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This Thanksgiving, I’m Thankful for America’s Past – and Worried about Our Future

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for:

•   Inspiring leaders we’ve been blessed with, during times we needed them.

George Washington led our patriots to victory in the Revolutionary War; presided over the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which established our Constitution and federal government; and served as first President. He famously said (according to myth) “I cannot tell a lie” when confessing he chopped down a cherry tree.

Contrast Washington’s record of service and honesty with that of our current President, who used a questionable bone-spurs claim to AVOID serving in the Vietnam War. According to the Washington Post, Donald Trump has made more than 10,000 false or misleading claims as president, averaging more than 12 PER DAY.

Ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes (R-CA), recently compared Trump to Washington, saying both used back-channel communications with foreign countries and therefore, it’s acceptable. Washington secretly negotiated with Great Britain to secure a treaty, while Trump bribed Ukraine to investigate a political rival, Joe Biden.

Senator Lloyd Bentsen, VP candidate in a 1988 debate with Dan Quayle, Republican VP candidate who had compared himself to John Kennedy, famously scolded Quayle: “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy”. Paraphrasing Bentsen, one could confidently remind Trump, “President, you’re no George Washington”.

•   The courage of Congressional leaders, almost 200 years after Washington’s selfless example, who prioritized country over party when another president’s unethical behavior was uncovered.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon knew Republican operatives had broken into Democratic Party headquarters and planted bugging devices; he then directed the cover-up after those burglars were caught.

In subsequent Watergate investigations, brave Republican leaders called out Nixon when it became apparent he was guilty of abusing power. Senate Leader Hugh Scott (R-PA) and House Leader John Rhodes (R-AZ) demonstrated the backbone required to hold their own party’s President accountable. Scott described “deplorable, disgusting, shabby, and immoral” behavior by Nixon and his aides. Rhodes recommended Nixon “ought to consider resigning”. Senator Barry Goldwater, elder GOP statesman, joined Scott and Rhodes in privately convincing Nixon to resign before being removed from office.

Contrast that with current Republican Congressional leaders, none of whom have shown that kind of bravery. Some bolstered Trump’s argument “there was no quid pro quo” with Ukraine to release desperately needed military aid in return for a promise to investigate the Bidens. Then, after Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney admitted there WAS a quid pro quo, and EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland confirmed it, Republicans acknowledged it did happen – but wasn’t an impeachable offense.

Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) insisted, with a straight face, Trump didn’t mean it when he publicly encouraged China to investigate the Bidens, he was just joking. Senator Corey Gardner (R-CO) dodged the question entirely, muttering “it’s an answer that you get from a very serious investigation”. Senator Lyndsay Graham (R-SC) offered the bizarre excuse that Trump’s administration wasn’t competent or organized enough to engineer a quid pro quo, so they should be exonerated.

Will we someday give thanks we had leaders such as Trump, Nunes, Jordan, Gardner and Graham to inspire us? Will they compare favorably with historic figures like Washington? If these are the best and brightest one of our major political parties can come up with, I’m not optimistic about our future.

But I am thankful for one more thing: history is written by historians, not opportunistic politicians.

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