September 15, 2020

Exactly a year ago, after about a six-week hiatus during the summer, I wrote a Facebook post that started:

“Many thanks to all of you who have reached out to see if I'm okay. I am, indeed (aside from having been on the losing end of an encounter with a yellow jacket this afternoon!). I've been moving, setting up house, and finishing the new book. Am back and ready to write, but now everything seems like such a dumpster fire it's very hard to know where to start. So how about a general overview of how things at the White House look to me, today....”

In my roundup, I noted that we had just learned that a whistleblower from within the intelligence community had filed a complaint that the inspector general of the intelligence community, Michael K. Atkinson, deemed “credible” and "urgent.” This meant that it was supposed to go to the Director of National Intelligence to be cleared of anything that needed to be hidden, and then sent on to the House Intelligence Committee. But, rather than sending it to the House as the law required, Trump's then-acting Director of Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, had withheld it. On Friday, September 13, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, California Democrat Adam Schiff, had written a scathing letter to Maguire, telling Maguire he knew about the complaint—we now know that Atkinson had alerted him-- and that Maguire had better hand it over. Schiff speculated that Maguire was covering up evidence of crimes by the president or his closest advisors.

Readers swamped me with questions. So I wrote another post answering them and explaining the news, which began breaking at a breathtaking pace. Within a week, we had learned that the day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller had testified before Congress and seemed to shut down any further investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign's ties to Russia, Trump had tried to pressure Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky into announcing an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter. On July 25, Trump suggested to the new Ukraine president that he would release funds Zelensky badly needed to continue Ukraine’s fight against Russian incursions only after such an announcement. And people asked more questions, and I wrote another post…

And so these Letters from an American were born.

In the 365 days since then, we have lived through the Ukraine scandal, which revealed that the president was secretly running his own foreign policy team whose goal was to strong-arm Ukraine into helping the president’s reelection campaign. Their attempt to get Zelensky not to run an investigation but rather simply to announce one reflected backward onto the 2016 campaign. The 2016 Trump campaign hammered on the Clinton email “scandal,” and badly damaged her candidacy. But, in mid-October, the final report from the State Department concluded that there was no systematic mishandling of information, that people tried to follow the rules, and that none of the information that did get mishandled was classified at the time (some of it was retroactively classified by the Trump administration).

We lived through the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria in early October 2019, leaving our former Kurdish allies to be murdered by Turkish troops, just as experts had warned would happen if U.S. troops pulled back. ISIS freed compatriots from jails and launched new attacks, and Russian troops moved into the positions we had held in the region.

We have lived through the House impeachment hearings in October and November, when it became clear that the Republicans were not, in fact, interested in whether or not Trump had committed “high crimes and misdemeanors,” but rather in badgering witnesses to provide sound bites that could be stitched together into a fictional narrative on social media and the Fox News Channel. Then, on December 18, for the third time in history, the House voted to impeach a president. Driven by the Democratic majority, it impeached Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

We lived through the Senate impeachment trial early in 2020, where Republican Senators refused to hear witnesses or subpoena documents. On February 5, the Senate acquitted the president of the charges. All but one Republican senator voted to acquit. Utah’s Mitt Romney voted to convict on abuse of power.

We lived through the purge of career government officials and their replacement with Trump loyalists that began two days after Trump’s acquittal. On February 7, Trump dismissed Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from his position on the National Security Council, where he was an expert on Russia and Ukraine. Vindman had been on the July 25 call and testified before the House Intelligence Committee under subpoena, that White House officials had put the transcript of the call onto a high security server, where national security secrets are held. Vindman also explained that the readout Trump provided the public did not contain key parts of the conversation: Trump had explicitly mentioned both Burisma—the company on whose board Hunter Biden sat-- and the Bidens themselves. Trump also ordered the ouster of Vindman’s twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny (Eugene) Vindman, an Army officer on the NSC staff. Since then, Trump has continued to replace career officials with his own loyalists throughout the government everywhere from the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Postal Service through the CDC and the Voice of America.

On the same day he was retaliating against the Vindmans, Trump picked up the phone and called veteran journalist Bob Woodward to tell him there was a deadly new virus spreading around the world. It was airborne, he explained, and was five times “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.” “This is deadly stuff,” he said. He would not share that information with other Americans, though, continuing to play down the virus in hopes of protecting the economy.

This, almost 200,000 of us have not lived through.

And now, as the coronavirus continues to ravage our country, our people, and our economy, the president is trying to win reelection by dividing us, convincing enough voters that “radical leftists” are destroying “Democrat cities” that he can emerge as a “law and order” president. He is suggesting that any result other than his own reelection will be illegitimate, and that he should get a third term because of how badly he has been treated in the first.

It has been quite a year. Those of us who are exhausted have earned it.

But from the chaos and crisis of this past year has emerged a renewed dedication to democracy. You see it in Lt. Col. Vindman telling his father that he would be all right if he testified before Congress against the president, because “this is America… and here, right matters.” You see it in the incredible work of the House impeachment managers and their constant invoking of our Constitution, our laws, and our principles. You see it in how Americans have come together to take care of each other when the federal government went AWOL during the pandemic, and in people of all ages and background mobilizing for Black lives.

You see it in people donating money to candidates and causes, organizing voter drives, and making sure their children and their parents and their cousins and their friends are registered to vote and have a plan to do so. You see it in people working for a cause that is important to them, calling their elected officials at all levels, writing letters to the editor, and pushing back on the false narratives that spread through social media and from there to our communities.

For me, though, I see it most of all right here. I see it in how many of you bother to read these long and complicated letters and who write to ask questions, send me news articles or personal stories, make corrections, and say how afraid you are that we might lose American democracy. I see it in your insistence on facts and accuracy, your constant questioning, your dismissal of trolls and bots, and your kindness to the community you have built. Most of all, though, I see it in your overwhelming support.

I am not exaggerating when I say I have come to see myself simply as a translator. I could not do this without you.

Thank you all for being along on this journey.