On June 3, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis denounced Donald Trump as the first president in his lifetime who purposely tries to divide Americans. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort” he wrote. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski called his statement “true and honest and necessary and overdue.” Trump immediately threatened to campaign against her reelection in 2022. When reporters asked her about that, she replied “I cannot live in fear of a Tweet.”
However, the Mattis story and a few others last month add evidence that Sen. Dan Sullivan has a debilitating fear of Trump’s twittering thumbs.
Mattis’s condemnation came after police used rubber bullets and tear gas against peaceful protesters “to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.” In response, Trump tweeted he “had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated General … Glad he is gone!”
Sullivan wasn’t glad when Mattis resigned in December 2018. He said the former general “embodies all that makes this country truly great.”
In a statement provided to the Empire after Mattis spoke out, Sullivan reiterated that sentiment. But he didn’t remind people Mattis wasn’t fired. That would have risked irritating Trump. And he evaded taking sides by agreeing “with all calls for unity” and arguing “the blame game and finger pointing on issues of race in America are not constructive.”
Two weeks later, Sullivan addressed the racial divide in an Anchorage Daily News opinion piece. He began by saying “George Floyd’s killing has shocked the nation.” And later proclaimed “beyond legislative action, something else that is happening in America. We are engaged in discussions, not just in the halls of government, but around dinner tables, among families and parents and their kids and their friends regarding what can be done at the individual level. This is certainly happening in my family.”
Those statements reveal an elected public official who has been AWOL on matters of police violence against Black Americans. Black Lives Matter has protesting it for more six years.
And he couldn’t have missed the controversy about NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick supporting the same cause by taking a knee during the national anthem. Because Trump tried to turn his silent protest into an affront against America’s troops. And that’s a subject near and dear to Sullivan’s heart.
It’s also on the national stage again. This time for real.
Last weekend, we learned that Trump either ignored or wasn’t briefed about intelligence that Russia might be offering a bounty to Taliban fighters who kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.
Trump called the media reports that he was briefed in late March “another fabricated Russia Hoax.” Kayleigh McEnany, the White House Press Secretary explained that he wasn’t briefed because “there is no consensus within the intelligence community” about the allegation.
That excuse might work for March. But any president would have been made aware of the raw intelligence before speaking with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump had two conversations with him in April. And in May announced his desire to invite Russia to the next G7 summit.
In the week since that controversy erupted, Sullivan has been sheepishly quiet.
Between the Mattis and Taliban stories, Trump fired Geoffrey Berman, the chief federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York. At least that’s according to the letter Attorney General William Barr sent to Berman. But Trump said he wasn’t involved.
I don’t know who’s telling the truth. But I don’t believe Sullivan is up to the task of helping us learn what really happened.
Then there’s Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa. To help fight the spread of COVID-19, management of the arena where it was held ordered social distancing stickers be placed on every other seat. And although that practice is endorsed by Republicans, none of them spoke up when a video recording surfaced showing Trump campaign workers removing the stickers before the rally began.
We can chalk that up as another example of Trump’s immature leadership. But it’s also a fitting description of elected officials like Sullivan who are so intimidated by Trump’s childish Twitter attacks that their honest assessment of his presidency remains seriously overdue.
• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector.