I was in high school when Nikita Khrushchev first uttered the phrase translated “We will bury you” to a group of Western ambassadors in 1956. The words are as chilling now as they were then — maybe more so. Khrushchev repeated the phrase a few years later while pounding his shoe on the table at the United Nations.
(This goes back to the Eisenhower administration. “Ike” may have been the first Kansas Republican, but not the most recent one, to go to Washington and demonstrate that one’s ranking in their class at West Point may not be the best indicator of one’s leadership abilities.)
The collapse of the Soviet Union tended to bury Khruschev’s prophecy instead of the Soviet leader’s foes. But the victory of democracy over totalitarianism has not proven decisive and the vulnerabilities within democracy have been brought to the fore.
Vladimir Putin honed his Soviet KGB tricks as he overtook the Russian moves toward freedom. The success of his effort to “kill two birds with one stone” by turning democratic (note the lower case “d”) freedoms against themselves must have him gloating.
That brings us to Dr. Hill’s eloquent statements in her impeachment testimony. Until her recent resignation she was an official on the National Security Council in the current administration. She described the firm conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia not only interfered in our 2016 election, but also framed it as the work of the Ukrainian government.
Through access to the internet and the free press in both the U.S. and Ukraine, the Russians have effectively fanned the flames of division both within and between the two countries. At this point, the success of their effort has to be acknowledged.
Now to the impeachment process’s “Gordon Problem.” In his initial testimony Ambassador Gordon Sondland played Charlie McCarthy by parroting the President’s “there was no quid pro quo.” In his final testimony he moved on to his own position that there certainly was a quid pro quo. Not only that, but “everyone” was in the loop — meaning the top levels of the administration. And the “three amigos” were attempting to carry out the President’s orders.
We read it in the transcript of the telephone call between the two presidents and we heard it flaunted by the Chief of Staff in his news conference. We knew that the president loved to make deals and we knew what “I would like for you to do us a favor, though...” meant in the phone call. What is most difficult to understand is the president’s claim of perfection for the call as portrayed in the transcript.
And now, with the help of Ambassador Sondland and Dr. Hill, we — all U.S. citizens — are in the loop. Some of the details from two of the amigos remain murky. The puzzle pieces supplied by the career diplomats fit together fairly well — but not perfectly. The career public servants seemed to be the winners while the politicians, not so much.
However, our democracy is still dependent upon our politicians to pull us together. It is apparent that we have a powerful common enemy that is effectively sowing discord. We are all in the loop. How can we come together to uphold the democratic values that we profess? Do we really value freedom, justice for all and integrity? Individual responsibility? Can we elect leaders who are more committed to those values than to their own self-interest?
As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” George Will has described politics as “the collaborative adventure of trying to live up to the better angels of our nature.” Thanksgiving is a good time to revisit all that we, as one people, hold in common. Our democracy is indeed “a collaborative adventure.” The coming election year will undoubtedly be demanding of our better angels. Let’s try to keep them in sight.