Generals Are Not the People’s Ally

Photograph Source: James Mattis – Public Domain

James Mattis is not a friend of the people protesting in the streets. He is the same murdering general he always was. People who think otherwise are only fooling themselves. He still thinks shooting people is “sometimes fun.” He still supports the ongoing presence of US military around the globe. He still believes the US has not just a right but an obligation to civilize the natives. However, he respects the chain of command when doing so.

He obviously has no respect for Donald Trump–which is definitely a good thing. Likewise, the reminder from the Secretary of the Army that US military members swore to uphold the Constitution and not a particular president or political party is a positive statement in terms of the current situation. The same applies to retired general John Kelly’s support of the statement by Mattis. On the other hand, these words from former and current members of the US military’s top brass should not necessarily be hailed as proof they support most of any of the protesters, nonviolent or otherwise.

It’s not that I don’t think Mr. Mattis’ remarks aren’t important. Indeed, they are. However, for those interested in fundamental and radical change in the United States they are not nearly enough. They do substantiate something I’ve been saying since before impeachment began. That is, the US ruling class is divided over how to maintain its control. Capitalism is in deep crisis. This was true before the pandemic. It was true in 2016 when the last presidential election was held. It was true in 2011 when the Occupy protests swept the nation. Now, in 2020 as rebellion sweeps the nation, the power elites who run this country seem to be faced with two choices for their continued dominance. Those choices are Trumpism (an essentially fascist movement) or some form of capitalist authoritarianism. With the statements from Mattis, Kelly and the Army secretary, it would appear that at least some of the military brass is with the latter, perceiving it to be closer in intention to the government established by the slavers, landholders and merchants who wrote the US Constitution.

Neither of these types of rule is designed to turn the country over to the American people and away from Wall Street and the Pentagon. In fact, the debate in the halls of power is over how to best prevent that from happening. Trump’s abuse of power–from his illegal immigration bans to his orders to gas peaceful protesters in front of the White House and all that came between–finally became too much for the Democrats last year when they impeached him. His most recent abuse of power regarding the mobilization of federal troops appears to be too much for some generals and their civilian bosses.

However, it is also clear that the elites represented primarily by the Democrats are similarly motivated by a desire to keep the US government intact and able to continue its policies of imperial expansion, privatization and resource extraction. The reforms concerning policing reflect this concern. It is important to remember that it was the Democrats who pushed through the Omnibus Crime Act of 1994 While Bill Clinton was president. It is the excesses of that act that today’s Democrats now want to undo. Joe Biden was a primary supporter of the 1994 bill. It will be interesting to see not only if he acknowledges his role in creating the current scenario but also whether his proposals will be genuine attempts to undo that bill. One thing we should all learn is that when a government replaces funding education, jobs, housing and healthcare for the marginalized members of the nation with more police and more lethal equipment for them to use, they have created a state where police are the law. One need only watch the media coverage of the protests to understand this.

In a few weeks millions of people will probably lose their unemployment checks. The economy is not capable of resolving these levels of unemployment between now and then without keeping those checks coming. Congress has not expressed the will to do that. Almost daily, the media shows us hungry residents around the nation waiting hours to receive some kind of food aid. If those checks stop coming those lines will grow. Millions of people who have never truly been hungry may well end up that way. The current protests in the streets could explode once again. Bob Marley once wrote “A hungry mob is an angry mob.”

I find it extremely unlikely that anyone in power will have a problem with the military enforcing ruling class rule if a conflagration of pandemic, massive unemployment, evictions, hunger, racism and police brutality pushes the situation in the streets quantifiably closer to the brink of their downfall. Indeed, Trump, those in the Pentagon and in boardrooms across the nation will join together in their demand troops restore the ruling class version of order, no matter what party they claim allegiance to.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: