The news coverage of the impeachment hearings disrupted my tranquility. My heart beats heavily. My mind struggles to organize my impressions of the proceedings as they intermingle with my childhood recollections of Lithuania, my native country’s precariousness in awaiting Stalin’s oppression. I discern a replay of history.
I’m not upset by the turmoil of the opposing political factions in the hearings, but the revelations in the testimonies are unsettling. Besides the evidence of President Trump’s attempt to exploit an ally’s vulnerability for his personal political gain, there is something more sinister looming in the background.
In his testimony, Ambassador Gordon Sondland stated that he had difficulty carrying out his diplomatic functions. He felt superseded by a secondary, secret channel of “rogue diplomacy.” He said Rudy Giuliani spearheaded the surreptitious operation and everyone of Trump’s administration was in the loop. It’s a revelation that President Trump established a stealthy government agency so he could circumvent constitutional accountability. His quest is to govern this country single-handedly, the way he runs his businesses.
Concluding her testimony, the recalled ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, posed a question: “Was the sullying of my reputation necessary?” The answer lies in Trump’s mode of operation. Character assassination is a means for his self-aggrandizement.
In the political arena, an inference of wrongdoing is more toxic than proof of a misdeed. After firing esteemed individuals from his administration, Trump sullied their reputations. Then he appointed sycophants to the vacancies and negated party-neutrality of the re-staffed agencies. With party loyalism rampant, and his sphere of influence expanded, Trump is emboldened to scoff at constitutional efforts to hold him accountable.
As the impeachment trial is about to begin, the Senate Majority Leader announced that the GOP will be in step with the President in his defense. That comment brought back memories of my childhood. It’s a recollection of an event that occurred before the ability of my 5-year-old mind to understand. I was terror stricken as grown-ups talked about the Stalin-staged treason trials in 1938. I recall how Russia’s Politburo marched to Stalin’s murderous drumbeat.
Unlike Trump, Stalin did not have to rely on a “rogue governmental agency” to dispose of his rivals. He had the power to control the news media, law enforcement and the justice department of the Soviet Union. He relied on the NKVD, the secret police, and Lavrenty Beria to eliminate his rivals. Stalin’s wrath was deadly, far reaching and long lasting. Leon Trotsky fled Russia. In 1940, he was assassinated in Mexico.
Feeling discomfort caused by the impeachment hearings, President Trump distanced himself from Giuliani. He said he did not know what Rudy was doing in Ukraine. In a TV interview, Rudy said he had insurance in case he’s thrown under the bus. Disavowed by Trump, Rudy would need insurance. He might become another Michael Cohen.
I am disheartened by Trump’s lies, slander and evasion of accountability. I’m frightened by the prospects posed by his rogue agency of operatives. I shudder as a perverted neo-nationalism rises under the guise of making America great.
Phantoms from my turbulent childhood visit me in the night. I hope they’re not prophetic dreams.
Fred Natkevi is a longtime Oak Park resident who emigrated from Eastern Europe.