Reading Ambassador Bill Taylor’s damning 15-page opening statement that he voiced Tuesday morning to U.S. House committee members leading the impeachment probe against President Donald Trump, I was thinking about religion.
Religion may seem irrelevant to this wholly political question, but in a fundamental sense it’s totally relevant, too.
I am struck by how the president and his minions always extravagantly dissemble when faced with accusations about their irrefutably dubious behavior and decisions, never explaining directly, but instead attacking their accusers and grandly misrepresenting their true attitudes and intentions.
Likewise, I’ve noticed in debates between true believers and atheists that the faithful, rather than honestly defending their belief that invisible, unverifiable beings actually exist (which, let’s admit it, there’s no plausible defense), claim persecution by nonreligious rivals and violations of Americans’ constitutional religious freedom.
This deceitfulness, distraction and duplicity is not only wrong — in religion and politics — it is dangerous to the healthy transparency of our secular republic.
As evangelical Christian Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is busy orchestrating a clear risk to American global national security interests by helping Trump shake down the Ukrainian president by dangling U.S. military aid for personal political favors, he is also laboring hard in a separate initiative to change rules keeping church and state separate in America.
Yet never and nowhere has Pompeo, the president or any of the administration’s yes men ever been honest about their true beliefs and intensions (except by mistake).
Pompeo, for instance, clearly favors a full-blown Christian theocracy in America despite constitutional prohibitions. But he only blandly reveals publicly that he is a man of private faith who wishes Americans more fervently followed Christian ideals.
President Trump, for his part, laughably insists he withheld military aid to Ukraine because he demands they clean up “corruption” in that country first, as if corruption has ever been on the president’s radar except to avoid accountability for his own broad and flagrant infractions. In fact — as Ambassador Taylor’s testimony before Congress this week leaves no doubt — what the president was really after was a commitment by the Ukrainian president to investigate his political rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, as well as a thoroughly debunked conspiracy story that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered with the 2016 election that elected him president.
All roads do lead to Putin, apparently.
So, the reason for dissembling is clear: it’s undoubtedly ethically and constitutionally wrong for a U.S. president to effectively extort a foreign leader with the full might of American government for personal gain, using congressionally approved tax funding as bait. Those involved are understandably loathe to admit this.
Equally, religion apologists cry persecution when pressed to rationally defend their belief that never-actualized chimera exist in the real world. They are loathe to admit the startling lack of substantive evidence for this belief.
But what made Bill Taylor’s opening statement so powerful Tuesday was its impressive trove of facts, delivered in a measured, corroborated, objective avalanche of truth. Everything he said has been corroborated by earlier witnesses (which made his new reveals more credible), but his statement embodied superior authority because of his sterling 50-year reputation of military and diplomatic public service and the utter specificity of the truths he laid out. He then spent nine hours relaying to the assembled lawmakers yet more facts.
Opponents can say they don’t like the facts but not, without more shameless mendacity, that they aren’t facts.
Early in his statement, Taylor explained the problem he saw regarding Ukraine:
“… in August and September of this year, I became increasingly concerned that our relationship with Ukraine was being fundamentally undermined by an irregular, informal channel of U.S. policy-making and by the withholding of vital security assistance for domestic political reasons.”
When mainstream news reports began to disclose the withholding of Ukraine aid to aid Trump’s political goals, the $400 million in military aid was quietly released. But even that was disingenuous.
In a phone call with Gordon Sondland, the inexperienced U.S. special envoy to the European Union appointed by President Trump, Taylor told him that he would quit if the president succeeded in getting Zelensky to publicly announce he would execute the bogus investigations demanded by the president, and then still held up security assistance.
“The Russians will love it. (And I quit.),” Taylor wrote in his statement delivered Tuesday.
The Russians are loving a lot what the president has been doing lately, including pulling all U.S. troop out of Syria and thus abandoning America’s Kurdish allies against ISIS, who lost 10,000 troops in the fight. This abrupt, shameful withdrawal has allowed Russian troops to fill the void, a goal of Russian leader Vladimir Putin for years, and to militarily collaborate with Turkey against the Kurds.
The rogue diplomatic team that set up the Ukrainian fake-out, including Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giulliani as point man (although he is not in the government), purposefully tried to keep actual diplomats, like Taylor, in the dark as much as possible. Not to serve the nation but rather the president’s personal political aims.
“If we believe in the principle of sovereignty of nations on which our security and the security of our friends and allies depends, we must support Ukraine in its fight against its bullying neighbor,” Ambassador Taylor told lawmakers. “Russian aggression cannot stand.”
It has not only stood but been encouraged by the president of the United States.
Bill Taylor is all about a virtue that has been lost in politics and religion in America: honor.
It used to be that Christian evangelicals (huge supporters of the president) full-throatedly condemned immorality and deceit. It used to be that U.S. presidents cared more about the country than themselves.
Everything seems to be going to hell.
But a few Republican senators could change all that in a heartbeat.