But the developments of the last couple days seem different. The disgust is now coming from people who long hesitated to be too public or too emphatic in their criticism.
First: Former president George W. Bush, who has preferred to remain absent from political controversies, released a statement on Tuesday about the protests sweeping the country. Here’s an excerpt:
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. This tragedy — in a long series of similar tragedies — raises a long overdue question: How do we end systemic racism in our society? The only way to see ourselves in a true light is to listen to the voices of so many who are hurting and grieving. Those who set out to silence those voices do not understand the meaning of America — or how it becomes a better place.
Though this did not mention Trump by name, not only was it an obvious repudiation of Trump’s reaction, it placed Bush alongside Democrats who are talking about the racism and brutality that gave rise to these protests. This was so obvious that some began to ask whether he might wind up endorsing Joe Biden.
Next: Retired Admiral Michael Mullen, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under both Bush and President Barack Obama, wrote a piece for The Atlantic titled “I Cannot Remain Silent”:
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. I have to date been reticent to speak out on issues surrounding President Trump's leadership, but we are at an inflection point, and the events of the past few weeks have made it impossible to remain silent.Whatever Trump’s goal in conducting his visit, he 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.
Next: Politico reports that Pentagon officials are increasingly disturbed by Trump’s eagerness to use military personnel to confront the protesters and the complicity of Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.
“There is growing concern that this is not good for the role of the military going forward,” one senior official said. “Now you’ve injected the military into a moment in a political way. It just doesn’t seem right.”
Next: James N. Miller, a former undersecretary of defense, resigned in protest from the Defense Science Board in a stinging letter to Esper that cited the oath of office:
You recited that same oath on July 23, 2019, when you were sworn in as Secretary of Defense. On Monday, June 1, 2020, I believe that you violated that oath. Law-abiding protesters just outside the White House were dispersed using tear gas and rubber bullets — not for the sake of safety, but to clear a path for a presidential photo op. You then accompanied President Trump in walking from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church for that photo.President Trump’s actions Monday night violated his oath to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” as well as the First Amendment “right of the people peaceably to assemble.” You may not have been able to stop President Trump from directing this appalling use of force, but you could have chosen to oppose it. Instead, you visibly supported it.
Next: Trump’s actions, including that photo op, drew stunning rebukes from multiple religious leaders, including the Episcopal Bishop of Washington and the Catholic Archbishop of Washington.
“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people, even those with whom we might disagree,” said Archbishop Wilton Gregory.
Trump has always touted his opposition to “the establishment,” and you don’t get much more establishment than these kinds of figures. But until now, most have held their tongues. Whatever impact their criticism might have, at no time in his presidency has Trump drawn vocal opposition from such a wide spectrum of prominent Americans. When even a right-wing extremist like Pat Robertson says Trump has gone too far, something unique is happening.
Even to those not generally inclined to sympathize with protesters, the idea that thousands of Americans could march in hundreds of cities and the president would barely acknowledge that they have a legitimate grievance worth considering — and then tweet things like “Get tough police!” — was so appalling they decided they could not remain silent.
Meanwhile, the one group of people who feel they have no choice but to stand behind Trump — Republicans in Congress — are terrified to defend him. Just watch this parade of Republicans avoiding questions about protesters being violently cleared away so Trump could cross the street and hold up a Bible.
It’s not the first time those Republicans have tried to skitter away from their association with Trump. But with condemnation of him — and of those who are complicit — coming from so many quarters, it’s getting harder to do. It’s almost enough to make you think that some measure of accountability is on its way.