The Men Who Answer the Call11/8/21
Ruth Marcus wrote in the Washington Post recently a column that was headlined “How Close the Country Came to Total Catastrophe." It was a comment on the testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee by the then Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen about how former President Trump phoned him on December 27, 2020 and pressed him to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen." Rosen told the former president that the Department of Justice could not change the outcome of the election, and that he could not say that. The acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue listened in on the call and also testified to that effect. Apparently, the former president contemplated firing his two newly installed top Justice Department appointees (the former Attorney General William Barr had resigned on December 23, 2020). However, when he learned that there was a threat of mass resignations by Department of Justice lawyers, the former president backed down.
Ten days later the Capitol was attacked. The main reason for this attack was to stop the counting of electoral votes in favor of then President-Elect Biden and declare then President Trump the winner of the election on November 3, 2020.
The Saturday Night Massacre had been similar. On Saturday, October 20, 1973, then President Nixon gave orders to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox after Cox subpoenaed the famous secret White House Tapes. These tapes revealed the president’s involvement in the Watergate Affair. The then Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned instead of firing Cox. His deputy, Richard Ruckelshaus, did the same. Cox was finally fired by Solicitor General Robert Bork. (The same Bork who was not confirmed to the Supreme Court years later, perhaps due to this action.) Nixon’s abuse of power was heavily criticized and contributed to his eventual resignation from the presidency.
Thinking about how so few men have affected our modern history reminded me of a long-ago book by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas titled “The Wise Men." The subtitle “Six Friends and the World They Made – Architects of the American Century” says it all. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945 during WWII, and the inexperienced Vice President Harry Truman took over, those six friends agreed that they were needed in Washington. Averell Harriman and George Kennan flew in from Moscow, where Harriman was US Ambassador, and Kennan was a counselor at the Embassy. Dean Acheson, Assistant Secretary of State; Charles Bohlen, State’s liaison with the White House; and Robert Lovett and John McCloy, both Assistant Secretaries of War, were the other four friends.
They offered to help President Truman decide the important questions of the day. After the war, they shaped a new world order which declared that the U.S. would be the world’s defender of freedom. In addition, they wrote a doctrine of containment and advised the president to forge alliances with other nations.
Hopefully in the future there will be more such men or women who listen to their inner values and step up to help their country. An historian would perhaps also draw a parallel to our Founding Fathers, who all agreed that laws rather than men should be followed, and that our government should be responsible to the voters.
Lena Gill is a member of the Talbot County Democratic Forum