Even by the debased standards of our current politics, the vengefulness of the Trump administration’s reaction to the Senate’s long expected acquittal of President Trump is noteworthy. The dismissal of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified at the House’s impeachment hearing, from the National Security Council staff — despite prior assurances from Secretary of Defense Mark Esper that he would be protected against retaliation — was bad enough. The President also suggested that Lt. Col. Vindman should be disciplined by the military (for what he didn’t say) and dismissed his brother, who had no involvement in the hearings, from the NSC staff. Is this guilt by genetics?
The most egregious attack so far is, not surprisingly; the invective that has greeted the decision of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) to vote to convict President Trump on the first article of impeachment. He knew he would take a lot of abuse, and he has, starting with Donald Trump, Jr., the President’s son, who suggested that Sen. Romney should be expelled from the Republican Party, and continuing with the President Trump himself. In a typical rant, at the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump, in a transparent reference to Sen. Romney, said “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.”
What makes the President think that Sen. Romney “knew” that voting to convict the President was “wrong”? Can anyone explain what possible ulterior motive Romney could have had for breaking with his party on this issue? He represents Utah, the reddest of red states, He knew he would be attacked, and he knew how vicious Trump could be. Unless you think he has a martyr complex — and I know of no evidence to suggest that he does — there is no logical alternative to taking him at his word: that he felt compelled by his conscience and his “oath before God” — the oath to do impartial justice, which the other ninety-nine senators also took, many of whom appear to have treated it less seriously.
The founders of our country would not have been surprised at Sen. Romney’s explanation. They took oaths seriously, believing that people under oath would take their concomitant responsibilities seriously. That’s why they included in the Constitution the specific requirement that when the Senate sits as a court of impeachment, the senators shall be placed under oath or affirmation. They assumed that senators bound under oath would be far more likely to comply with their obligation to “do impartial justice.”
That President Trump used the National Prayer Breakfast as the setting for venting his anger at Senator Romney’s vote of conscience — and in the same speech attacking Speaker Nancy Pelosi for saying that she prayed for him — was bad enough. That none of the assembled clergy protested either then or as far as I know later (at least publicly) speaks volumes about how Trump has infected our politics.
Of course, the fact that evangelical Christian leaders have a transactional relationship with President Trump is hardly breaking news. The implicit deal is clear: Trump gives them what they want (especially conservative judges and anti-abortion activism) and they will ignore his private and public immorality. But one has to wonder how far they will take that implicit deal. Can they really sit still while the President, in attacking Sen. Romney, essentially dismisses the idea that at least one senator took seriously his “oath before God”?
I fear that a similar transactional relationship has developed between President Trump and some in the Jewish community. As long as Trump supports Israel, they will close their eyes to the immorality of his actions and will pretend that no other issue matters. This implicit deal began with the President’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem (which admittedly was long overdue) and has now been enhanced by the long-awaited release of his Israel-Palestinian peace plan (the merits of which are NOT the subject of this post).
That the President has been supportive of Israel is beyond serious question, but that does not automatically take precedence over everything else. We are not only Jews; we are also Americans. We are bound by the prophetic injunction to
“seek the welfare of the city to which [God has] exiled you, and pray to the Lord in its behalf; for in its prosperity you shall prosper.” (Jer. 29:7, JPS translation)
If the welfare of the United States isn’t enough to move you, consider perhaps the fate of Lt. Col. Vindman, a Jew whose family emigrated from the former Soviet Union when he was three, and who rose to become a decorated officer in the US Army. He testified that his father worried about the possible consequences of his son’s testifying against the President of the United States, which would be inconceivable in his native land. Col. Vindman reassured him with the words “This is America and here right matters.”
I pray that he was not giving us too much credit. I fear that he was.