So, what shall we make of Rep. Kinzinger’s apology?
Adam Kinzinger, Republican from Illinois, took to Twitter last Friday with a remarkable statement of contrition for failing to hold the last president accountable. He wrote that his “biggest regret” was his decision to vote against Donald Trump’s first impeachment. “The bottom line, Donald Trump withheld lethal aid to Ukraine so he could use it as leverage for his campaign. This is a shameful and illegal act, directly hurting the Ukraine defense today. I wish I could go back in time and vote for it, but I cannot. What we can do now is to ensure that this NEVER happens again, and that we all put the interests of our nation above our party.”
The reference, of course, is to the infamous phone call in which Trump sought to strong-arm Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who wanted him to release an already approved $400 million in military aid.
“I would like you to do us a favor, though,” oozed Trump, going on to press Zelenskyy to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. That implicit quid pro quo was deplorable in 2019. With Russian tanks knocking on Zelenskyy’s door, it feels obscene.
In fairness, though, the Obama administration also resisted arming Ukraine. And Trump did send anti-tank missiles to Ukraine in 2017, albeit under the proviso that they be used only as a symbolic deterrent against Russian aggression. When details of his phone call came out, he scurried to release further aid.
Point being, the real question raised by Kinzinger’s apology is not whether Ukraine would have been better off had he done the right thing, but whether America would. To which the answer is, Yes. And it is possible to be impressed by Zelenskyy’s integrity, yet also feel that that very probity makes the behavior Kinzinger’s apologizing for seem all the more tawdry and shameful. How could a man of such ostentatious honor not bring himself to do the right thing when doing the right thing might have mattered?
Yes, Trump was impeached by the House (later acquitted in the Senate) without Kinzinger or any other Republican’s vote. But had Kinzinger broken with his party then, might it not have helped persuade other members in both houses to do the same? Might it not, at a minimum, have weakened the Republican canard that this was a partisan power grab?
Two presidents were impeached before Trump: Andrew Johnson, who violated the Tenure of Office Act, barring him from firing a Cabinet member, and Bill Clinton, who lied about a consensual liaison with an intern. Those crimes are laughably negligible by comparison with Trump using the power of his office for his own gain. And if the seriousness of Trump’s transgression is obvious now, well, it was no less obvious in 2019. The only conceivable reason for Kinzinger’s inability to see it then, as he himself says, is that he forgot country supersedes party.
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That’s a rather basic truth to lose sight of. But then, the GOP seems to do so quite a bit.
And that is a clear and present danger to the health of this democracy. Indeed, Trump’s gangsterism, appalling as it was, was less of a threat to this country than the moral destitution that emboldened and enabled it.
One is glad for Kinzinger’s apology. But an effective apology is restorative; it repairs the broken thing. So one hopes Kinzinger finds creative ways of reminding his ideological soul mates of what it is they should be pledging allegiance to.
Because the best apology for what he did is to stop others from doing the same.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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