Yesterday I watched something on TV that is destined to go down in history as one of the darkest moments of American political theater since the McCarthy hearings.
One of the most astounding aspects of the Trump era—one that I’ve written about at length—is the headspinning sight of the Republican Party abandoning many of its core attributes (I won’t call them principles), from its longstanding suspicion of Russia, to its hyperventilating hysteria over deficits, to its commitment to NATO and a hawkish foreign policy. And all this it has done in cowering submission to a sociopathic two-bit con man, in pursuit of raw power unfettered by any concern for the Constitution, the rule of law, or representative democracy.
Grand Old Party indeed.
But perhaps most appalling in that fire sale of all things the GOP used to hold dear has been the vicious Republican slander of members of the US military…..a class of people that the right wing has deified, and to whom it has demanded lavish tribute from all others, including the opposition party.
That phenomenon reached a new low yesterday with the vicious attacks on Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman.
There’s no need for me to detail the range of attacks, but to skim them briefly: Vindman is unreliable, his judgment is in question, what he says is “just his opinion,” he’s a Never Trumper, he’s disloyal to the White House, hell he’s disloyal to the United States itself (which in Trumpworld is the same thing), and on and on all the way up to full-on espionage—which is to say, treason.
It’s one thing for Trump to sink to that low. (Does he need to sink? I think he dwells in that Marianas Trench.) It’s quite another for the entire Republican Party to fall in line. But we saw it yesterday from Trump’s amen chorus of toadies and craven sycophants (featuring Devin Nunes, Gym Jordan, John Ratcliffe, Elise Stefanik, and Lee Zeldin among others) as they obediently followed their rancid champion’s lead.
This gives the lie to the entire Republican claim to respect for the military, or duty, or honor, or service. This is how shallow it runs, and how quickly they will jettison it for partisan advantage. (Or in this case, a desperate attempt to shield their leader from rightful accountability under the law.)
Of course, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman is not the first American warrior to be subjected to this demonstration of the Republican Party’s moral bankruptcy. The late John McCain, the Gold Star family of fallen US Army Captain Humayun Khan, Admiral Bill McRaven, and Generals H.R. McMaster and Jim Mattis are just a few of the military veterans whose service has been shamelessly demeaned by a spoiled brat draft dodger with fictional bone spurs. But the attacks on Colonel Vindman might be the most disgusting because they are so directly connected to Trump’s cornered rat, Roy Cohn-style willingness to do anything to discredit his foes and save his sorry ass.
Even before yesterday’s live testimony, Bush-era torture enthusiast and self-loathing immigrant John Yoo was among the most prominent to wade into the darkest of waters. Speaking to the odious Laura Ingraham (and with a creepily grinning Alan Dershowitz looking on in split screen), Yoo suggested that Colonel Vindman might be a Ukrainian spy. Incredibly, in his subsequent apology/non-apology walking that back, Yoo spent as much time expressing sanctimonious outrage that he was misunderstood—or so he claims—as actually clarifying himself or expressing any contrition. But let me tell you, I heard Mr. Yoo say it live and have watched the replay many times since; it’s not at all clear, as he now insists, that he was accusing Ukraine, not Vindman, of attempted espionage. But I guess a UC Berkeley Law professor can’t be expected to be very articulate or do words good. Right, John?
Lest anyone doubt that these attacks were directed from the very top, Charlie Sykes reports (via the Daily Beast) that the Trump White House took “the extraordinary step of distributing talking points to allies of the president” trashing this active duty US military officer who remains a member of the presidential staff. Notably, some of the attacks on Colonel Vindman came from the official White House Twitter account, which is the very definition of abuse of state power to persecute political enemies. (Yet Bill Barr believes the left are the ones “engaged in the systematic shredding of norms and the undermining of the rule of law.”)
Regardless of one’s ideology, no thinking person can watch what happened yesterday and still defend this administration, especially those in the military and veteran community, of which I am a proud part.
SHIT ROLLS DOWNHILL, ESPECIALLY WHEN A SHITHEAD IS ATOP THE HILL
Three weeks ago I wrote that, contrary to F-16 flyovers at the Super Bowl, military service is not in and itself ironclad proof of integrity. It’s still true. (Looking at you, Mike Pompeo, USMA ‘86.) But when the GOP ostentatiously pretends that it is, and then behaves as it did to Colonel Vindman, the hypocrisy is too blatant to ignore.
This Republican hypocrisy didn’t begin with Trump, of course—I refer you to the Swift Boating of John Kerry by George W. Bush, veteran of the attendance-optional Texas Air National Guard. But as with many things, it has reached a new low.
Don’t get me wrong: the Republican Party still trades on chestbeating wannabe macho nationalism and fake valorization of the uniformed services. This is a party whose entire brand is that of rock-ribbed commitment to national security and adoration of those who prosecute it at the point of a bayonet. Except when those heroic American warriors threaten Republican hold on power.
But the attacks on Colonel Vindman have been much more extreme than on most of the other witnesses testifying to Trump’s high crimes. Perhaps that is precisely because his pedigree and compelling personal history make him an especially dangerous foe. In the regard, his dress blues attract Republican fire, out of necessity for the GOP, rather than deflecting it. But that makes the attacks more, not less, shameful.
It’s true also that Colonel Vindman is among the most potentially damning witnesses as someone who was actually on the critical July 25th Zelinskyy call, and who can obliterate the GOP’s already Kleenex-thin “hearsay” defense. But Gordon Sondland can do much more damage than Vindman can, and is doing so even as I write this. David Holmes, Bill Taylor, and George Kent are pretty damn damaging too. Yet Vindman has received more abuse than any of them. (Second place: former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who committed both of the paramount sins in the eyes of Donald Trump: she failed to be blindly loyal to him, and she has a vagina.)
So is there maybe something more to the special animus directed at Colonel Vindman?
Never Trump Republican Rick Wilson writes, with his usual panache:
House minority counsel Steven Castor’s line of questioning was pathetic, a transparent attempt to accuse Vindman of dual loyalties that even in this low moment shocked America. His sneering insinuation that Vindman was somehow compromised by the Ukrainian government’s offer of the job of Minister of Defense, an offer he declined and promptly reported, was a moment where even Republican members of the committee looked uncomfortable, and those shameless motherfuckers would watch Trump eat a live baby and laugh it off.
Let’s be blunt. The allusion to “dual loyalties” is an overt employment of the age-old anti-Semitic smear that the patriotism of American Jews like Alexander Vindman is compromised by their religion. There is almost no more despicable slur that can be hurled at an American of the Jewish faith. (Twinned with the anti-Semitism, the GOP also dips back into its traditional Russophobia —and general nativism—just long enough to use it against Vindman, ironically, to the benefit of Vladimir Putin.)
So a Jew and a woman draw the most abuse from Donald Trump. Show of hands if you’re shocked.
This is not the first time that a patriotic Jew has found that wearing the uniform of his country and serving with distinction in combat is insufficient to protect him from charges of disloyalty. But if you’re surprised that the Trump administration would take that line of attack, perhaps you have been vaping something a lot stronger than tutti-frutti flavored propylene glycol.
Heck, I guess there are very fine people on both sides after all.
YOU SPIN ME RIGHT ROUND, BABY, RIGHT ROUND
There were of course other lines of attack on Colonel Vindman, less incendiary but still worth noting.
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), himself an Air Force veteran, snidely criticized LTC Vindman for wearing his uniform at the hearing. Republicans sure didn’t have any problem with that when Ollie North—who likewise wore civvies when he was on the NSC—put on his Marine Corps Class As to testify during Iran-Contra. North, of course, was among the accused in that scandal, rather than an accuser, and was eventually convicted of conspiring to defraud the United States, the same charge that hung over Trump during Russiagate. Didn’t stop North from later becoming president of the NRA, to bring this survey of Republican criminality full circle.
To paraphrase the newly popular meme: Parents, do you want your kids to grow up to be like Oliver North or Alexander Vindman?
We have not even really talked here about the substance of what the colonel testified to. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t good for MAGA Nation. After Vindman and vice presidential national security advisor Jennifer Williams came Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison, who were supposed to be GOP-friendly witnesses, deliberately summoned by the Republicans in that hope. But they only corroborated the testimony of those who had gone before them. With friends like that, Trump don’t need no enemies.
As if it were not already clear, watching House Republicans yesterday it was patently obvious that the GOP has nothing substantive with which to argue. We’ve known that all along, of course, but it was stunning to watch it in action. In terms of the actual presidential misconduct in question, the GOP couldn’t lay a glove on Vindman or any of the others, but then again, they have been unable to rebut any of the witnesses or evidence in Ukrainegate thus far. Hence their resort to distraction and misdirection (e.g. the obsession with the now-irrelevant identity of the whistleblower), goalpost-moving, and galling attempts at character assassination to include anti-Semitic and xenophobic dog whistling to their white nationalist base.
No doubt this ghoulish charade will be sufficient for Fox Nation. But no thoughtful person of any political persuasion can watch this shitshow and not realize what is going on. Whether that will have a decisive effect on the broader public remains to be seen; I remain cautious.
As John Cassidy writes in the New Yorker:
“Bereft of any substantive defense of Trump, the House Republicans are betting everything on their alternative narrative, in which the deep state and its media allies cooked up the entire Ukraine story. The point isn’t necessarily to make this narrative believable in any objective sense. For the purposes of the White House and its GOP allies, it will suffice to make it believable enough for the conservative media and Trump’s supporters to rally around. That isn’t a high standard to meet.
…..As (LTC Vindman) explained in his opening statement, he has enough faith in his country to believe that, ultimately, the truth will win out. If he’s proved wrong, it will be a tragedy for him and for the rest of us.”
SHOW ME A HERO AND I’LL SHOW YOU A TRAGEDY
I wrote last week about the GOP’s false claim to be the party of patriotism. Hot on its heels, as if made to order, came the attack on Alexander Vindman as powerful proof of my point.
How far will the right wing go to destroy Colonel Vindman and others like him? Based on their behavior thus far, we ought to put nothing past them. Already there are serious concerns. Referencing information first reported in the Wall Street Journal, Max Boot writes:
“(T)he U.S. Army is prepared to move Col. Vindman and his family onto a military base to ensure their security if it is determined that they are in physical danger.” That a war hero might be in physical danger marks a new low in Republican attempts to defame and intimidate the witnesses against the president.
I would add only the bitter irony that this is happening to a man whose family fled the political repression of the USSR when he was a toddler, seeking refuge in a land that claimed to be free.
My affinity for LTC Vindman flows from several tributaries: as a fellow Army infantry officer, as a Brooklynite, and as a Jew (honorary in my case, through marriage and fatherhood), though I in no way presume to approach his courage or integrity. Truly this man, like many of his fellow witnesses, represents the very best of America.
So to recap, we just saw the President of the United States, his son, Republican Congressmen, and conservative pundits wantonly attack a Purple Heart-wearing career infantry officer and combat veteran of the Iraq war. That man’s crime? Daring to stand up and testify under penalty of perjury that the President violated his oath of office.
With Gordon Sondland’s testimony today, Trump is in even more jeopardy than ever, so don’t look for his ferocious and disgusting behavior to get better. No less a Republican shitbag than Ken Starr today suggested that Donald may be headed for a Nixon-style come-to-Jesus meeting with Republican senators, complete with a one-way helicopter ticket to San Clemente, er, I mean Mar-a-Lago. Hope springs eternal.
In the mean time, as I said at the top, the specter of Joe McCarthy hung over yesterday’s hearings…..and not for nothing, but let’s recall that it was McCarthy’s shameful attacks on the US Army that finally undid him, at the hands of the eloquent Joseph Welch.
But there was an even uglier specter haunting the Longworth House Office Building yesterday, one that involved events in fin de siècle France. Look it up.