It’s worth remembering this week the thrillingly American and Jewish biography of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council, who was reassigned this week apparently because President Donald Trump felt he had been “insubordinate” in offering damaging testimony about the president during the House impeachment inquiry.
Vindman and his twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, were three years old when they emigrated with their family from Ukraine, part of the wave of ex-Soviet Jews who resettled here in a triumph of American values and Jewish activism over Soviet oppression. Alexander Vindman went on to join the U.S. Army, earning a Purple Heart when he was wounded in Iraq in October 2004. He earned a graduate degree from Harvard University and became a foreign officer at U.S. embassies in Kiev, Ukraine; and Moscow.
Vindman alluded to this inspiring background in impeachment testimony directed toward his father. “Dad, my sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family,” Vindman said. “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”
Last Friday, Vindman was marched out of the White House, with the president signaling that siding against him will not be tolerated. U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who also testified, was dismissed. Yevgeny Vindman, a National Security Council attorney who did not testify, was also fired.
The president’s defenders say he has the right to staff his White House with loyalists, although others have asked if the dismissals amount to witness intimidation and retaliation. Acceptable or not, the dismissals have led to a fresh wave of vitriol from pols and trolls aimed at Alexander Vindman, including ugly allegations, first aired last year, that he was insufficiently loyal to the United States. Donald Trump Jr. alluded to one of these conspiracy theories in tweeting, “On the bright side, [Vindman] may still be able to take the defense minister position in the Ukraine that he was offered a few times.”
Such attacks arise from and contribute to a war on immigrants, which makes Jews like the Vindmans collateral damage. Their story is not just a deeply Jewish one, but perhaps the essential American story of people coming to this country in pursuit of freedom and democracy. Challenging a president, especially this president, comes with consequences, as the Vindmans found out. But as Americans and patriots, they deserved better than the nasty, insinuating attacks they suffered from cynical politicians, commentators, and Trump family members.