Going After the Family

On Friday President Trump fired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from his post on the National Security Council and Gordon Sondland from his job as Ambassador to the European Union, in both cases because they testified before the House committees that eventually impeached the president. For good measure Trump also fired Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman from his NSC job, even though his only connection to the impeachment matter is that he’s the other Vindman’s brother.
Trump’s loyalists can rightly argue that all three served at the president’s pleasure, and presidents have broad constitutional authority to fire almost any executive branch employee for almost any reason, but in these cases the reasons look bad to anyone who’s not a Trump loyalist.
Alexander Vindman won several decorations during his service in the Iraq War, including a Purple Heart, and his integrity was never questioned as he rose through the ranks to his NSC job as the go-to guy on Ukrainian affairs, where his fluency in both Ukrainian and Russian was one of several hard-to-find credentials. When he complied with a congressional subpoena and testified under oath that he was aware of efforts by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and some associates to obtain help for Trump’s reelection in exchange for congressionally-authorized but withheld military aid, though, the Trump loyalists branded him a “deep state” conspirator. Vindman knew the Ukrainian language because he’d been born there and was a toddler when his father had escaped with the family to America, which Trump fans found mighty suspicious, and despite all the medals and the years of service to both Democratic and Republican administrations the fact that he’d given testimony detrimental to Trump was sufficient proof of treason.
Sondland is a self-made billionaire who had no relevant educational credentials or foreign policy or any other governmental experience when he became Ambassador to the European Union, and the only apparent reason he had the job was because he’d given a million dollars to Trump’s inaugural committee. Even so, he was also branded a “Never Trumper” and “deep state” conspirator after he testified about his personal involvement in the effort by Giuliani and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to get help for Trump’s reelection by withholding aid to the Ukrainian government. The White House declined opportunities to have Giuliani or Perry or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or the moonlighting Office of Management and Budget director and White House Chief of Staff or anyone else with relevant information take an oath and dispute the testimony, so we’re inclined to believe every word Sondland said.
Trump didn’t deny that the two were fired as retribution for their testimony, and instead accused them of “insubordination” for complying with congressional subpoenas and giving truthful testimony. That’s arguably within his constitutional authority, although there’s an argument that he’s confessed to a violation of 18 U.S. Code § 1513, which prohibits retaliation against witnesses, victims or informants, and that in any case it looks petty and vindictive, but at this point such arcane legal and ethical arguments don’t much matter. Trump no doubt believes that taking vengeance on his enemies is in the public interest, and all but one of the Republican majority bought the argument made in the impeachment trial that gives him the right to do whatever he wants.
Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was removed from her post even before she testified, and Ambassador Bill Taylor, who was called out of retirement after a stellar career of foreign service by Pompeo to be envoy to Ukraine afterwards has also been relieved of duty following his testimony. The inspector general of the intelligence agencies who passed a “whistleblower’s” complaint to Congress to start all this mess is expected to fired any moment, and anyone else who had anything to say that Trump didn’t want to hear during the impeachment affair is by now polishing his or her resume. They’ll all have it coming, as far as Trump and his loyalists are concerned.
The case of Yevgeny Vindman is harder to explain, as he was a well-respected senior law and ethics official on the NSC and had nothing to do with anything about Ukraine, and never said a word to the press or congress against Trump. He was clearly fired solely because he was the other Vindman’s brother, and unless you believe in the ruthless Mafia tactic of going after the  family that’s hard to justify.
At least they’ll fare better than they would have in Russia or North Korea or any of the other authoritarian states Trump so admires. Both Vindmans will be reassigned to other and less stressful military assignments, and Sondland is still a self-made billionaire, although a million bucks short for his support of Trump. Taylor is returned to a well-earned retirement that was so rudely interrupted when Pompeo lured him to the Trump administration, and Yovanovitch has her reputation and retirement benefits intact and could earn some compensation down the line from a  book deal. As for the rest of the targets of Trump’s revenge, they’ll probably wind up with good jobs and less legal jeopardy than Trump will deal with in the coming years.
On the same day he fired the Vindmans and Sondland Trump said at the National Prayer Breakfast that he didn’t agree with the Bible about forgiving one’s enemies. He also seems to reject the Good Book’s sound advice about leaving vengeance to God.

— Bud Norman

The Gospel According to Trump

The keynote speaker at the annual National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday was former American Enterprise Association president and conservative columnist Arthur Brooks, who reiterated the theme of his 2019 book “Love Your Enemies.” Next up was President Donald Trump, who started his remarks by saying “Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you.”
Trump fans will say that of course he was only kidding, and that critics simply fail to appreciate his sense of humor, but the rest of  the speech made quite clear Trump truly believes that the idea of loving one’s enemies is superstitious bunk. He might or might not know that he’s also disagreeing with Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ said a lot of things that Trump clearly believes are bunk.
The line about loving one’s enemies comes from the fifth through seventh chapters of the Gospel According to Matthew, an account of the Sermon the Mount, which is pretty much the antithesis of everything Trump says and does.
When Trump was asked on the campaign trail to cite a favorite Bible verse he said “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” which comes from the Old Testament book of Exodus, which Jewish tradition regards as an admonition that duly appointed governments should punish the guilty with penalties commensurate with the crime. Trump seems to regard it as permission for his hobby of exacting revenge on anyone he finds guilty of some slight, despite Romans 12:19 saying “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord.”
.The phrase comes up again in in Matthew 5:3, when Jesus told his followers “You have heard it was said, ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also.” Trump often tells his followers to “always punch back 10 times harder,” and although most of the followers are self-described Christians the line always gets big cheers and applause at the rallies.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” Jesus said in Matthew 5:5, but Trump once said in an interview with Playboy Magazine that “Every successful person has a large ego,” and when asked if that included Mother Theresa and Jesus Christ he replied “Far greater than you’ll ever understand.” Jesus also told his followers on the mount “Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth” and “You cannot serve both God and money,” but Trump prefers the “prosperity gospel” of televangelist and White House advisor and “personal pastor” Paula White, which teaches that wealth is a sign that you’re good with God. In Matthew 7:1 Jesus tells his followers “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” but Trump took the opportunity of the National Prayer Breakfast to disparage the religiosity of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and the basic human decency of anyone who dares criticize his presidency.
The Sermon on the Mount also includes stuff about divorce and adultery and giving to the needy that Trump seems to regard as the rantings of a religious lunatic. He went from the National Prayer Breakfast to the East Room of the White House, where he once again cussed in front of the kids and lashed out at his enemies and told several provable lies during an unscripted stream-of-consciousness tirade that lasted more than an hour and sounded to us like the rantings of a very irreligious lunatic.
We don’t claim to have led such blameless lives that we won’t be relying on God’s mercy when the time comes, as Trump has claimed to have done, so we’ll happily leave it to God to ultimately judge Trump’s soul. Down here on earth we have a civic obligation to judge his fitness for the highest office in the land, though, and thanks to the American democracy God blessed us with we all get a say in that. Most of our fellow evangelical brothers and sisters regard Trump as their champion, and some even liken him to King David, who was beloved by God and given great power despite his extraordinary sins, but we’d note that David risked his life for God’s chosen people by challenging Goliath in single combat and only gained power after fully repenting and asking God’s forgiveness, whereas Trump had bone spurs and claims that he only asks forgiveness from God when “I drink my little wine and eat my little cracker,” which is how he described the rite of Holy Communion that Jesus consecrated before humbling Himself on the cross.
Our evangelical Christian brothers and sisters are entitled to their political opinions and their votes, and we’ll not judge them for it, but we will remind them of another line from the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:15: “Watch out for false prophets.”

— Bud Norman