The Note: Obama, Esper try to calm Trump's anxious America

Obama and Esper both commented on the protests sparked by George Floyd's death.

The TAKE with MaryAlice Parks

Former President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Mark Esper both seemed eager Wednesday to calm anxious Americans where President Donald Trump has not.

During a live-stream, Obama offered encouraging words to those protesting, arguing that it was worthwhile and reminding others at home looking on that the majority of demonstrators have been peaceful.

"You look at those protests (this week), that was a far more representative cross section of America out on the streets peacefully protesting," he said.

"Recent surveys have showed that despite some protests having been marred by the actions of some tiny minority ... a majority of Americans still think those protests were justified," he added.

Esper, in his current role, tried to temper a more specific anxiety related to the president's repeated threatens to use military force against U.S. civilians.

The president's alarming statements have sent shockwaves through military circles this week and riled governors, mayors and concerned residents alike.

But Wednesday, the nation's top Pentagon official made a point of saying he does not agree with the president's assessment of the situation -- at least not yet.

"The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act," Esper told reporters.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., wrote an op-ed in the New York Times Wednesday backing the president’s posturing, even invoking images of the military being sent in to southern states to enforce integration when making his full-throated case.

The White House was not having any of the dial-down.

Instead, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany confirmed a divide was emerging between the president and Esper, at least over rhetoric and language. According to McEnany, the president is still very much considering invoking the Insurrection Act. Noticeably, too, she was cold when asked if Esper is long for his job. Of course, who knows when a cabinet official may be let go with this president and, with the country on edge, what threats or overtures he may make next?

The RUNDOWN with Kendall Karson

Up until Wednesday evening, former Defense Secretary James Mattis has stayed mostly silent since resigning from his post in December 2018.

But triggered by the "unfolding events" in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white cop, the nation's once top military official released an extraordinary and highly critical rebuke of his former boss.

"I have watched this week's unfolding events, angry and appalled," the retired Marine general wrote in an essay in The Atlantic.

Mattis, siding with the protesters for "rightly demanding" to reform the roots of racial injustice -- and bring "Equal Justice Under Law" -- eviscerates the president he once served for dividing the country.

"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."

In the most direct attack on Trump's leadership by a former member of his cabinet, he accuses the commander-in-chief of ordering U.S. troops to "violate the Constitutional rights" of Americans and of "making a mockery" of one of the nation's founding documents.

"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," he said, referring to the incident earlier this week when law enforcement pushed back protesters out of Lafayette Park, just before Trump walked to St. John's church to pose with a Bible, alongside current defense secretary Mark Esper, Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other aides.

Trump, responding to Mattis' sharp words, said in a tweet he had the "honor of firing" Mattis and called him "the world's most overrated General."

Shortly after the essay was published, Mattis told ABC News Chief Global Affairs Anchor Martha Raddatz, "Enough is enough." His decision to speak out now marks an end to his period of silence, as he described it to The Atlantic last year, and reflects the growing frustration openly on display across the country -- both over race and leadership.

The TIP with Adam Kelsey

With Trump's every action in response to the nationwide protests following the death of Floyd facing scrutiny by a growing choir of critics, yet another social media giant is taking action to limit his reach and ability to "incite racial violence."

The photo messaging app Snapchat will no longer promote Trump's account on its Discover page, it said Wednesday, restricting the president's content from placement alongside a public collection of news, shows and viral videos.

"We will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them free promotion on Discover," a spokesperson for the company said in a statement, days after Twitter obscured a tweet of Trump's for "glorifying violence," and just over a week after additional tweets about mail-in ballots attracted unprecedented fact checks.

In response, the president attempted to curtail the power of social media companies via executive order last week, but the fact remains that it's a key component of his ability to brand himself -- and others. And with Trump's signature MAGA rallies on continued hold amid the coronavirus pandemic, each additional obstacle to reaching his supporters directly could be another lost opportunity to spin the increasingly negative headlines.

BRINGING AMERICA BACK

A thousands come together to protest the killing of George Floyd, the demonstrations are an "unfortunate experiment" with COVID-19 transmission, Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told ABC News. Read this story and more by checking out Bringing America Back, an ABC News feature that highlights the day's top stories in economic recovery and medical preparedness amid the coronavirus pandemic.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Thursday morning's episode features ABC News Chief Legal analyst Dan Abrams, who describes the legal implications of the new charges filed against the officers behind the death of George Floyd. ABC News Chief Global Affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz explains why Secretary of Defense Mark Esper broke with Trump over protest tactics. Then, former New Jersey Governor and ABC News contributor Chris Christie tells us about the challenges of moving the Republican National convention on such short notice. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • President Donald Trump signs an executive order on expediting permitting at 4:30 p.m.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden participates in a virtual Biden for President finance event. He also hosts a virtual town hall with young Americans in the evening.
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    The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the day's top stories in politics. Please check back tomorrow for the latest.