Thomas Friedman is a weekly columnist for the New York Times, a well-respected author of seven books, numerous documentaries, and the recipient of three Pulitzer prizes. His forte is foreign affairs, global trade, the Middle East, globalization, and environmental issues. Yesterday, his latest column crossed my desk and I felt it worthy of sharing.
Public servants who swore to protect the Constitution also set the impeachment process in motion.
by Thomas L. Friedman
Last Thursday and Friday, two important Americans bore witness to the state of our nation. One was President Trump, addressing political rallies. The other was Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine until suddenly told to get “on the next plane” — because Trump wanted her removed — without explanation.
Every American should contemplate their remarks, which I excerpt later, and then ask two questions: Whose speech would you want to read to your children’s civics class and which speaker do you think represents the America you want to see evolve and leave to your kids?
This exercise is vital because this impeachment process was not set in motion by the Democratic Party. It was set in motion by civil servants — whistle-blowers from the intelligence community, now supported by National Security Council staffers and diplomats. These public servants also took an oath to serve the country and protect the Constitution, and they have shown remarkable courage to risk their careers, and maybe more, to call out the president for violating his oath.
They are like antibodies fighting the cancer in our political system. John Bolton spoke for all of them when, while national security adviser, he reportedly instructed Fiona Hill, the N.S.C. Russia expert, to tell White House lawyers that he wanted no part “of whatever drug deal” the president’s cronies were cooking up as part of an off-the-books diplomatic effort being led by Rudy Giuliani to get Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.
It is breathtaking that virtually no Republican lawmakers have manifested similar courage — when all they have to lose is $174,000 in salary and free parking at Reagan Washington National Airport.
This point can’t be stressed enough. Because if Trump is removed from office and the country is healed afterward, it will only be because a majority of Americans understand that this is, at its core, a fight between these noncorrupt, apolitical civil servants — whose norms and institutions make America’s government so envied and respected around the world — and Giuliani and Trump and their pals, who care only about serving themselves and their conspiracy theories.
Trump and his enablers at the state-directed Fox News want to portray this as just another partisan fight — between Trump and his Democratic rivals — in the hope that the public will shrug and say, “There they go again.” They don’t want Americans to understand that this fight is about guarding the most cherished norms and institutions that define us as a nation.
We can’t let that happen. In service of that goal, I repeat some of Trump’s and Yovanovitch’s remarks.
Here’s Trump in Louisiana: “The radical Democrats’ policies are crazy. Their politicians are corrupt. Their candidates are terrible. And they know they can’t win on Election Day, so they’re pursuing an illegal, invalid and unconstitutional bullshit impeachment.”
And here’s Trump in Minneapolis about Joe Biden: “He was only a good vice president because he understood how to kiss Barack Obama’s ass.”
And here’s Yovanovitch in her opening statement to the House impeachment investigators: “For the last 33 years, it has been my great honor to serve the American people as a Foreign Service officer, over six administrations — four Republican, and two Democratic. I have served in seven different countries, five of them hardship posts, and was appointed to serve as an ambassador three times — twice by a Republican president and once by a Democrat. Throughout my career, I have stayed true to the oath that Foreign Service officers take and observe every day: ‘that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,’ and ‘that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.’”
She added: “My parents fled Communist and Nazi regimes. Having seen, firsthand, the war, poverty and displacement common to totalitarian regimes, they valued the freedom and democracy the U.S. represents. And they raised me to cherish these values as well.”
She continued: “From August 2016 until May 2019, I served as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Our policy, fully embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike, was to help Ukraine become a stable and independent democratic state, with a market economy integrated into Europe.”
Then Yovanovitch added: “I have heard the allegation in the media that I supposedly told the embassy team to ignore the president’s orders ‘since he was going to be impeached.’ That allegation is false. I have never said such a thing, to my embassy colleagues or to anyone else. … With respect to Mayor Giuliani, I have had only minimal contacts with him. … I do not know Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me. But individuals who have been named in the press as contacts of Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”And then she explained that after being asked in early March “to extend my tour until 2020, I was then abruptly told in late April to come back to Washington from Ukraine ‘on the next plane.’ You will understandably want to ask why my posting ended so suddenly. I wanted to learn that, too, and I tried to find out. I met with the deputy secretary of state, who informed me of the curtailment of my term.
“He said that the president had lost confidence in me and no longer wished me to serve as his ambassador. He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me, and that the department had been under pressure from the president to remove me since the summer of 2018. He also said that I had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause.”
Alas, Secretary of State Pompeo did nothing to protect her.
Yovanovitch continued: “Although I understand that I served at the pleasure of the president, I was nevertheless incredulous that the U.S. government chose to remove an ambassador based, as best as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives. …
“I have served this nation honorably for more than 30 years. … Throughout that time, I — like my colleagues at the State Department — have always believed that we enjoyed a sacred trust with our government. … We repeatedly uproot our lives, and we frequently put ourselves in harm’s way to serve this nation. And we do that willingly, because we believe in America and its special role in the world. We also believe that, in return, our government will have our backs and protect us if we come under attack from foreign interests. That basic understanding no longer holds true.”
If this is how our government will now act, great long-term harm will be done to “our nation’s interest, perhaps irreparably,” Yovanovitch concluded. We will lose “many of this nation’s most loyal and talented public servants,” and “bad actors” in countries beyond Ukraine will “see how easy it is to use fiction and innuendo to manipulate our system. In such circumstances, the only interests that will be served are those of our strategic adversaries, like Russia, that spread chaos and attack the institutions and norms that the U.S. helped create and which we have benefited from for the last 75 years.”
In both Minnesota and Louisiana, Trump supporters chanted “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.” at his red-meat lines. Read these two transcripts and then ask yourself, who’s really protecting and honoring “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.”?