The episode caused an extraordinary breach between the commander in chief and the military. The Pentagon’s top general, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Mark A. Milley, and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, both of whom flanked Trump that day, scrambled to distance themselves from the spectacle. And a succession of former officers, including Jim Mattis, Trump’s first defense secretary, excoriated the president.
The outrage was similar within religious communities. Washington’s top episcopal and Catholic bishops each condemned Trump for using the Bible as a prop in what they described as an incendiary display outside a house of worship.
The episode magnified many characteristics of the Trump presidency. At a period of national turmoil, Trump appeared self-indulgent and overtly political as he posed for photos that his aides quickly turned into a propaganda-style montage.
The event itself was slapdash and haphazard. No remarks were prepared for the president to deliver. He did not tour the damage the church sustained to its basement during riots the night before. When a reporter asked if he was holding a family Bible, he described it only as “a Bible.” He offered no prayer or moment of silence to honor the life of George Floyd, whose May 25 death in the custody of Minneapolis police sparked the nationwide protests for racial justice.