If Ambassador Bill Taylor didn’t exist already, we’d have to invent him.
With a made-for-TV voice filled to the brim with gravitas, the West Point grad and career public servant was the living embodiment of everything we hope for from our government employees.
Taylor unflappably told Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday that he didn’t consider himself “a star witness for anything,” even as they peppered him clearly leading questions on the opening day of the panel’s impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
Next to him sat George Kent, the State Department’s senior official for Ukraine. With a scholarly bearing complimented by his bow tie, the Harvard graduate and career diplomat spoke movingly of his family’s long history of public service.
After three years of listening to President Donald Trump carp groundlessly about biased judges, the “deep state” and witch hunts, the deeply knowledgeable public servants were a visceral reminder of the crucial durability of those institutions and why they need to be protected from the wrecking ball in the White House.
Kent dispassionately unspooled the reasoning behind the United States’ support for Ukraine and the vital importance of protecting it against Putin’s rapacious Russia. It was a stark reminder of the intellectual black hole sitting behind the Resolute Desk, and of the 45th president’s complete ignorance of history and his utter disinterest in learning about world affairs.
After all, it was Trump who once marveled that many people “don’t realize” that President Abraham Lincoln was a Republican (everyone does) and offered that many people also don’t know that the Korean War hasn’t ended, either.
It’s actual, palpable evidence of what conservative author (and vocal Trump critic) Tom Nichols aptly described as “the death of expertise,” in his 2017 book of the same name.
” ... we’re proud of not knowing things,” Nichols wrote. “Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of any public policy issue, is an actual virtue.”
Contrast that against Kent, whose stores of knowledge and appreciation for history appeared bottomless at times.
The veteran diplomat vividly connected such foreign-born public servants as Lt. Col. Alexander Vindland and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch - who have served with dignity and distinction, and who became the targets of smear campaigns - to indispensable foreign-born partners of American history.
“They are the 21st century heirs of two giants of 20th century U.S. national security policy who were born abroad - my former professor Zbigniew Brzezinski and his fellow immigrant Henry Kissinger,” Kent said. “Like the Brzezinskis and Kissingers, the Yovanovitches and Vindmans fled Nazi and communist oppression to contribute to a stronger, more secure America.”
And then there was Taylor, who remained as impassive as Jack Webb’s Sgt. Joe Friday character on the old “Dragnet” TV show. As The Washington Post reports, Taylor rarely strayed beyond a “Yes, sir,” in his answers.
Though it was Taylor who offered the chief bombshell during the hearing’s first day, describing a phone call in which “Trump spoke to another diplomat and checked on the status of the investigations he had urged Ukraine to pursue.”
At the end of their testimony, it was tough not to yearn for an America that seems to be receding into the rearview mirror: One where expertise and knowledge are still revered and where public service is honored and elevated, not brought low and attacked.
But in Scott and Taylor’s even tones and reassuringly professional manner, there was the hope that those qualities are still in government, and that they, along with the rest of our public institutions, will yet survive this aberration of a president.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.