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A Tribute to Our Indispensable Heroes

October 28, 2019

The events of the past couple of weeks have emphasized in a new way how much we as Americans owe our everyday heroes--the loyal public servants who, mostly without applause or recognition, run the business of our government and create and maintain a stable and functional system. That they have, for the most part, managed to keep government on an even keel even in the face of extraordinary threats to the fundamental structures of our democracy is a tribute to their loyalty, their dedication, and their quiet competence.

 

Now, as a former government employee myself, I'm well aware of their public reputation--the jokes about their incompetence and laziness, the strident (and completely inaccurate) claims that they're "overpaid." And as a former government employee I can say that that reputation is justified in the case of some government employees.  Certainly the federal bureaucracy is not the most efficient or effective organization business-wise, and there are many flaws in the system.

 

But I can say with certainty, from my contacts with numerous government employees, both as a government employee and a contractor, that the vast majority of the federal employees I have encountered are dedicated to the work they do--considering it a mission more than just a job--a mission to serve the people of this country to the best of their ability. They are proud of the work they do, and determined to do the best job they can, even in the face of daunting obstacles.

 

This dedication was nowhere better exemplified than in the courage and integrity of two career State Department employees with decades of exemplary service to this country, who defied Trump’s ban and agreed to testify regarding the corrupt and self-serving actions of the President and his cabal. Actions that now appear, almost certainly, to meet the constitutional threshold for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

 

These two brave diplomats have defied Trump, despite his demonstrated war on State Department career officials.  According to the New York Times, “The administration has sought all along to minimize the role of career officials.  In the foreign service, 45 percent of the 166 ambassadors serving under Mr. Trump are political appointees chosen based on loyalty and campaign contributions, the highest rate in history, according the American Foreign Service Association.

 

“As a result, there has been an exodus from public service. According to the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan organization, the Trump administration lost nearly 1,200 senior career service employees in its first 18 months — roughly 40 percent more than during President Barack Obama’s first 18 months in office. 

 

“But now more are speaking out. In a letter to Mr. Pompeo this week, 36 former foreign service officers complained that he had ‘failed to protect civil servants from political retaliation,’ citing in particular Ms.Yovanovitch, who was removed as ambassador to Ukraine after being targeted by Mr. Trump’s allies.

 

“’The politicization of our diplomatic corps and the erosion of the values of our oath of office,’ they wrote, ‘will make us more susceptible to the personal interests of an elite few, at the direct cost of our national security.’ https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/23/us/politics/trump-deep-state-impeachment.html

 

Despite, or perhaps because of Trump’s overt hostility, Marie Yovanovitch and William Taylor, and several others, were willing to risk their illustrious careers to testify in defiance of the Administration’s orders.  Examining the careers and characters of these officials explains why.

 

Regarding Marie Yovanovitch, Time Magazine explained, “Yovanovitch, a State Department employee for 33 years who also led U.S. embassies in Kyrgyzstan and Armenia, is well known in diplomatic circles for her measured demeanor and diligence in representing both Republican and Democratic administrations, former colleagues said. “She is ‘a top-notch diplomat, careful, meticulous, whip smart,’ and unlikely to have badmouthed Trump, either to Ukrainian officials or her colleagues, said John Herbst, a predecessor as ambassador in Ukraine who worked alongside Yovanovitch there in the early 2000s. 

 

“That reputation is all but impossible to square with what some view as a smear campaign, capped by the Trump administration’s removal of Yovanovitch from her post in May. The move came as Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, pushed Ukrainian officials to investigate Trump rival Joe Biden and his son. The former New York mayor labeled Yovanovitch a political hack bent on undermining those efforts, charges that apparently resonated with Trump.” https://time.com/5698930/marie-yovanovitch-former-us-envoy-ukraine/

 

As for William Taylor, Bloomberg reported, “As he recounted in his opening statement, Taylor has served the United States for fifty years, “starting as a cadet at West Point, then as an infantry officer for six years, including with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam,” then at the Department of Energy, the U.S. Senate, and NATO. He then became a Foreign Service officer at the State Department, and served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, and twice in Ukraine—as the U.S. Ambassador, from 2006 to 2009, and, from June of this year, when he replaced Yovanovitch, as the interim chargé d’affaires. 

 

Bloomberg explained that “Taylor has much on the line. He jeopardized his career by speaking out, and by defying White House orders not to cooperate with Democrats managing the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry. But he made it clear in his testimony what motivates him: He sees Ukraine as a promising and important U.S. ally and a bulwark against Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-10-23/bill-taylor-s-testimony-deals-trump-a-crushing-impeachment-blow?srnd=premium

 

In the magazine Salon, a childhood friend of Bill Taylor gave a fundamental explanation of who Taylor is:  “The question on everyone’s lips all week has been, what makes a guy like Bill Taylor do the right thing? The answer I’ve got for you is this: That’s who he is. He’s one of the most careful, conservative guys I’ve ever known, in the best and most real sense of the word ‘conservative.’ He took the West Point motto, ‘Duty, Honor, Country’ seriously. He took the West Point honor code seriously. He took his oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States seriously. I’ve known him since we were in high school, and he’s never wavered in all these years.

 

“When I was growing up, there was one question my father used to ask me and my brother when we were at the dinner table and said someone was bullied at school, or a kid had used racist language, or a teacher had acted unjustly to another kid in class. 'Did you stand up?' our father would ask us, hardly looking up from his plate. The rule in our house was, when you were asked that question, you had better be ready to answer in the affirmative.

 

“Our fathers were classmates at West Point. They lived by the West Point motto and honor code, too. I’d be willing to bet Bill Taylor was asked the same question by his father at the dinner table. And I’ll bet I know his answer.” https://www.salon.com/2019/10/26/who-is-bill-taylor-ive-known-the-guy-who-rocked-capitol-hill-this-week-for-50-years/

 

That answer would apply equally to Ambassador Yovanovitch and all the other courageous government officials who have had the courage to “stand up,” at the risk of their reputations, their careers and their livelihoods. Thank God for them!

 

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