Since taking office, President Trump has announced an “America First” policy, formally pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, painted a bleak picture of America, delivered a campaign-style inaugural address and embarked on a series of showy but unnecessary and expensive immigration initiatives. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary James Mattis has:
We’ve experienced the coequal commitment — didn’t matter what rank you were, didn’t matter if you’re civilian or military — a coequal commitment across this department to the mission. And it’s a mission that calls for all hands to strive together and to fight together and to look out for one another.Today, we observe the legacy of a man up here on the board behind me — a man who has called upon Americans many times to strive together and to fight together and to do their duty in the long struggle for equality and civil rights. In our nation’s history, our military has often served as an example to the American people of unity and strength, of how a diverse group of people can be motivated even under austere or grim conditions of the battlefield, to come together as equals.
He then took the DOD employees on a short history tour, recounting Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s 1805 journey aided by an African American slave and Sacajawea. He recalled, “They returned east to report back to their commander-in-chief, President Thomas Jefferson. They accomplished their mission to find the best route to the Pacific, and it was an all-hands effort.”
At a time of great polarization in the country, with the most instantaneously unpopular and divisive president in recent memory, Mattis stressed unity of purpose. “Military service in America is a touchstone for American patriots of all races, genders, creeds. The men and women of the Department of Defense, military and civilian, reflect the diverse and selfless character of our national defense and have done so long before our nation had reached the level it has reached today in terms of civil rights.” This is far from the Trumpian gimmick of decreeing a day of patriotism. This is the real deal — selfless sacrifice, given freely for fellow Americans.
While the president fans the flames of intolerance, Mattis tells the military and civilian employees to be an example to the rest of the country. (“Our armed forces are stronger today because of the perseverance of Dr. King and so many others in this country who have fought for civil rights and equality for all. And we can trace our department’s roots back to an Army patrol in 1805 when we listened to our better angels, and on this day of action, we are inspired to continue being a model for our nation.”)
We hope the White House is listening and watching. Mattis is the only one in the administration so far to act, well, presidential and responsible. He knows we need allies. He knows the intelligence community is vital to our security. And he knows American values must be reinforced and celebrated. He knows our diversity is an asset, not a threat. Too bad Trump doesn’t get any of this.