Dignity isn't dead in the Trump era

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Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testifies during the public impeachment hearing of President Trump and discusses her time in Ukraine.

Posted: Nov 15, 2019 9:02 AM
Updated: Nov 17, 2019 10:45 AM

Words like 'dignity' and 'honor' feel like an undiscovered country in the Donald Trump era. We've become accustomed to extreme self-interest, hyper-partisan attacks and personal insults being the coin of the realm.

So, there was a shock of recognition, watching the testimonies of former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, top US diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent. They spoke with dignity and humility, answering questions directly, and in the process offered a much-needed reminder that principled, non-partisan public service is part of what actually makes America great.

They have served presidents of both parties and advanced American interests at personal risk. In their testimony, they stuck to the facts. They rooted their insights in history and experience but did not indulge in personal attacks or take partisan bait. Instead, they painted a clear picture of an administration ethically off the rails because of the President's rapacious self-interest.

'It was unexpected, and most unfortunate, to watch some Americans -- including those who allied themselves with corrupt Ukrainians in pursuit of private agendas -- launch attacks on dedicated public servants advancing US interests in Ukraine,' said Kent.

'How could our system fail like this?,' asked Yovanovich, with a wounded patriot's heart. 'How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government? ... Our leadership depends on the power of our example and the consistency of our purpose. Both have now been opened to question.'

In response, they have been attacked by the President, his congressional apologists and partisan media proxies. They are 'nerdy guys,' 'radicals,' 'partisan bureaucrats' and a 'self-important, very narcissistic diplomatic snowflake.'

Under Trump, the idea of non-partisan principles and transcendent national interest -- including the old idea that 'partisanship ought to end at the water's edge' -- have been twisted to seem naïve and somehow partisan. But American exceptionalism is denigrated by asserting that everyone pursues a kind of thuggish real-politick where powerful people are corrupt and get away with murder -- that laws and ethics, democratic norms and even international alliances are simply hypocritical happy talk. This is Russian President Vladimir Putin's world view as well.

But what should gut you as an American is that so many politicians are afraid to speak out despite the fact that they know better. They fall in line out of fear of being attacked by this President, the base or partisan media.

Somewhere in them is a glimmer of the soul that got them into politics in the first place. It's an admiration for men like Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and John McCain, but they are living in Trump's party now and they have sold their honor cheap.

They contort themselves to avoid confronting facts. They may distract themselves from their conscience by focusing on their shared hate of far-left policies in an orgy of whataboutism, but in their hearts they know that they will look back on the actions they have defended with regret.

The testimonies of these three civil servants offered a glimmer of hope unrelated to the great and terrible question of impeaching a president. They reminded us that truth outlasts lies; that character counts and expertise matters. They reminded us of the simple power of example, that courage is calmly speaking out against a hurricane of hate while walking in the faith that we are still a nation of laws.

These should be self-evident truths in America. But we needed to be reminded.

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