There was a time, so they say, that people could disagree on politics while agreeing on certain basics like the common good. Those days, if ever they were, appear to be behind us, as we now can no longer agree on basic reality — just Google the term “false flag” for an example. But I’d like to think at least some vestige of the old-fashioned common good remains. Let’s take a quiz.
“Take her out”
In January, ABC News obtained a recording made during a 2018 dinner Donald Trump attended, at — where else? — one of his properties. Amid discussions about Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch (who would later testify during the U.S. House impeachment investigation), Trump reportedly said: “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it.”
In context, he may have meant to “take her out” of Ukraine, where she was posted. Yovanovitch, who continued serving until April 2019, was portrayed by the now-indicted associates of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani as being anti-Trump, as well as a roadblock to his agenda in Ukraine. The ambassador would later testify that the State Department informed her “there were concerns about my security.”
Quiz question: Does this bother you? Does it bother you that a woman serving the United States since the Reagan era was threatened, and possibly more than termination was planned?
Back to that 2018 dinner. Guiliani’s associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruma, were there. Trump denies knowing them — does this falsehood bother you?
Parnas’ purported text messages with Giuliani point to an ongoing campaign against Yovanovitch. In one of them, Giuliani remarks “Boy, I’m so powerful I can intimidate the entire Ukrainian government.” It is hard to say how serious Giuliani was. But it isn’t hard to see that he is directing U.S. foreign policy. Considering he is Trump’s personal attorney, not an elected or appointed official, does that bother you?
Also in January, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took a page from his boss by lashing out at NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly. Kelly in an interview asked him about Ukraine matters, and even though she later provided an email trail proving that she’d intended to ask such questions, the sitting secretary of state insisted that she had misrepresented her intent when setting up the interview, and that he only was to discuss Iran. In a private meeting after her interview, Kelly reports he cursed her out and had an unlabeled map brought in, demanding that she point out Ukraine on it.
Kelly had no trouble doing so. Pompeo’s response, when NPR reported on his condescending meltdown, was to double down and lie, painting Kelly as someone who could not identify Ukraine on a map, even though she had, and then lambasting her for reporting things he said “off record.”
Does that bother you? That a highly placed U.S. official would: Lose his mind when asked questions about foreign policy; curse at a reporter; condescend to the reporter, then lie about that encounter, too?
After the dustup with Kelly, the State Department denied press credentials to another NPR reporter to travel with Pompeo on an upcoming official trip.
The order of the day is punishment, for actors large and small, if they do anything to displease the administration, even if that “thing” is their actual job and their actual job is informing the public. Does that bother you?
Impeachment of a sitting president, and trial in the Senate, is, by its nature, divisive. But it’s not partisan to say the process should entail evidence and sworn testimony, and careful consideration of that evidence. With Trump’s impeachment, we had senators coming out and saying, before the articles were sent over from the House, that they didn’t intend to so much as look at the evidence (Lindsey Graham), and that they were “coordinating” with the White House (Mitch McConnell).
Does that, and its alarming implications for the constitutional mechanisms for checking presidential power, bother you?
How about the savaging of Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the only Republican who voted to convict on one of the two articles, having found Trump clearly did abuse his power? How about Trump saying House impeachment manager Adam Schiff “hasn’t paid the price” for carrying out his duties?
You don’t have to agree with Romney or approve of Schiff — the question is whether you are okay with a man small enough to threaten people for not bowing before him, who is using the power of the presidency to settle scores. Does that bother you?
Trump can’t issue a fiat to oust an elected senator or representative — although he would if he could. He can, however, use his clout to have others make their lives miserable, and he can fire the public servants who testified in the House proceedings about his impeachable conduct.
Days after Trump’s predictable acquittal in the Senate, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated officer serving on the National Security Council, was walked out of his office and removed from his post. Vindman offered key testimony in House testimony. His twin brother, Yevgeny, was also fired from his post on the National Security Council, even though he had not testified. Trump also fired Ambassador Gordon Sondland for having given testimony.
In other words, two men responded to orders to testify before the United States Congress, took an oath, and told the truth, and soon after Trump escaped accountability, he retaliated, taking out a third person too as collateral damage. Does that bother you?
Trump didn’t stop there. Trump has painted Vindman as “rogue” and insubordinate; a leaker and a liar with poor judgment. Does that kind of naked character assassination bother you?
Since his acquittal, Donald exerted pressure via Twitter tantrum to have the U.S. Department of Justice scale back its prison recommendation for his crony, Roger Stone. Stone was convicted of lying to Congress and tampering with a witness with respect to the 2016 campaign.
Stone, who has since claimed the jury forewoman was biased and is seeking a new trial, was recommended to receive seven to nine years in prison. But after Trump complained, the DOJ ordered a new sentencing memo seeking a lighter punishment.
All four prosecutors on the case resigned in protest, and some in Congress demanded an accounting of Attorney General William Bar, who at last report was to testify to the House Judiciary Committee March 31. Barr has denied being pressured to intervene, even going so far as to tell Trump to “stop tweeting.”
But multiple DOJ officials were having none of it, writing in a letter that Barr’s actions “speak louder than words.”
Does the prospect of an attorney general meddling with justice for the sake of a president’s pal bother you?
Both before and during impeachment, the Senate had numerous chances to flex its own power as a coequal branch of government, but failed — whether through cowardice or short-sighted opportunism — to check Trump’s excesses. Does that bother you?
This failure has emboldened the dangerous megalomaniac in the White House, who has only ramped up his vindictiveness as he proceeds to lock down other elements of government that are supposed to protect us from a tyrant.
The precedent that was set in impeachment trial was that a president can in effect bribe or threaten a foreign government for “dirt” on a political opponent. It was even advanced that, as long as a president “believes” his being reelected is in the public’s interests, he can do anything to assure it. Does that bother you?
Final question: If Trump continues, and other presidents build on what he established, we will not have a functioning constitutional republic, but an autocracy, in which everyone is subject to the whims of the autocrat.
There’s actually no need to say whether that bothers you. Whatever answers were given to the questions above have established what you are willing to allow.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is a veteran journalist in Montrose, Colo.