'Cynicism is cowardice' — Mattis explains how American democracy can truly fix itself

news

VIDEO: Then-Defense Secretary James Mattis on politics and civic duty

Americans' eroding trust in all forms of government has made it impossible to solve the most serious problems facing the United States today, former Defense Secretary James Mattis wrote in a recent article for The Atlantic.

The retired Marine Corps general laid out why the world's oldest democracy no longer seems to be able to reach a consensus on any issue, arguing that the underlying problem is politicians no longer debate: They just launch personal attacks against each other.

"We scorch our opponents with language that precludes compromise," Mattis wrote. "We brush aside the possibility that a person with whom we disagree might be right. We talk about what divides us and seldom acknowledge what unites us. Meanwhile, the docket of urgent national issues continues to grow—unaddressed and, under present circumstances, impossible to address."


While it is natural for those in government to have legitimate differences, what is dangerous is "the snarl, the scorn, the lacerating despair" that dominates the current political environment, he wrote.

"Too often we define our great national challenges—climate change, immigration, health care, guns—in a way that guarantees division into warring camps," Mattis wrote. "Instead we should be asking one another: What could 'better' look like?'"

Democracy is based on the people's trust in elected leaders' ability to deliberate and then act, but a recent Pew Research Center survey found that two thirds of respondents indicated their trust in government is declining, he wrote.

If America is to tackle seemingly intractable problems, then its leaders need to start building trust by trying to listening to their opponents and including them in solutions, Mattis wrote.

Cynicism, which is increasingly pervasive in American politics, is not only the enemy of consensus building but it is also "cowardice," Mattis argued.

"Cynicism fosters a distrust of reality. It is nothing less than a form of surrender," Mattis wrote. "It provokes a suspicion that hidden malign forces are at play. It instills a sense of victimhood. It may be psychically gratifying in the moment, but it solves nothing."

The United States needs grand solutions to confront the most dire threats facing the country, he wrote. It's long past time for Congress to think strategically and set long-term goals instead of lawmakers being selfishly obsessed with getting all that they want in the short-term.

"Here's the not-so-secret recipe, applicable to members of Congress and community activists alike: Set a strategic goal and keep at it," Mattis wrote. "Former Secretary of State George Shultz, using his own Jeffersonian metaphor, likened the effort to gardening: a continual, never-ending process of tilling, planting, and weeding."

Mattis also warned that Americans are deluding themselves if they expect one person to solve all the problems facing the country.

As former president Dwight D. Eisenhower – who was as five-star Army general during World War II – aptly stated, "The inspiration he gets from the people he leads," Mattis noted.

Not all solutions need to come from Washington, who noted that national environmental, workplace safety, and minimum wage movements all began locally, Mattis wrote, noting that, "Washington isn't synonymous with America, anyway."

"The president famously possesses a bully pulpit, but the impetus for change just as often comes from the pews," Mattis wrote.

The FBI is treating the recent shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, as a terrorist attack, several media outlets reported on Sunday.

"We work with the presumption that this was an act of terrorism," USA Today quoted FBI Agent Rachel Rojas as saying at a news conference.

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un risks losing "everything" if he resumes hostility and his country must denuclearize, after the North said it had carried out a "successful test of great significance."

"Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way. He signed a strong Denuclearization Agreement with me in Singapore," Trump said on Twitter, referring to his first summit with Kim in Singapore in 2018.

"He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States or interfere with the U.S. Presidential Election in November," he said.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Vaughan Dill/Released)

The three sailors whose lives were cut short by a gunman at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, on Friday "showed exceptional heroism and bravery in the face of evil," said base commander Navy Capt. Tim Kinsella.

Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, and Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters were killed in the shooting, the Navy has announced.

Read More Show Less

The Pentagon has a credibility problem that is the result of the White House's scorched earth policy against any criticism. As a result, all statements from senior leaders are suspect.

We're beyond the point of defense officials being unable to say for certain whether a dog is a good boy or girl. Now we're at the point where the Pentagon has spent three days trying to knock down a Wall Street Journal story about possible deployments to the Middle East, and they've failed to persuade either the press or Congress.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that the United States was considering deploying up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East to thwart any potential Iranian attacks. The story made clear that President Trump could ultimately decide to send a smaller number of service members, but defense officials have become fixated on the number 14,000 as if it were the only option on the table.

Read More Show Less

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. – Gen. David Berger, the US Marine Corps commandant, suggested the concerns surrounding a service members' use of questionable Chinese-owned apps like TikTok should be directed against the military's leadership, rather than the individual troops.

Speaking at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, on Saturday morning, Berger said the younger generation of troops had a "clearer view" of the technology "than most people give them credit for."

"That said, I'd give us a 'C-minus' or a 'D' in educating the force on the threat of even technology," Berger said. "Because they view it as two pieces of gear, 'I don't see what the big deal is.'"

Read More Show Less