With white crosses marking the graves of the American war dead behind him in Normandy, before a solemn ceremony on the 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion to free Europe from Nazis, President Donald Trump referred to special counsel Robert Mueller as a “fool.”
This should get us thinking.
Wouldn’t it have been great if an American war hero who dedicated his entire adult life to protecting American freedom and the rule of law was the one who represented America on the beaches of Normandy 75 years after we repelled the Germans and their fascist sympathizers?
Instead, we sent someone who dodged his own draft when his country needed him, and who, as president, has failed to consistently, and with any real conviction, condemn white supremacists. It would take a satirist to adequately convey the irony.
Imagine a parallel universe in which President Donald Trump sent Mueller in his stead. “Look Bob, you’ve worked real hard to protect this country and our elections. How about you go to England, hang out with the Queen (she’s really nice), and then go to France to honor America’s sacrifice and valor in fighting the Nazis? As for me, I’ll go to Mar-a-Lago and work on keeping America great. Off you go, Bob.”
Back to our universe.
The irony shifts from amusing to worrisome when one realizes that it hasn’t even been two weeks since Mueller reiterated on national television that if he and his fellow investigators “had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” The unindicted crime to which Mueller was referring was Trump obstructing the special counsel investigation into the Russian government’s use of “sophisticated cybertechniques” to “interfere with our election.”
Like much of what he utters, it was a bewildering mishmash of candor and lies. First, his response was, “I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected.”
Twenty minutes after Trump realized he had acknowledged Russia’s role in helping him secure the presidency, he said, “No, Russia did not get me elected.”
In no form or fashion did he seek to alleviate concerns that his administration is insufficiently countering Russia’s continuing cyberoperations aimed at disrupting our elections.
Consider what it is that American, Canadian and British soldiers died for on the beaches of Normandy. It wasn’t for a charismatic leader who twists the law, obfuscates the truth, denigrates patriots, inflames passions and manipulates citizens into turning on one another. Those service members died for freedom — specifically, our freedom to choose our leaders without foreign adversaries manipulating our choices. Russia’s interference in our elections was a violation of our national sovereignty. Russia violated — and continues to violate — a sacred value in our country.
If we can’t vote for our leaders without foreign manipulation, what’s the point of the U.S. republic?
America is more than its comical president, a rising stock market and low unemployment. Everyone knows that if Russia were to help Joe Biden get elected over Trump, the right-wing echo chamber would explode with outrage. And its anger would be righteous.
Self-determination — that is what our republic is about.
Unfortunately, neither the Trump administration nor what passes for the current Republican Party is up to the job of protecting our democracy. Trump’s Cabinet members and Republican senators take their cues from their dear leader, and if Trump says the Mueller investigation was a “witch hunt,” well, then, that is good enough for them.
As long as ordinary Americans are employed and elites are happy with a rising stock market, then there’s no reason to get too excited over manipulated elections, right? Heck, about 40% of Americans don’t even vote in presidential elections anymore, so why should we expect them to get excited over Russian interference?
We cannot be that cynical, but we must ask: How many Americans today are willing to give their lives for the right of self-determination?
I worry that the values of sacrifice and honor will die with the last D-Day veteran.
To those who diminish this threat: Good economic times won’t last forever. And only freedom will save us when times are difficult.
In 1998, I was so happy that President Bill Clinton was impeached for committing perjury that I cut out the headline from the newspaper, framed it and hung it on my wall. The lesson was clear: The rule of law applies even to the most powerful person in the world.
Today, our Congress needs to impeach Trump — not because we think the Republican-controlled Senate will convict him, but to send a signal to all future presidents, Republican or Democrat, that no president is above the law and there are serious consequences for violating it. The republic is for the American people, not so elected Democratic and Republican officials can hold onto power.
Of the many offenses for which Trump should be impeached, failure to take seriously Russian interference in our elections, and denigrating the intelligence and law enforcement communities that have been warning him about it, are the most significant in my mind. It’s not just the military that protects freedom, but also civil servants, judges, lawyers, journalists, educators and ordinary citizens.
In June 1944, D-Day required the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of service members to protect our freedom of self-determination. Seventy-five years later, I’d like to see some sacrifice on the part of our elected leaders to protect the same.
Bryan T. Stinchfield, Ph.D., is a former Army officer who served in the U.S. intelligence community. He is an associate professor in the business, organizations and society department at Franklin & Marshall College.