How Trump Is Doing ‘Real Harm’
William B. Taylor has served his country for more than 50 years -- first as an infantry officer in Vietnam, and later as a diplomat in perilous places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Today he runs the American embassy in Ukraine, and when he testified last week as part of the House impeachment inquiry, he described his role with pride and precision.
“I am not here to take one side or the other, or to advocate for any particular outcome of these proceedings,” he told lawmakers. “My sole purpose is to provide facts as I know them.”
Those simple words landed with stunning impact in today’s Washington. To provide facts is a rare and rebellious act in a capital where President Trump, The Lord of the Lies, challenges the very notion of facts. Especially those gathered and analyzed by independent professionals like Taylor and Marie Yovanovitch, who was fired as ambassador to Ukraine for resisting corrupt schemes concocted by Trump allies like Rudy Giuliani.
Like Taylor, Yovanovich came before Congress as a truth-teller and a fact-finder, and the truth she told is that Trump’s incessant attack on his own State department “will soon cause real harm, if it hasn’t already.”
The president could not stand that criticism, especially from a fearless woman. So right in the middle of her testimony, he graphically proved her point by tweeting, “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.”
The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., amplified that incendiary ignorance, tweeting that “America hired (his father) to fire people” like Taylor and Yovanovitch because they’re “career government bureaucrats and nothing more.”
The Trumps could not be more wrong. Yes, the president has the right to hire and fire diplomats, but using that power wisely is a very different issue. Those diplomats make it possible for the U.S. government to function every day, everywhere in the world.
Neither Trump understands this basic truth: The “career bureaucrats” they scorn don’t just serve their president, they serve their country. They serve its interests and ideals. They serve the Constitution and the rule of law. Some fight and even die, a point highlighted by the appearance of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who showed up to testify in his full dress uniform bristling with medals, including a Purple Heart.
That’s why we have rules that protect whistleblowers from retaliation, so officials -- including the president -- can be held accountable for their actions. And that’s why the whistleblower in this case was so deeply offended by Trump’s connivance in Ukraine, where the president placed his own political interest above America’s national interest.
Trump clearly cannot comprehend people like Taylor, Yovanovitch, Vindman or the anonymous whistleblower. He’s a man completely consumed with one goal and one goal only: personal advancement and gratification. And he runs the government like a despot, demeaning and deriding his own appointees when they disagree with him.
Why should anyone be surprised at the way Trump insulted Yovanvitch, after he’d described his own Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, as “dumb as a rock”? Or branded Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “the world’s most over-rated general”? Or called Attorney General Jeff Sessions an “idiot”?
Trump’s assaults on high-value targets like his own cabinet officers are bad enough. Even more insidious, however, is the way his denigrating disdain for “career bureaucrats” is causing “real harm” throughout the government.
“The attacks are leading to a crisis in the State Department as the policy process is visibly unraveling, leadership vacancies go unfilled, and senior and midlevel officers ponder an uncertain future and head for the doors,” Yovanovitch told the hearing. “The State Department is being hollowed out from within at a competitive and complex time on the world stage.”
People like Taylor, Vindman and Yovanovitch threaten the president so much because they refuse to be bullied by him. They refuse to abandon their standards of professionalism. They refuse to accept his lies in place of facts. And while most Republicans are intimidated by Trump, and bow to his bombast, at least one does not: Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, a former CIA officer who is not running again.
“You’re tough as nails and you’re smart as hell,” he told Yovanovitch. “You’re an honor to this country, and I thank you.”
Yes, she is. So are the other professionals who risked the president’s wrath to testify before Congress. Trump totally fails to appreciate who they are, what they do and why they do it. And the damage he is inflicting on his own government will far outlast his presidency.
(Steven Roberts teaches politics and journalism at George Washington University. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com.)