever-revolving door. That said, it isn’t necessary to read between the lines in order to locate Mattis’ significant concerns about Trumpian foreign policy (if Trump’s global interactions can be dignified by calling them ‘policies’).

“At this time, we can see storm clouds gathering,” Mattis added. “A polemicist’s role is not sufficient for a leader. A leader must display strategic acumen that incorporates respect for those nations that have stood with us when trouble loomed. Returning to a strategic stance that includes the interests of as many nations as we can make common cause with, we can better deal with this imperfect world we occupy together. Absent this, we will occupy an increasingly lonely position, one that puts us at increasing risk in the world.”

Mattis warned that Trump’s domestic leadership had ripped apart American unity, and he said that placed democracy itself in danger.

 “Unlike in the past, where we were unified and drew in allies, currently our own commons seems to be breaking apart,” he wrote. “What concerns me most as a military man is not our external adversaries; it is our internal divisiveness. We are dividing into hostile tribes cheering against each other, fueled by emotion and a mutual disdain that jeopardizes our future, instead of rediscovering our common ground and finding solutions.”

As I read these excerpts, I couldn’t help thinking how unlikely it is that the subjects of Mattis’ (entirely appropriate) concerns ever cross Trump’s mind.

If Mattis ever does write a tell-all, it will be well worth reading.


  1. As I watched CNN news at 4:00 a.m. this morning; I quickly realized I was watching the two most powerful world leaders, the evil twins named Trump and Johnson, destroying their (our) own countries from within. Both are alienating allies of many years and turning their countrymen and women against one another as both governments are beginning to crumble. Those leaving the Republican administration are now being joined by our once closest ally, Great Britain, as their Parliament members walk away from Boris Johnson after only a matter of weeks. It has taken us more than 2 1/2 years and the divisive, White Nationalist, dangerously foolish antics of Trump escalates and is referred to as his “Presidential Campaign”. The “Reelect Nixon” campaign and “Watergate” pale in comparison and did not equal the deadly situation we live with here on a daily basis; our armed enemies are within and outside our borders. Will these two leaders be standing alone against the once solid support of shared allies? “When the blind lead the blind; both fall into the ditch.”

    Do we really need a Mattis tell-all to know which way the winds of war are blowing?

  2. I think what has most of us so disoriented – to say the least – is that most of us are very far removed from someone who is his own brand salesman. The “opportunity” to display his hubris and ego on “The Apprentice” was dumped into his lap. He saw this opportunity, rightly so, as a platform for expanding his brand: TRUMP EVERYTHING. He’s still doing it.

    But now he has 99% rational people around the world to deal with; you know, the ones who aren’t interested in his brand and actually despise the salesman. The 60 million who love his schtick are the same ones who watch shit shows like “WWE”, “The Apprentice”, “Survivor” and all the clones. These simpletons revel is seeing people crap on each other in the faux zero-sum games of “competition”. And there it is right in front of them on TV….everyday.

    So, I think Trump’s base is not nearly as complex as anyone might think. These people are still living as if it were 100,000 B.C. Trump TV is their version of caveman night at the movies. It’s a miracle that Mattis and all the others – irrespective of their political leanings – lasted as long as they did. For Trump, the revolving door is just business as usual.

  3. I just hope the general realizes before the next election that he ISN’T a general anymore and that he speaks out forcefully about the reasons the current occupant of the White House is unfit for the job.

  4. One does not have to be loud to speak truth to power, but one does have to be firm. And better to do so while you are in a recognized supportive position to the person in power and not wait until after you have safely escaped the wrath of the target of your criticism. If you are not willing to make a sacrifice for the truth than all the best sellers in the world will not undo the harm you have done by your silence.

  5. It appears that even a Marine general is subject to the power and the glory and the hubris associated with the majesty of the presidency, and while Theresa’s insights are spot on, it’s better late than never for Mattis to tell it like it is, and lest I am too hard on the good general, it is also time for We the People to do what we have to do, to wit: Impeach this piece of protoplasm masquerading as president. Now.

  6. I agree with both Theresa’s and Peggy’s comments.

    Why would anyone have any interest in another “tell all” book from a former member of trump’s administration? The chaotic mess that is destroying our country is witnessed by all of us on a daily basis. There is no escaping it.

    I have no interest in enriching any of his former cohorts by purchasing their books just to read a few of their secret details about the destruction that took place behind closed doors.

  7. I don’t entirely disagree with JoAnn Green, but I do think that we need to dig a bit deeper. The point is that the wave of nationalist leaders was enabled by the people who elected them. These “leaders” are a symptom, rather than a root cause. They are a reflection of something going on more broadly. Granted, there have been some “dark forces”, the likes of Steve Bannon and such, who have been very good at leveraging the nationalistic sentiment. Steve Bannon set up shop in the UK as well and is training groups of mostly young people in this style of disruption.

    History tells us that movements – be they in art, politics, etc. — come as the result of something before. They are a reaction to something – usually something that had been going on for a long time. In the US that has been the widening gap between the wealthy and everyone else. It’s been the changing demographics (including legal and illegal immigration). It’s been the takedown of straight, white, male privilege. It’s been the uneven distribution of benefits from global trade. It’s been terrorism – particularly Muslim extremism.

    Nationalists have been successful at building a narrative that connects the dots. They understand that fear and longstanding pain motivates – much more than hope. They have been exploiting what people fear and what causes them pain (economic and social displacement, fear of “others”) and built a narrative that leverages existing resentments, including racism.

  8. I was opposed to Mattis’s appointment because I believe it is best for the Secretary of Defense to be a civilian. Although I still think that’s generally a good idea, I quickly changed my mind about him. He was probably Trump’s best appointment.

  9. trumps campaign managerbrad pascale,( trump actully pays smeone to do this? )has given the word,trumps family will be a dynasty!i prefer,just as i see it,nasty..he feels two million mercinaries are needed to protect us.( from trump)hes in calif boasting about party fall aparts,and rebuilding the republican party, to a new standard..seems it was due to change,and for the facts,obviously to wall streets bidding.. imagine being controled by corprate policy and evangelico theory and demands? this asswipe feels we are to be falling over our i pads to be part of this crap..trumps dumps,maybe,talks with the taliban.. where does this get us? were dealing as,house guests in Afghanistan with bedbugs..this should have been ongoing, maybe if the U.S.foreign service was still effective,we may have brokered a deal years ago. but,whattheheck, wall street still needs the military profit,to investor market,to sustain the rehetoric trump dumps on the world. new article, wisconsin farms hit a record 2.9% foreclosure rate,suicides up. i have a pic of trump holding a green and yellow,(aka,j,deere) make farmers great again hat… roger johnson said it right, trumps insulted practically everyone in the world by now..what next?

  10. Yes, exactly, Kurt.
    Trump and Boris are not winners, just pawns. Let us not forget who the real winner is in all of this madness … Putin.

  11. Wayne Moss here is the link for those of you who want to read it. https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-madness-of-james-mattis/

    Maj. Danny Sjursen makes the following comments:
    “In Trump’s America, reflexive hatred for the president has led many in the media to foolishly pin their political hopes on generals like Mattis, leaders of the only public institution the people still trust.”

    As he notes in his own op-ed (By Mattis), “Institutions get the behaviors they reward.”

    Since resigning his post, Mattis has burst through the “revolving door” of the arms industry, reclaiming his seat on the board of the fifth largest defense contractor, General Dynamics.

    The zeal of anti- President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence critics lowers the bar when someone like “Mad Dog” Mattis can be considered the “Adult” in the room.

  12. Theresa,

    Yes, I think that Putin has seen the stars aligning and has exploited that for his own gain. The politics of fear is something that he understands very clearly and he knows how to manipulate. I don’t think that he created the movement in other countries by himself – but as it was taking hold I’m sure the light bulb went on and he said, “Now this is something I understand and can work with!”.

    I appreciate what you said about not waiting to speak truth to power. However, I think we need to keep in mind that one of the things that separates us from many countries is the bedrock principal that the military is under civilian control. A military leader has that principle etched into his DNA, and you don’t make the rank of General if it isn’t. In the US, a military leader is never the appropriate person to directly challenge the President – that’s the job of Congress and the electorate.

  13. Kurt,
    I agree that the principle of civilian control via Congress is the ideal. But when Congress refuses to be the check to an unprincipled president, who as the Commander and Chief is not trusted by the military, we end up with the military taking matters into their own hands as reported this morning about the military extracting a spy from Moscow because they could not trust Trump to not tell Putin all about him.
    Principles are great if everyone is abiding by them. Trump and the Republican Party have abandoned every principle this country was founded upon. Now what?

  14. It may be a distinction that doesn’t matter – but the reported action was taken by the CIA – not the military.

    I don’t disagree with what you are saying, but I think we want to be very careful before going down the road of military leaders publicly challenging the President – this one, or any in the future.

  15. To say that our country is at a crossroad is an understatement however it must be added that that is our perspective on the fact that humanity is at a crossroad. The past, what we know and are familiar with, no longer fits the future. We aren’t sure what does.

    Much of what gets discussed here daily is the grit in the gears of the well oiled machine we got used to.

    Now what has become a profound question that is unsettling for everyone and various ideas about what’s next have tribalized us and brought about dysfunctional levels of extremism.

  16. In America, generals do (but rarely) challenge the President, and they do it by resigning in full light of the media .

    For instance, Westmoreland should have resigned during his command in Vietnam to protest President Johnson’s war policies, but the general was a political coward.

    To read about six other generals (Lieutenant General Greg Newbold, two star generals Paul Eaton and John Batiste, and Generals John Riggs, Charles Swannack Jr., and Paul Van Riper) who bucked President George W. Bush, and to understand the complications of such a sensitive move, follow this link: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2007/04/donald-rumsfeld-iraq-war

    General Mattis has challenged the President in exactly the appropriate way and in exactly the military’s honorable tradition of submitting to civilian authority.

    General Mattis’ message was essentially directed to acting military leadership – other generals – in an effort to strengthen their resolve to resist the Trump demand that they support the Trump/Republican coup, expected to occur following Trump’s impeachment or his term of office. We are left with only Generals like Mattis to prevent the Trump coup. And we should hope there are many of them, because if the military is not with the people on this, then millions of us are doomed…maybe to ovens.

  17. Mattis is a wonderful example of one who ‘walks softly and carries a big stick’. It’s too bad the President hasn’t learned from that example.

  18. What everyone here (including Mattis) is talking about is COURAGE – in John McCain’s thumb down of the ACA vote evading Senate rules. Speaking truth is relatively easy compared to acting on it knowing you will be dead meat.

  19. Sheila, as usual you have given us food for thought and discussion.
    JoAnn, I too was up at that hour;
    I quickly realized I was watching the two most powerful world leaders, the evil twins named Trump and Johnson, (Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber) destroying their (our) own countries from within.
    And Monotous and Larry i appreciate the links. Someone like me who is constantly trying to educate myself as much as possible any help is appreciated.
    Also, there was much discussion about the huge possibility of the —wait for it——Trump political dynasty meaning his kids are vying for upcoming future elections.

  20. Civilian Control over the Military over the Military – What a Joke, who could believe such a thing?? The Wall Street-Security-Military-Industrial Complex controls our Government through their wholly owned subsidiaries (Elected Officials) in the House and Senate.

    Mattis is a prime example of how easily senior officers transition from the military to civilian life: From Wiki:

    Mattis, retired in March 2013. Since retirement from the military, Mattis has worked for FWA Consultants and also served as a member of the General Dynamics Board of Directors.

    As Mattis retired from the military in 2013, his nomination required a waiver of the National Security Act of 1947, which requires a seven-year waiting period before retired military personnel can assume the role of Secretary of Defense.

    The waiver for Mattis passed 81–17 in the Senate, and 268–151 in the House. Mattis was subsequently confirmed as Secretary of Defense by a vote of 98–1 in the United States Senate on January 20, 2017.

    In November 2018 the CIA assessed with “high confidence” that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Under mounting pressure from lawmakers who wanted action against Saudi Arabia, Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a rare closed briefing of the Senate, disputed the CIA’s conclusion and declared there was no direct evidence linking the Crown Prince to Khashoggi’s assassination.
    August 8, 2019, Former U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is rejoining General Dynamics’ board of directors, the company announced Thursday in a news release.

    The aerospace and defense company named Mattis as a director of the corporation. General Dynamics ranks sixth on the Defense News Top 100 list with 66 percent, of its $36 billion in revenue coming from defense.

  21. Im just afraid of Trump. I also don’t want Pence as President . Do you think the Senate will go on with impeachment?

  22. Pence is the surrogate doing the constant campaign to recruit the military and law enforcement into the Trumpence camp in the event of his impeachment/election defeat. Just take a look at the VP’s itinerary over the last 2 plus years and see that he addresses one or the other of those groups on a weekly basis. It is the most frightening thing happening in plain sight. Pence was a Manafort pick, funded by the Koch network from the beginning of his career.
    While grooming the military for a de facto coup, he is waiting patiently for the Emperor to be exposed as naked as a jaybird.

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