The lesson of Lt. Col. Vindman.
February 3, 2022
[Audio version here]
[t]he lawsuit against [Don Jr. and Rudy Giuliani] alleges that they violated sections 1 and 2 of the Ku Klux Klan Act, which is intended to bar threats or intimidation against government officials carrying out their constitutional duties.
Trump succeeded in forcing Vindman out of the military because his superiors failed to protect their brother-in-arms from a vindictive president who sought revenge against an American patriot. On July 9, 2020, I wrote a newsletter titled “A Patriot Falls in Battle.” Here are the opening lines from that newsletter, which serve as a reminder of Vindman’s service to the nation and the shameful way he was treated by Trump and his superiors:
On Wednesday [July 8, 2020], an American patriot fell on the field of battle while defending democracy. In fear and shame, his fellow soldiers turned away, abandoning their comrade, leaving him to perish on the battlefield alone. Those who silently watched as Trump forced Lieutenant Colonel Vindman out of the U.S. military are cowards and a disgrace to their uniforms. They have transformed the ribbons on their chests from badges of honor to dime-store fabric that mocks their prior service and bravery.
Lieutenant Colonel Vindman followed the rules scrupulously and honorably. When he believed that his commander-in-chief acted illegally, he followed guidelines to report the information on a confidential basis to an intelligence official. He testified truthfully in the impeachment inquiry in response to a congressional subpoena. As punishment for protecting the Constitution and honoring his oath, Trump fired Colonel Vindman from the National Security Council. In an act of gratuitous retribution, Trump also fired Colonel Vindman’s twin brother from his job in the administration.
In his congressional testimony, Colonel Vindman said that he did not fear for his safety or future because, “Here, right matters.” After Trump fired Colonel Vindman from his job at the NSC, Defense Secretary Esper said that the Department of Defense “will not tolerate any act of retaliation or reprisal” against Colonel Vindman. That promise turned out to be worthless. Colonel Vindman was due to be promoted last month, but Trump signaled that he would deny Vindman’s upcoming promotion. The Defense Department stalled Vindman’s promotion as it searched for a basis to deny him the promotion he was due. (“The White House asked Pentagon officials to find instances of misconduct by Colonel Vindman that would justify blocking his promotion.”) Although the Defense Department could not identify anything to justify blocking Vindman, it became clear that the Department would never recommend Vindman’s promotion. Vindman stoically accepted his fate and resigned. His letter of resignation is here.
Everyone in Colonel Vindman’s chain of command should have resigned in protest. Instead, they said, “Yes, Sir, Mr. President! We will dutifully follow your orders to engage in illegal retaliation against an honorable and dutiful soldier!” The cowards who mutely implemented Trump’s illegal order have not only dishonored their oaths to the Constitution, but they have also disgraced themselves and undermined their leadership. What message have they sent to the soldiers under their watch? They have said, “We have your backs—until our own careers are at stake. Then you are on your own.” When Trump is gone, the military must undergo an internal reckoning to determine how it managed to promote leaders utterly lacking in moral courage.
The disgraceful treatment of Lieutenant Colonel Vindman is a timely reminder of what life was like during the Trump presidency—and what it could become again if Trump is re-elected. Trump’s recent promise to pardon insurrectionists and his call for violence make clear that he is a wannabe dictator and aspiring fascist. The failure of military leaders to stand up to Trump in his effort to punish Vindman only encouraged Trump to engage in even more lawless conduct in the future—culminating in his attempted coup on January 6th.
The recent GOP hero-worship of strongmen and fascists in other countries signals where Republicans believe a future Trump presidency will take us. In his NYTimes op-ed, Thomas Edsall considers this question, What America Would Look Like in 2025 Under Trump. I recommend Edsall’s entire article to your attention, but what struck me was his description of the GOP’s infatuation with Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán. Under Orbán’s tenure as Prime Minister, he has led an assault on academic freedom, banned gender studies, curtailed press freedom, and undermined the independence of the judiciary. Orbán’s rule has been described as a “soft fascism,”
a political system that aims to stamp out dissent and seize control of every major aspect of a country’s political and social life, without needing to resort to “hard” measures like banning elections and building up a police state.
Although the above description should strike fear into the hearts of every self-professed freedom-loving Republican, Tucker Carlson has lionized Orbán in fawning interviews. The Conservative Political Action Conference (the leading right-wing organization in the U.S.) plans to hold its annual meeting in Hungary. And the New York Young Republican Club has endorsed Orbán’s re-election.
The right’s glorification of Orbán’s fascist tendencies is part of its broader embrace of extremist philosophies, including white nationalism and, most recently, neo-Nazism. After several neo-Nazi demonstrations in Florida captured headlines, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis could not summon the courage to condemn protests by the neo-Nazis. Instead, he criticized Democrats for suggesting that his hateful policies encouraged the neo-Nazis to believe that Florida is fertile ground for their racist, antisemitic, xenophobic, and anti-LGBTQ+ tenets. See The Guardian, Ron DeSantis pushes back against calls to condemn neo-Nazi protests and Jennifer Rubin op-ed in WaPo, Ron DeSantis is following Trump’s white supremacy playbook.
All of the above teaches us that we must resist every attempt by Trump and the GOP to normalize extremism, hate, and violence. We must prosecute Trump for every crime he committed—including extorting Ukraine, obstructing justice, attempting a coup, intimidating witnesses, lying on finance campaign disclosures, cheating on his taxes, interfering in state elections, and defrauding banks. If we let Trump get away with anything, he will believe that he can get away with everything. That is the bitter lesson our nation must learn from our failure to protect Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman.
FBI identifies suspects in bomb threats to historically Black colleges and universities.
The NYTimes is reporting that the FBI has identified six youths as persons of interest in bomb threats to HBCUs earlier in the week. See NYTimes, Six Juveniles Are Persons of Interest in Threats to Historically Black Colleges. Per the Times, the threats are being investigated as hate crimes.
A reader sent a note in response to yesterday’s newsletter highlighting the fact that Harry Moore was the first NAACP official killed in the civil rights struggle. He was an educator in Brevard County, Florida. Harry Moore led a remarkable and consequential life, leading efforts to investigate the lynching of Black men in Florida, seeking equal pay for Black teachers, and defending Black youths wrongfully accused of raping a white woman. Moore was killed by a bomb placed in his home as he was seeking to hold accountable a white sheriff who shot and killed two handcuffed Black youths he was transporting to court in his police cruiser. See PBS, Freedom Never Dies: The Story of Harry T. Moore.
Missouri’s GOP legislature proposes self-defense law that would effectively eliminate the crime of murder.
In an apparent response to the convictions of the murderers of Ahmaud Marquez Arbery despite claims of self-defense, the Missouri GOP-controlled legislature is proposing a law that would effectively eliminate the crime of murder whenever a defendant invokes the right to self-defense as a justification for the killing. See Above the Law, Missouri’s Bill 666 May Be A Deal With The Devil. Under the proposed law, if a defendant claims self-defense to murder, he cannot be taken into custody, he is granted a presumption that he acted reasonably, prosecutors must disprove the defense by “clear and convincing evidence,” and a judge, not a jury, decides the issue. See St. Louis Post-Dispatch, McCloskey praises Missouri bill to loosen gun laws; prosecutor calls it the ‘Make Murder Legal Act’. (BTW, the “McCloskey” referred to in the preceding headline is Mark McCloskey, who gained prominence by pointing a semi-automatic rifle at protestors who were walking past his home in a gated community. McCloskey is now running for U.S. Senator for Missouri. See his horrific campaign picture, here.)
Under the proposed Missouri law, the most important witness who could testify against the defendant’s invocation of self-defense is dead. So the proposed law would effectively give a “free pass” to murderers in Missouri. Indeed, the law would create a bizarre incentive to kill an opponent in a bar fight to take advantage of the presumption of reasonable self-defense. If the law passes, it is unclear why any businesses or tourists would enter Missouri. One opponent of the bill said that the bill’s number—666—is appropriate “because it will be dragging Missouri right into hell.”
A dozen readers noted that I made an incorrect assumption in calculating how many low-dollar donors contributed to Senator Sinema. I assumed that everyone in the $200 and below category donated $200—which is obviously not true. Some donors may have given less, meaning that Sinema may have more than 170 low-dollar donors. I should not have made that assumption (or should have made it explicit in describing my calculations).
Interview with Maya Maravilla this Saturday.
On Saturday, I will interview Maya Maravilla, who is the DNC Midwest Regional Desk for the Civic Engagement and Voter Protection. I asked Maya to join as a guest on the podcast because her personal journey into political activism is an inspiring story. Maya has been in the trenches for most of the last two decades but manages to maintain enthusiasm and hope. Join us at 2:00 PM Eastern, 11:00 AM Pacific on the Callin app (Apple iOS only; Android coming soon). Follow @roberthubbell and subscribe to Today’s Edition Podcast from within the app to join the discussion live!
A hundred times over the last five years, I have thought, “That’s it! Trump has finally crossed the line! He’s done!” Sadly, I was wrong on every previous occasion. But it feels like the ground is shifting, both under Trump and the white nationalist wing of the GOP. A handful of GOP members in Congress criticized Trump’s pledge to pardon the insurrectionists, and they have maintained those criticisms for three days—an eternity in Trump time. They may eventually surrender to pressure from Trump, but some within the GOP are testing Trump’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The good news for Democrats is that if Trump goes down, he will take as many Republicans with him as he can.
And Trump’s “mini-me”—Ron DeSantis—just committed an error as grave as Trump’s “good people on both sides” comments after Charlottesville. DeSantis has exposed an Achilles’ heel—he will refuse to condemn white nationalists and neo-Nazis because he does not want to offend the MAGA base. Now that the press recognizes that weakness, they will be relentless in picking at the wound. DeSantis will eventually relent and condemn white nationalists and neo-Nazis, but only after establishing that he sympathizes with them.
But I digress. There should be nothing political about a politician’s inability to condemn neo-Nazis. Their beliefs are abhorrent and objectively evil, and anyone who fails to denounce that belief system places themselves outside the pale of civilized society. Whatever justifiable fears and anxieties we may harbor about the ugly direction of the GOP under Trump, there will always be many more Americans who believe in equality, decency, and humanity than those who do not. It is incumbent on those who remain committed to the rule of law to speak up whenever we see injustice or corruption—just like Alexander Vindman did. If we are all Alexander Vindmans, there is no stopping us. That is the lesson of Alexander Vindman.
Talk to you tomorrow!