Remember 2019? Remember how that year felt like it couldn’t be over fast enough, with all the crap that kept happening? It may feel hard to remember somedays but that was how so many of us felt back then, as we looked forward to 2020. 2020 was going to be better, it was going to take a turn for the better. To borrow and alter an old TV saying, 2020 was going to be the “Year of George”, a year that went our way and was going to be so much better.

And just like the “Summer of George” turned into something very different for George Costanza, 2020 has careened from one crisis and bad moment to another. That was already happening before you threw the worst global pandemic in a century and financial crisis since the Great Depression into the mix. By the time the May 2-4 long weekend came, many of us who previously couldn’t get out of 2019 fast enough were looking back at it wistfully, thinking of those hard days as better times. And then came the murder of George Floyd and everything that has come out from it.

It has been hard to not watch what’s been happening in the United States over the past week plus and not be worried. Monday nights events in front of the White House were down right scary and we’ve been seeing images and events take place that were straight out of works like “The Handmaids Tail” and “Watchmen”, stories that were written around the premise of democracy failing in the land of the free. It has been surreal and even in this surreal moment, last night a series of events happened that managed to stand out as remarkable. The first came from one of the countries most respected retired military officials, one many have been waiting to hear from. Here is what James Mattis, the retired 4-star Marine general who was Donald Trump’s Secretary of Defense, released last night in its entirety:

I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled. The words “Equal Justice Under Law” are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.

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 circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.

We must reject any thinking of our cities as a “battlespace” that our uniformed military is called upon to “dominate.” At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict—between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part. Keeping public order rests with civilian state and local leaders who best understand their communities and are answerable to them.

James Madison wrote in Federalist 14 that “America united with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat.” We do not need to militarize our response to protests. We need to unite around a common purpose. And it starts by guaranteeing that all of us are equal before the law.

Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that “The Nazi slogan for destroying us…was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.’” We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics.

Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.

We can come through this trying time stronger, and with a renewed sense of purpose and respect for one another. The pandemic has shown us that it is not only our troops who are willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of the community. Americans in hospitals, grocery stores, post offices, and elsewhere have put their lives on the line in order to serve their fellow citizens and their country. We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. At the same time, we must remember Lincoln’s “better angels,” and listen to them, as we work to unite.

Only by adopting a new path—which means, in truth, returning to the original path of our founding ideals—will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad.


Wow everyone, just wow. Those are heavy, serious words that directly condemn everything we have seen in the past week. Not only do they speak to the better angels in American society, they are a direct call to those who are currently serving in the American Armed Forces to remember their oaths and to not view with fellow citizens as the enemy, even if their Commander in Chief calls them that. Mattis lays bare his views and you can tell he didn’t do this lightly, that the moment compelled him to speak out now, that if he didn’t now later might be too late. And it turns out that Mattis was not the only military leader to speak last night too, far from it:

One thing that I’ve learned working in politics and government for over a decade is that it’s rarely a coincidence when you see so many statements, so similar in tone and wording, so similar in message, all come out at the same time. That was just a sampling of all the messages that were coming from the top of the military command in the United States saying the same thing; your fellow citizens are not the enemy & remember your oath to the Constitution of the United States. Given everything that’s been coming out of the White House about protestors being “terrorists”, “scum” and needing to “dominate the streets”, that is a huge difference. It’s a direct reply to their Commander in Chief that basically says to Donald Trump to pump his breaks. Or as I saw it better put elsewhere today, “Trump bragged that “his” military would do whatever he told them, but the message he got yesterday was: No, we won’t.”

In a moment where his political enablers continue to enable his dangerous behaviours and worst instincts, these dedicated servants of their nation, regardless of who is serving as their Commander in Chief, have stood up and said a stern but respectful “No Sir”. The events of Monday night felt like we were through the looking glass in that moment and that time was short to try to stop this from slipping to a point where recovery was impossible. Or as General John Allen, who led the fight against ISIS, put it “the slide of the United States into illiberalism may well have begun on June 1, 2020. Remember the date. It may well signal the beginning of the end of the American experiment.” Those are the stakes at hand, and those military leaders have responded accordingly. If that will stop the slide, only time will tell. But as we neighbours to the North watch our biggest ally and closest partner struggle and put so much at danger, seeing those comments come out was the first moment in a while where it felt that the worst may be avoided. I pray that it is because even though it’s far from perfect and it has its flaws, the American experiment has shown the World why democracy is the true path. If they fail in that, then that puts all democracies in greater danger. Those are the stakes and it’s comforting that some of the adults in the room have finally spoken up.