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Retired Army generals join nonprofit which urges public to recommit to democracy: "This is as dangerous a time as we've seen in our lifetime"

New initiative aimed at U.S. political divide
Team Democracy urges citizens to sign pledge re-committing to free and fair elections 04:30

A new nonprofit group which calls itself Team Democracy is urging citizens, politicians and organizations to recommit to America's democratic core principles. The nonprofit includes Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who have more than six decades of military and government service between them.

Both are now retired. McChrystal, who once led U.S. forces around the world, including in Afghanistan, sees the country's current divisions as an issue of national security.

"I actually think that this is as dangerous a time as we've seen in our lifetime," McChrystal told CBS News. "Because you see the symptoms of people who are disassociated from the legitimacy of the government. They are starting to question basic things, like was an election outcome valid."

Lute also served globally over a four-decade career, including as U.S. ambassador to NATO.

"These tiny fractures, these small fractures, that because of our international experience, we understand can widen and can be, can divide America," Lute said. "It can actually present opportunities for our opponents."

The two said they've experienced struggling democracies overseas, and see some of those warning signs in the U.S.

"Our enemies would like nothing more than to find us not unified, to find us fragmented and unable to be the kind of America that they have faced before, or relied on their if they're allies," McChrystal said.

As seasoned observers of conflict, they joined Team Democracy to highlight core principles.

"The idea is to give every American a reminder and a commitment that safe and fair elections are fundamental to our nation and democracy," McChrystal said. 

They want everyone to step back and believe that our nation is a democracy.

"It starts with a grassroots movement. Every American has to step back and say 'What do I really believe in about our nation?' And that is that we are a democracy. What signals that fact that I believe and participate in the elections?" McChrystal said.

"The thing that unites us is that, before we were supporters of President Trump or President Biden or Obama, we were Americans. We are Americans," Lute said.

They argue that adversaries of the U.S. can use this information as a weapon to mislead, confuse and divide.

"If I were an adversary of the U.S., I want to go after two things," McChrystal said. "First would be our political unity, our ability to make unified decisions and execute things, but I also want to go after our legitimacy as a nation that other nations want to emulate."

When asked why Americans are so divided, McChrystal said, "When people get messages that are very direct, and often they are either intentionally or unintentionally incorrect, it changes their beliefs. And so they start to hold fundamental ideas that are contrary to facts."

"It actually opens opportunities for those who would do us harm," Lute added. "And eventually their aim is to make us so divided that we're internally consumed, we're self absorbed with our own problems, and we're unable to address issues overseas."

Recent CBS polling underscores these divisions, with most Americans expecting violence after future presidential elections.

"This is not the America that we've come to expect of ourselves," Lute said.

"I think if we look in cases where people think violence is an option, or even an obligation, then we are starting to have drifted somewhere that we see in other countries far away, but it suddenly comes home, and we need to pay close attention to it," McChrystal explained.

"And once that drift begins, it's very difficult to reverse it," Lute said. "So now is the time as a preventive measure, we need to get in front of these divides and try to cement ourselves back together." 

The military men haven't announced a complete plan of action yet, but believe that simply asking people from across the political spectrum to recommit to core, democratic values is a good place to start.

The group cited research that public pledges can drive behavior, especially when paired with public accountability efforts.

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