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Editorial: A warrior gives U.S. some sage advice on our divisive politics

“Be polite, be professional and have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

– Retired Marine Corps General and Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis talking to his Marines in Iraq

James Mattis is a warrior, and the above quote reported by Politico.com is one sample of what reporters who covered him over the years refer to as “Mattisisms” – comments by a tough-as-nails military leader with a keen intellect and gruff exterior. This isn’t somebody afraid of the fray.

So, when someone like James Mattis warns that bitter political divisions threaten American society and growing “tribalism” in America is a greater threat than our foreign adversaries, it’s time both sides of the political divide paid attention.

“We all know that we’re better than our current politics,” he wrote in an essay adapted from his new book and published last week in the Wall Street Journal. “Unlike in the past, where we were unified and drew in allies, currently our commons seems to be breaking apart.”

Mattis no doubt was criticizing his former boss, President Donald Trump, who has taken political invective to a new level, talking about “shithole” countries, implying that many immigrants are rapists, murderers and drug dealers, and who most recently denounced four far-left Democratic congresswomen known as the “Squad” – all women of color and two of them Muslim – as the crowd at one of his rallies chanted “send her back.”

Taking thinly veiled aim at Trump, Mattis wrote that “a polemicist’s role is not sufficient for a leader. … ”

Without mentioning names, Mattis doesn’t let Trump’s strongest critics off the hook, either, writing that together they are engaged in destructive politics.

A recent example of the anti-Trump? Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin said during an appearance on MSNBC that the only way to purge the GOP of Trump supporters is to “burn down the Republican Party” with “no survivors.” She also called on shunning Trump supporters as a statement of moral indignation that these people are not fit for polite society. It makes one wonder whether Ms. Rubin would also favor Mao-style reeducation camps for the millions of Americans she clearly despises.

It’s the kind of dangerous rhetoric by both sides that concerns Mattis.

“We are dividing into hostile tribes cheering against each other, fueled by emotion and a mutual disdain that jeopardizes our future, instead of rediscovering our common ground and finding solutions,” Mattis wrote.

It’s not likely Trump will, or even can, change his stripes. And, just as sadly, there hasn’t been any hint on the Democrat side of the muddled residential candidate field that there is any interest in trying to unite the country rather than “burn down” the opposition.

It’s time Americans took a breath, stepped back and asked whether we really want to continue down this road. Because, as Jim Mattis says, our Democracy is an experiment and “tribalism” must not be allowed to destroy it.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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