1. Moms and Politics
I was talking to my mother about politics last night.
That’s a dangerous sentence for most of us these days, but in this case it was refreshing and illuminating. I got out of my bubble a bit, and learned how some of her friends and family were thinking about the contentious matter before us in nine days.
Over the course of the conversation, she told me that someone with whom I’m quite close was planning to vote for President Trump despite their reservations about his “personality” after earlier this year saying they were considering taking a pass on the presidential race altogether. She said that this person would love to talk to me about this, to understand why I had made such a hard pivot away from Trump’s GOP, but it is such an emotionally charged matter that they’re hesitant to do so.
We all have people such as this in our lives. They are faithful Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons. They abhor abortion. They love their country but are worried that they are losing it. They don’t like the Green New Deal, don’t want more taxes. They wouldn’t go to dinner with Trump, won’t put on the red hat, but in the end see him as a better alternative. Many of them get their news from Fox and suspect that much of what they hear about Trump is false or biased.
So this morning I wanted to take one last shot at speaking to these voters, free from the passions of a tense phone call, removed from the sneering tone inherent in a Facebook comment.
I wanted to make the case that no matter what they think about Joe Biden, AOC +3, and everyone else, no matter how righteous their anger over liberal media screw ups is, no matter how they decide to vote down the ballot, that Donald Trump hasn’t earned their vote.
And this has nothing to do with “the tweets.”
So let’s take a stab at this thing.
2. Here Right Matters
Alexander Vindman loves America with the zeal of a convert. He was born in Ukraine when it was part of the USSR and brought to America by his father as a child. He wanted to give back and serve the nation that had brought freedom and opportunity to his family. So in 1999 he entered the army, and after 9/11 he was deployed to Iraq, where he sustained an injury from a roadside bomb. He was awarded the Purple Heart, stayed in Iraq for another year, and to this day has shrapnel in his body from that IED.
Two years ago he accepted his dream job working on the U.S. National Security Council, specializing in the place of his birth.
A year later Vindman’s American dream intersected with our toxic politics. He was summoned to Congress to testify about President Trump’s call pressuring the Ukrainian prime minister to investigate the Biden family. Alex’s dad, still scarred from growing up in Communist Russia where speaking out against the party was verboten, was worried for his son. But Alex told him not to worry. He told him that he was simply going to tell the truth and that in telling the truth he would be fine because unlike their native land, here, in America, “right matters.”
Alex’s career in the military was ruined by this testimony. He was viciously smeared by his commander-in-chief. He was escorted from the White House like a criminal who had been caught stealing the state china, was reassigned, and was eventually pressured into leaving his job altogether.
No matter what you think about Trump’s call to Ukraine, or impeachment, or how the media handled it, Alex didn’t deserve to be treated like this. He was a public servant—a Republican, even—who had been subpoenaed by Congress and told the truth as he saw it.
His story resonates with me and I hope with you because he talks about an America that I believe exists with every fiber of my being. It’s the America I was taught to love as a young Republican. One where “right matters.” One where we might make mistakes, but where we are a unique force for good. A place that is the light and hope of the world.
If you don’t agree that America is a place where “right matters,” that we are a special country with special responsibilities, that we are different from other regimes the world over, you can stop here because this pitch isn’t for you.
But for anyone still reading, let me offer this . . .
In a place where right matters we don’t shut the door on refugees fleeing oppression and yearning to breathe free.
We don’t have an explicit policy to rip young children from their parents arms and then deport the parents, losing track of them, leaving their children orphaned in a foreign land.
In a place where right matters, the president doesn’t put someone who plots with white nationalist organizations in charge of the entire country’s immigration regime.
We don’t bar mothers from visiting their dying babies because their country of origin happens to be majority muslim.
We don’t put 18-year old citizens in disgusting deporation cages without a lawyer for three weeks because they have brown skin and happened to be in a car with undocumented immigrants.
In a place where right matters, we don’t pack vulnerable people into rallies while a contagion is spreading rapidly to feed the ego of a leader.
We don’t refuse to take the proper steps to prepare for a pandemic because we are worried about politics.
We don’t minimize the deaths of nearly a quarter million people—or refuse to model a simple, basic safety measure like mask wearing that could save 100,000 lives—because of a culture war.
In a place where right matters we don’t let businesses and families go under amidst a once in a century pandemic, without providing the needed relief.
In a place where right matters, the president does not dispatch the military to assault journalists and clergy members with shields and tear gas and rubber bullet grenades while they were exercising their constitutional right to peaceful assembly. (Please read this harrowing account from a St. John’s minister on the scene if you haven’t; it is deeply upsetting.)
In a place where right matters, the president would be marching alongside those who want justice for the wrongful death of black men and women at the hands of the state—not fomenting more violence.
And certainly in a place where right matters, we would not have a president who routinely calls his fellow Americans who oppose him politically “scum” while equivocating on whether or not the people at a Nazi march are just misunderstood.
In a place where right matters, the president doesn’t use his office—and taxpayer-funded lawyers—to bully a woman who has accused him of rape.
He doesn’t get to avoid any accountability for the 19 other women who have accused him of sexual misconduct.
And doesn’t get to duck all liability for the hush money payoff made to his mistress even as his lawyer goes to jail over it.
In a place where right matters, four female black members of Congress—three of whom were born America, not that this matters—don’t get told by the president to “go back” to the countries that they came from.
SURELY in a place where right matters, the president of the United States doesn’t preside over a rabid crowd chanting “Send Her Back. Send Her Back. Send Her Back” in the kind of despicable scene that we thought had been relegated to the dustbin of Jim Crow history.
In a place where right matters, how can we look at young black boys and black girls and tell them that they are fully welcome in this country when the president participates in something as noxious as that.
There just isn’t any way to square it. It’s not right. We all know it.
If this is truly a place where right matters, Donald Trump has simply not earned another chance at leading this nation.
This is true even if you could never support Joe Biden. You can “vote for your conscience” while knowing that if Joe Biden, despite all his flaws, becomes our president then he will be a man of decency. (If you can’t agree to that, please watch this speech.)
Here’s the other thing: If Joe Biden wins and fails as a president, then we can make a change. If he oversteps in his first two years, if he doesn’t live up to his bipartisanship promise, if he passes an energy bill that is too liberal or a tax hike too high or if his IP policy isn’t up to snuff, the American people can right the ship and put Republicans in charge of Congress. Just like they did in 2010.
Because that’s how the American democracy works. And here, right matters.
3. Reagan’s Farewell
I’m sure many of you have watched Reagan’s powerful farewell address over the years. I’d ask you to do it again.
Because I don’t see how you can look at America in 2020 and believe that we are living up to Ronald Reagan’s call. We are not acting like a city atop a hill standing on rocks stronger than oceans. Nor are we a land teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace.
What I see instead is a country of pilgrims hurtling through the darkness . . . yearning for home.
I hope we can still find it.
The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the shining "city upon a hill." The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important, because he was an early Pilgrim - an early "Freedom Man." He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat, and, like the other pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.
I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind, it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind swept, God blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace - a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.
That's how I saw it, and see it still. How Stands the City?
And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that: after 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm.
And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the Pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.