Heroes from the Hearings

Over the last ten days, we have witnessed three more hearings from the Congressional January 6 Committee. Many people have emerged as heroes, those who have demonstrated unusual courage. In spite of criticisms from their “friends” and enormous peer pressure, they showed their commitment to our country, our constitution, and our people by speaking the truth as they understood it. Like the rest of us, they surely have their flaws. Nevertheless, I mention two of them as worthy heroes whose courage should be emulated. They are Brad Raffensperger and Cassidy Hutchinson.

Raffensperger is a conservative Republican who has served as Georgia’s Secretary of State since 2019. Prior to that office, he was a businessman, a civil engineer, and a representative in Georgia’s House of Representatives representing District 50. No conservative should doubt his credentials nor his integrity. The presidential election of 2020 put that integrity to the test. In his role as Secretary of State, he announced that Biden had won the election, and as a consequence, Georgia’s electors. On January 2, 2021, he received a phone call in which President Trump asked him to “find” 11,780 additional votes, just enough to obtain Georgia’s delegates to the Electoral College. Raffensperger resisted that request. He had analyzed the allegations of voter fraud and concluded Biden had won the state, fair and square. Faithfulness to the truth was more important than “loyalty” to a powerful individual.

On Tuesday, Cassidy Hutchinson was the main witness in that day’s hearing. Although she is only in her mid-twenties, she held a significant role in the White House as an aide to the former Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows. She is a conservative Republican and was committed to the policies of the Trump administration. Nevertheless, she witnessed important failures of the former president and key members of his team. She came forward and testified, under oath, of what she saw and heard: Trump’s authorization of his supporters to have various weapons at the speech at the Ellipse on January 6, the president’s desire to go to the Capitol that day to protest the certification of Biden’s victory, many key people who requested a presidential pardon for their involvement in the insurrection, mistakes that Meadows committed, plus other pieces of vital information. She testified, in spite of various forms of pressure, including threats upon her life. Loyalty to the truth was more important than covering up for leaders when they make mistakes.

All people, but especially public servants, can learn a lot from these two heroes. The lesson is important for persons of all political persuasions, for Republicans and Democrats alike: truth is important. People in power and political parties frequently demand an absolute “loyalty” from their followers. We have a higher commitment. We are called to walk in the truth and admit our failures. May we draw upon the courage to do so.

Our Response to the Invasion of Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is unjustified and evil. Putin is unleashing immense pain upon the Ukrainian people, upon his own Russian citizens, and has placed the entire world order in great danger. If nothing is done to stop the Russian advance, the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv will probably fall in the next couple of days. Putin ominously warned that if other countries attempted to stop the invasion, they would pay a “terrible price”, hinting at the use of nuclear weapons. Many European countries and the United States have begun to implement “severe economic sanctions” with the goal of forcing Putin to submit to acceptable international norms, but Russia’s immense oil and natural gas reserves give Putin great leverage with Europe. There are many key players who could take significant steps to reduce the pain, but they involve risk and cost. Here are some current options.

The United Nations should be the international police, yet it has structural weaknesses. The most obvious is that the five permanent members of the Security Council which includes Russia, have the power of the veto. By using this veto power, any one of these permanent members can thwart the wishes of the overwhelming majority of nations in the world. On Friday, the United Nations condemned the “brutal” invasion. Russia immediately vetoed that resolution. To complicate matters, this month it is Russia’s turn to preside the UN sessions. If the United Nations wants to be relevant in the future, it must get rid of this ridiculous veto power which has been so terribly abused.

NATO was formed to protect member nations. Its guiding principle was that an attack against any of the NATO countries would be considered as an attack against all the nations. “One for all and all for one.” The problem is that although Ukraine is friendly with NATO, it is not a member. Neither the United States nor any other member country is willing to send its own troops into Ukraine. It has been suggested that NATO declare Ukrainian airspace as a “no-fly zone” and prohibit Russia from dropping aerial bombs. It is possible that this would escalate the conflict into an all-out war, but it would probably save thousands of innocent civilians from bombing deaths. If Putin is not stopped now, other non-NATO nations in the region (like Moldova) would be easy targets for Russia’s expansion. Even NATO members (like Poland and the Baltic states) are vulnerable.

The United States and several European countries have imposed economic sanctions on Russia, first in an attempt to deter Putin, and now with the goal of punishing his immoral actions. Some of these sanctions are significant, but they are too little and too late. They might influence Putin to come to the bargaining table in a few weeks, but, in the meantime, many Ukrainians will perish. As of today, these government leaders have stopped short of really punishing Russia. For example, sanctions could be imposed that would prohibit Russia from participating in the international banking system (SWIFT). This would lead to a scarcity of oil and natural gas in Europe and would cause prices to skyrocket. Are Europeans and North Americans willing to pay higher prices to stop an immoral invasion and the thousands of deaths it would cause?

Many Russians are showing through their protests that they do not agree with Putin’s invasion. They have taken to the streets and hundreds have been jailed. I admire their courage. I hope that there are thousands of Russian soldiers who recognize that this is not a justified war. They should refuse to kill because there is a higher authority than Putin. It might cause them to be demoted, imprisoned, or even put to death, but those that believe in Just War Theory have the moral imperative to disobey an unjust military order.

Many Ukrainians have already demonstrated their bravery. It is likely that President Zelensky will pay the ultimate sacrifice for his love of his people. Many are fleeing from the war and taking their families to Poland, Moldova, or other neighboring countries. We who are far from the conflict should do all that we can to open doors for these refugees. These are desperate times and call for great courage and action.

The Courage to Stop Believing a Lie

Most of us have told an occasional lie during our lives. Most of us have also been lied to on occasion. When we have been told a lie by a person that we trust (a parent, a good friend, a coach or teacher), we feel crushed, disappointed, and disillusioned. If we are repeatedly lied to by that person, we rightfully become skeptical and suspicious. We begin to change our relationship with him or her. We take what they say with a large “grain of salt”. In Reagan’s words, we “trust” but we also must “verify”. We strive to get “a second opinion” from reputable experts who have greater trustworthiness.

We are in a national dilemma regarding the presidential election results. On the one hand, we can celebrate the vitality of our democracy. Over 150 million citizens went to the polls.  On the other hand, we are also a divided country with approximately 51% of our population who voted for Biden and 47% that voted for Trump. Our Congress (Senate and House of Representatives) is even more divided with almost an equal number of Democrats and Republicans being elected.

According to the results in each state, Biden is the president elect and will receive 306 votes in the Electoral College later this month (the exact same number as Trump received in 2016). Nevertheless, Trump has not admitted that he lost the election. He claims that there has been massive fraud. His lawyers have challenged the results in several contested states (Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, etc.) but none of these challenges have been successful in the courts. But here is our dilemma: Over 20% of those who voted believe that Biden only won the election because of fraud. If it were only Democrats who claimed that the results were not fraudulent, then the result might be suspect. But there are dedicated Republicans who have been responsible for overseeing the election process and have called them as they see them: accurate and without fraud. These public servants have demonstrated  their loyalty to our country, our constitution, and our democracy. They have decided not to enable Trump and his ridiculous claims any longer. Here is a small sample.

Christopher Krebs, a life-long Republican, was appointed by President Trump himself to be the administration´s most senior cybersecurity official responsible to secure the presidential election from foreign or domestic interference. To refute Trump´s claims that the election was stolen through fraud, Krebs announced that the 2020 election was ¨the most secure in American history¨. In retaliation, the Trump fired Krebs for daring to contradict the president.

In Georgia, Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger oversaw the election and announced that Biden defeated Trump fair and square, by more than 12,000 votes. Since the race was close, the president challenged the results and demanded a hand recount. The recount again showed that Trump lost the election and Biden won. Another recount was demanded, this time by machine, and again the results were the same: a Biden victory. Raffensperger and his staff have received death threats due to their objectivity. As a result, the Secretary of State has repeatedly urged the president to admit the results and to stop fueling these death threats. On Tuesday, President Trump told Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to ¨do something¨ to overturn the election results. Kemp, a staunch Republican, rebuked the president and told him that Georgia law prohibits him from ¨interfering in the election¨.

In Wisconsin, Biden won the election by some 20,000 votes. Trump´s lawyers challenged the results and took their case to Wisconsin´s Supreme Court. The court threw out the case due to lack of evidence.

Something similar took place in Pennsylvania where the state Supreme Court unanimously rejected the case brought by Trump´s allies. Their ruling denounced it as an ¨extraordinary proposition that the court disenfranchise 6.9 million Pennsylvanians who voted in the general election.¨ Pennsylvania´s Republican senator, Pat Toomey, called on the president to concede, ¨President Trump has exhausted all plausible legal options to the challenge the result of the presidential race in Pennsylvania.¨

The most telling verdict comes from Attorney General William Barr. In my opinion, Barr has been overly subservient to President Trump, doing his bidding at every turn, but even Barr could not stomach Trump´s wild claims. On Tuesday, the Attorney General told the Associated Press that FBI agents and U.S. attorneys have followed up the specific complaints they have received, but ¨to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale the could have effected a different outcome in the election.¨ Many think that Barr will be fired for his honesty.

It is sad to see one’s friends and neighbors when they believe a blatant and obvious lie. It takes great courage to recognize when we have been duped by falsehoods. I believe that most of our neighbors can rise to the occasion and admit that there was no massive fraud. The future of our democracy depends on us recognizing and walking in the truth.