Before Tuesday’s impeachment proceedings unfolded, I was clinging to a shred of hope in the power of shame and self-interest. After Tuesday, that slim hope has fallen to dust, and I suspect Wednesday will not improve matters in any measurable sense.
Before Tuesday, I believed it possible that enough Republican senators would see the vivid, unmistakable and indefensible evidence of Donald Trump’s impeachable crimes and find themselves morally incapable of supporting him further. It was a long shot, but it was there.
If doing the right thing was not sufficient in itself, I believed there would be enough Republican senators who would survey the ocean of evidence against Trump and come to the conclusion that he was simply too politically radioactive to embrace.
I believed the combination — shame and the well-honed D.C. survival instinct — could be enough to collect 20 Republican votes to remove this demonstrable menace of a president. I believed it was possible.
Once House Republican legal counsel Stephen Castor finished with his line of questioning on Tuesday, however, my hope was gone. In its place was my growing dread that after Trump is impeached by the full House, a Senate trial will likely produce some Republican votes to remove but not enough, and Trump will be available to stand for re-election a little less than a year hence.
Over a long series of questions, Castor insinuated time and again that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman — the top Ukraine expert on the national security council who was on the now-infamous July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky — shared dual loyalty with Ukraine and was not a “real American.” He suggested Lt. Col. Vindman may have preferred to serve in the government of Ukraine as defense minister, rather than serve in the U.S. Army as a U.S. citizen.
Other Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee — most notably Chris Stewart of Utah, who mocked Lt. Col. Vindman for wearing his uniform to the hearing and asked at one point, “Do you always insist on civilians calling you by your rank?” — took a similar tack, having found themselves incapable of un-ringing the clear evidentiary bell Lt. Col. Vindman was sounding before them.
Castor, however, set the tone, and in doing so made it clear for all time that there is nothing these Republicans will not do to stand the gaffe for the reality TV star in the White House who has so thoroughly conquered them.
My personal feelings about war, militarism and the politically expedient worship of soldiers have no bearing in this assessment. Lt. Col. Vindman is who he is — an Army combat veteran who has earned a Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Expert Infantryman’s Badge, the Parachutist Badge, two Defense Meritorious Service Medals, four Army Commendation Medals, three Army Achievement Medals, along with a forest of other awards, medals, citations, ribbons and badges. Whatever else he may be, Lt. Col. Vindman is a soldier’s soldier.
Once upon a time in Republican circles, that meant something. All one must do is harken back to Trump’s elaborate tantrum over football players kneeling for the anthem to protest police violence against people of color. “They were fighting for our country, they were fighting for our flag, they were fighting for our national anthem,” said Trump of soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in September of 2017. “For people to disrespect that by kneeling during the playing of national anthem I think is disgraceful.”
My, how times have changed.
Lt. Col. Vindman, who found a Ukraine official’s suggestion that he become defense minister of that nation “comical,” repeatedly batted down suggestions that his allegiance to the U.S. was anything other than complete. The Republicans, however, pressed on with their veiled insinuations. “Did you leave the door open?” Castor purred when asking about the proffered Ukraine job offer. “Was he speaking in English or Ukrainian?… It’s rather significant. Did you tell anyone?… Were there any other offers?… Did you ever think that it might create at least a perception of a conflict?”
“Disgraceful” is a proper word to describe Republicans’ treatment of Lt. Col. Vindman on Tuesday, especially in the face of the decades they’ve spent wrapped in the flag and the stolen honor of soldiers when it suited their purposes. Those days are over, and I pray every soldier and veteran in the country saw what happened. The Army is now prepared to move Lt. Col. Vindman and his family to a military base for their protection due to concerns that they could face retaliation from Trump devotees because of his testimony. “Disgraceful” in fact, is a small word in the face of this.
European Ambassador Gordon Sondland is testifying today. Because of this, Wednesday has the feel of a potentially dramatic moment — Sondland’s opening statement puts Trump, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Pompeo in the middle of the extortion scheme — but the substance is bereft of weight, because nothing will apparently move these Republicans away from their support of Trump.
Case in point: After Lt. Col. Vindman and Mike Pence’s senior aide Jennifer Williams finished their testimony on Tuesday, they were followed by two witnesses who had been specifically requested by the Republicans: former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and former White House national security official Tim Morrison.
Both witnesses shot a number of oft-repeated Republican conspiracy theories on Ukraine to pieces during their testimony. Volker even went so far as to stand up for former Vice President Joe Biden, and by proxy, his son. “The allegations against Vice President Biden are self-serving and non-credible,” he declared. The remainder of his testimony further buttressed the testimony that has been pouring out of the hearing room since last week.
The case has been made, and made again. The Republicans’ own witnesses undermined every defense of Trump they could muster, and all the attempted shaming of Lt. Col. Vindman failed to undo the damning first-person account he gave of the call that started this whole thing.
It will not matter in the end, I now believe. Watching the events of Tuesday murdered my last bit of hope. Perhaps these Republicans are simply fools, or share a foreign dark money source with Trump that cannot survive revelation, or are too enamored with the right-wing judges being appointed on Trump’s watch.
Whatever the answer may ultimately be, it appears that the Republican Party has become the vestibule of Hell, and Trump’s minions have chosen the course of John Milton’s Satan: “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”
Even having lost hope in the outcome of the impeachment process, however, I still hold an iron-clad belief that these hearings are necessary. The process of impeachment had to be undertaken as a matter of law and as a constitutional imperative. Failure to remove Trump will be a political thing, politics is a filthy business, and the people will bear witness to that filth when Republican after Republican refuses to do what they know is right. “Here,” said Lt. Col. Vindman during his testimony, “right matters.”