The most emotional moment in the House impeachment inquiry yesterday, Nov. 19, was when Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, in front of the entire nation, assured his father that he would be all right because their family was safe in America now.
“Dad,” said Vindman, the National Security Council’s top Ukraine expert, uttering a single word that seemed to stun the big congressional hearing room. His father wasn’t there, but he must have heard the word clearly through the surrounding silence.
In that heartbeat of direct-address intimacy, the big, crowded room with all of its congressional people and spectators utterly disappeared.
For a moment, so did the stench of President Donald Trump’s proposed deal that’s gotten him into so much trouble – Ukraine’s public allegation of dirt against Joe Biden, real or imagined, swapped for nearly $400 million in aid for a desperate nation besieged by Russia.
But now, we had Vindman, this decorated war hero, standing up to Trump, the country’s biggest bully. And Vindman could do it, he said, because of the journey undertaken four decades ago when his family fled Ukraine.
“Dad,” Vindman declared, “my sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected professionals, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago. Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth.”
In that instant, Vindman was not only assuring his father of his safety, he was reminding the nation of the classic immigrant’s journey to America – and how this country inspired Vindman and his two brothers to dedicate their lives to public service and serve lengthy careers in the military.
In a week of hearings devoted to investigating presidential wrongdoing, Vindman’s words carry heavy implications. We’ve got one ambassador who’s already changed his congressional testimony. We’ve got politicians refusing to acknowledge obvious truths. And we’ve got potential witnesses dodging subpoenas, either from White House pressure or sheer cowardice, or both.
Vindman stuck with simple facts and reminded us why he felt the courage to say them out loud.
And then, as if to reinforce his notion, we had Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) asking if Vindman’s father was anxious about his son’s appearance. Yes, his father was “deeply worried,” Vindman said. But his son, the decorated lieutenant colonel war hero, was not worried.
“Because this is America,” he said.
To which a spontaneous burst of applause filled the big hearing room.
Oh, yeah, America.
We can speak our minds here. We aren’t afraid of bullies. We’re the people who stand up to those who would enrich themselves at the cost of other people’s lives.
Vindman was talking to his father, but America was welcome to listen.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” has just been re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.