As you know, each year I give a special award to a person or persons exhibiting courage and honesty in government. The year is not yet out, but I have come to believe that the swirl of events around us today compels me to break with tradition and name a second winner for 2019.
In June, I gave my Roy Rogers Straight-Shooter Award to the five–term Michigan Congressman Justin Amash, a Republican, who after reading and studying the report of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller concluded that: “Mueller’s report identifies multiple examples of conduct satisfying all the elements of obstruction of justice, and undoubtedly any person who is not the president of the United States would be indicted based on such evidence.”
Months before the opening of formal impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, Amash declared, at great cost to his career: “Mueller’s report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meets the threshold for impeachment.”
He added: “America’s institutions depend on officials to uphold both the rules and spirit of our constitutional system even when to do so is personally inconvenient or yields a politically unfavorable outcome.”
In the past week, in Congress, we have seen those words courageously underscored by government officials. In the first week of impeachment hearings, officials on the front lines in one of the world’s most dangerous places demonstrated their dedication to the integrity for which America has always stood. In their eyes and in their voices viewers could see and hear the same dedication we instantly recognize in the eyes and voices of veteran soldiers or in the innocent faces of children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
My Roy Rogers Straight-Shooter Award, indeed, goes to two men and a woman, each with impeccable credentials and long years of dedicated service: U.S. Ambassadors to the Ukraine William Taylor and Marie Yovanovitch, as well as George Kent of the State Department, who, for the past seven years, has overseen efforts to fight corruption in that nation.
You may recall that in my Oct. 7 column I recognized Taylor’s sharp, damning and immediate insight into President Trump’s criminal attempt to extort and bribe lies and false-witness testimony from the Ukrainian government. For no good reason other than to help with Trump’s political campaign, withholding $391 million in military aid while the Ukraine was fighting Russian invaders made no sense.
“It was counterproductive to all of what we had been trying to do. It was crazy,” Taylor said.
Even though she was smeared by Trump and his out-of-bounds lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch could still uphold the integrity of a worldwide legion of honest men and women working to support our national interest. She insisted upon the idea that there remains an American national interest, as opposed to a Republican interest, a Democratic interest, or a cruel and corrupt presidential interest.
The evidence to which Taylor, Trent and Yovanovitch testified under oath was that Trump used the power of his presidency to pressure our ally endangered by the Russians. For his own personal, political gain he wanted the Ukraine to give him false testimony against Joe Biden, who could be the Democratic candidate next year. Trump wanted the Ukraine to help him cheat in 2020 as Russia helped him in 2016.
All three of my award winners – Kent, Taylor and Yovanovitch – knew that Trump was subverting our longstanding foreign policy. Knowing that Trump was wrong, they had the courage to stand up and say so.
To young people today the name "Roy Rogers" may mean nothing more - I know - than a chicken sandwich in a fast-food restaurant. But to older people who were children in the 1940s and 50s, his name means much, much more. Like Taylor, Kent, and Yovanovitch, he was a straight-shooter, a visible emblem of honesty and integrity. He inspired us with his willingness to stand up for the things he believed. He gave us standards to live by that helped teach us the difference between right and wrong, and he lived his life off-camera with the same decency and humility that he projected in the movies and on television.
Those are standards that Donald Trump doesn’t understand or honor at all.
Robert P. Bomboy has written for more than 60 national magazines and is the author of six books, including the novel “Smart Boys Swimming in the River Styx.” He taught for more than 30 years in colleges and universities, and he has been a Ford Foundation Fellow at the University of Chicago and in Washington, D.C.