Who will save us from this troublesome presidency? Not our elected officials in Congress, afraid of losing the next election. Not one House member voting “no” on an impeachment inquiry, seeing nothing wrong with Donald Trump’s conduct. And not Trump’s appointees, afraid of his inhuman treatment of those who don’t jump at his every whim, and of losing the perks that come with their power.
It won’t be a quaking Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, who said he won’t testify without a court order about Trump’s coordinated effort to get the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to interfere in the 2020 election or have his Javelin missiles to fight his well-armed enemy and Trump’s imaginary friend, Vladimir Putin, held up indefinitely.
But there’s another governing group, lately summoned from obscurity, to tell us what they’ve seen at the revolution to destroy government from the inside out and replace it with a secret one staffed by cronies like “private lawyer” Rudy Giuliani, Gordon Sondland, who bought his ambassadorship, and fake national-security experts like Rep. Devin Nunes’ former assistant Kashyap Patel, now a White House aide. While Patel has no Ukraine expertise, he was ushered into meetings with Trump to protect the commander in chief from experts like Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who might annoy him with his knowledge.
That’s who Trump threatened again on Sunday, in what sounded an awful lot like witness intimidation. Vindman, who came to America as a refugee at age 3 and is a combat veteran with a Purple Heart, had been detailed to the White House and heard the actual call to Zelensky in which Trump extorted the Ukraine president for investigations that would hurt Democrats in exchange for military aid. Vindman reported his alarm up the chain of command but then ran into Trump aide Tim Morrison, who told him to never speak of the matter again. Morrison reluctantly corroborated, under oath, that there was a quid pro quo, not that there’s anything wrong with that. He claimed he only hid the call out of concern over leaks.
When I learned that Vindman has a twin who may testify—Army Lt. Colonel and NSC lawyer Yevgeny Vindman, who actually witnessed Morrison’s decision to move the transcript to a top secret server—I thought for a moment: There is a God in heaven and he’s in touch with the Vindman family.
It’s a little-appreciated fact that there are hundreds of thousands of these "radical unelected bureaucrats,” nobodies who toil for chump change, as Trump would have it, who work in cubicles and wipe down the microwave when the ramen noodles overflow because they don’t have White House Mess privileges or expense-account lunches. They follow the rules, and expect no thanks, which is good because they rarely get any. These agents of the “deep state” will never see their names in lights.
The point of Trump is to see his name in lights, to be wealthier and more fabulous and more adored by his base each time he sets the hair of the establishment on fire. As in a horror movie, the Democrats keep trying to call the police station to report it, but not one Republican senator or congressman answers.
But now the cop on the beat has picked up—in real life, pencil-pushing public servants to both Republicans and Democrats like Russia expert Fiona Hill, and William Taylor, out of West Point and service in Vietnam, who left his happy retirement, against his wife’s wishes, to return to Ukraine at the request of Mike Pompeo, who’s not uttered a word of support since Taylor testified. Acting Ambassador Taylor replaced another “deep state” official, former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, fired for not backing Trump’s rogue operation. He testified from contemporaneous memos about what NSC Chairman John Bolton, still afraid enough of Trump not to testify without a subpoena, called a “drug deal” going down under the supervision of “hand grenade “Giuliani.
It takes courage. Trump himself, when asked what he has to back his claim that Vindman is a “Never Trumper,” said “we’ll be showing that to you real soon.” It’s another way to string along his enablers to throw all the mud they can.
Republicans had already been flinging it at Vindman, who could lose his job and his pension. Former Rep. Sean Duffy on CNN wondered suspiciously why he was so “incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense,” rather than America’s. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) reportedly began his questioning with the implication that Vindman had been working both sides. Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who once told LeBron James to “shut up and dribble,” shrieked that the Ukrainian-speaking Vindman was working “apparently against the president’s interests,” prompting John Yoo, author of the pro-torture memos during the Bush administration, to agree that it sounded like espionage to him. He apologized later for another example of how desperate Trump’s supporters are to humor him.
Fortunately, there are more career government servants keeping us safe than Trump acolytes accusing them of dual loyalties, more Vindmans and Taylors than Yoos and Zeldins. Many of them we’ll never hear about as they toil away on arcane subjects like E coli bacteria in romaine lettuce, to stop a wave of consumers from becoming dangerously ill, or the spatiotemporal patterns of tropical storms, to counteract a president with a black Sharpie to show that the path of our most recent hurricane might course through Alabama. At this very moment, Trump wants to compromise a whole agency of such people at the National Weather Service by nominating AccuWeather’s former CEO Barry Myers, the chief proponent of privatizing it, to take it over.
It’s an old joke that your check is in the mail, with the punchline being that it isn’t. But despite cutbacks in almost every government agency, 99.9 percent of the time, the check IS in the mail. There are exceptions but government delivers services more efficiently than private entities, which is why Medicare is shorthand for less costly health care. Corporations running cages at the border and prisons everywhere are just two examples of how contractors are neither less expensive nor more accountable than the workers they replace.
I’m biased. For 30 years, my father worked at a Navy depot in Pennsylvania as a career civil servant without missing a day until he had a heart attack, propping up his fake wood plaques for service on a bookcase in the basement. In a study not-abroad program, I spent a summer moving from agency to agency in Washington where I met smart people, from low to high, who worked as if someone’s life depended on it, and sometimes it did. For 20 years, I was dependent on a web of federal and state agencies as guardian of my older brother with special needs. There were a few workers who were overwhelmed but none who didn’t care. Case workers on their own time kept vigil when my brother was in the hospital, a rebuke to the Reagan era sarcasm about how “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” I have more confidence that a 20-year section chief at Medicaid is going to do what’s right while earning less than $100,000 a year, than I do that the CEO of Boeing, who let the deadly 737 MAX fly, “earning” $30 million will.
One of the first career servants to be fired by Trump for doing her job was Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. She’d risen to the top of the Justice Department over 27 years there. As she was leaving reluctantly to enter private practice, where it’s hard to calculate the factor by which her salary would increase, she spoke elegiacally of what an honor it was to represent the United States against all those who’d committed offenses against it. She joked that her time in government was “worth every penny I wasn’t paid for it.”
To Sally Yates, and both Col. Vindmans, to Taylor and Yovanovitch and Fiona Hill, and others whose names we’ll never know, you’re from the government and you’re here to help. Thank you for your service.