Once again, the news has been overwhelming. Convoluted and scurrilous headlines can be hard to track, and the impact on individuals difficult to measure, so we must stay tuned in if we are to understand how to navigate our future. Many topics compete for attention, but three rise to the surface with increasing intensity: the escalating impeachment inquiry with its ever-expanding network of misdeeds; the mess we’ve created in Syria and reactions to Tuesday night’s Democratic debate in Ohio.
These issues seem discrete, but they are all actually interrelated. Each has implications for the long term. Let’s look at them individually and then examine the connections between them.
The impeachment inquiry: The strands of wrongdoing that appear to be woven into the impeachment fabric reveal an increasingly sordid tale of arrogance, duplicity and disregard on the part of the President and his administration for the laws and societal norms that shape us as a people. As the cast of characters grows (and becomes ever-more cartoonish), one shudders to think about the ethical qualities and political sensitivities of those who hold the reins of power.
Unlike the complex (and verbose) Mueller Report which the President, ably assisted by the Attorney General, has quickly discounted as absolution, the impeachment inquiry focuses on a simple premise: President Trump sought to trade military equipment to Ukraine for assistance in digging up dirt on a political rival. As a result, public opinion has moved markedly in favor of the President’s impeachment. As the White House has built its defense, the plot has expanded to expose the rampant influence peddling, double dealing and fraud endemic to this administration. The gang who couldn’t shoot straight continues to misfire in attempting to prove their innocence, revealing ever-more disturbing elements of its character and activities.
Syria and Turkey: In Donald Trump’s phone call to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announcing that the US would withdraw its small but effective Special Forces operation in Northern Syria paved the way for Turkey to invade the Kurdish region with the specific objective of removing this ethnic minority from its border under the guise that the Kurds pose a terrorist threat to President Erdogan’s regime. Trump’s phone call was apparently made on a whim and without consultation from US military, diplomatic or national security advisers. The call unleashed a series of events—easily predictable—that have created a humanitarian crisis among the Kurdish people and undone years of struggle to minimize the ISIS caliphate and restore peace and stability to the region.
The Kurds were a key component in this effort and the President’s cavalier attitude towards them—a multi-religious minority in Northern Syria—has had a devastating impact on their safety and their morale. Blowback from world capitals, and even from the President’s own party, was immediate and animated. Turkey now controls large swaths of Northern Syria, thereby accomplishing their primary objective in removing the Turkish “threat” to Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic rule. To date, all attempts by the US to call for a permanent ceasefire and a withdrawal of Turkish forces have been met with disdain by the Turkish leader. The critical long-term question: how will this action impact future American alliances?
The Democratic Debate: Despite the crowded stage, a subtle shifting of the landscape became apparent at the Democratic debate in Ohio on Tuesday night. It is clear that those on the dais—if not the voting public—crowned a new “front runner” as Elizabeth Warren replaced Joe Biden on the receiving end of most “incoming fire” from her colleagues. Personally, I was disappointed that Warren at times seemed evasive. After the inability our current President has for truth telling and his propensity for using the language of distraction, the prospects of another leader who is skilled at similarly evasive tactics—whatever the substance of her positions—leaves me weary.
I am not particularly a Bernie Sanders fan, but the debate was his strongest performance to date and he seemed to suffer no ill-effects of his recent heart attack. Be prepared, America; he’s not going anywhere.
Biden was again inconsistent and several candidates—Klobuchar and Buttigieg in particular—seemed chafing at the bit to assume the role of “moderate alternative in waiting” should Biden not be able to take the nomination race “across the goal line.”
But the most salient point in the debate was made by Pete Buttigieg who reminded us (twice) that the impact of Donald Trump will not fade the day he leaves office, and that it will be essential for the new commander in chief to lead all the people. While the President’s popularity continues to lag, more than 1/3 of the country still support him. However misguided his policies, countless people are now invested in his new way of doing things. How do we offer correctives with humility, grace and understanding? How do we heal? These are the questions that will drive our collective future. The Democratic party and those who seek the nation’s highest office must consider where we go from here. It is not too soon to begin working on these things, even before the crisis in Syria fades and the impeachment process runs its course.