By Joel Rubin
If your synagogue is like mine, the Shabbat service includes a prayer for our country. The prayer probably calls for our leaders to have wisdom and to make the right decisions on our behalf. The prayer assumes that our leaders believe in the basic tenets of our country and that they’ll do what’s in the national interest.
Unfortunately, we need to change the prayer. We now need to pray that our leaders work for us.
That’s because, as we’ve clearly seen in recent days, our country’s current leader does not put the national interest first. By calling on multiple foreign powers to meddle in America’s most cherished institution — our democratic process — he has chosen to put America last, way behind his own quest for political power.
There is now a clear and present danger that our country is on the verge of losing our democracy. Make no mistake, when it is seen as permissible for foreign powers to meddle in our elections, we are essentially surrendering our most basic value — the right to choose our own leaders — to those who do not have our best interest at heart.
That’s why I recently signed a letter, along with more than 300 other bipartisan national security professionals, expressing support for the current impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s behavior with Ukraine. The core of this letter stated that:
“President Trump appears to have leveraged the authority and resources of the highest office in the land to invite additional foreign interference into our democratic processes. That would constitute an unconscionable abuse of power. It also would represent an effort to subordinate America’s national interests — and those of our closest allies and partners — to the President’s personal political interest.”
The point of the letter is to make it clear that if our president is intent on having foreign countries decide who our leaders are, we will forever be subordinate to those countries.
Imagine, for a moment, if FDR had invited Germany in the 1930s to meddle in American elections on his behalf. How would that have turned out? Would FDR have owed Hitler for the help? Yes. As a consequence, would Hitler have faced the American military in World War II? No.
America would have been lost. Europe would have been lost. American democracy would have disappeared.
Our democracy is faced with an existential challenge. Why? Because President Trump has publicly invited three countries — Russia, Ukraine and China — to meddle in our elections on his behalf. Worse, we don’t even know where this ends. For instance, has he asked North Korea to help him get dirt on Democratic political opponents? Has he asked Saudi Arabia to do something for him? How about other countries with whom he has a transactional relationship?
These actions make America extremely vulnerable. That’s why no president before has done them.
As the Ukraine fiasco demonstrates, this concern is not theoretical. With Ukraine, President Trump withheld a lifeline of military assistance. But imagine for a moment if this maneuvering with Ukraine — in order to get dirt on Joe Biden — hadn’t been found out? President Trump may not realize this, but the tables would have been turned on him and the Ukrainians would have had leverage over him. They could have exposed his machinations.
And what about Russia and China? What do they want in return for their help? With Russia, we’ve seen nearly three years of a Trump presidency dedicated to supporting Vladimir Putin’s global ambitions. We’ve seen the president undermine NATO’s unity, bash the G7 and threaten the European Union. Creating splits between the United States and these longtime American partners has always been a goal of Russia. Now it’s being realized.
As for China, we haven’t yet seen their demand. Perhaps they’ll ask for more concessions at the trade negotiating table. Or they’ll ask for the right to crack down harder on Hong Kong — something that’s already underway. We just don’t know where this all ends.
And that’s the point. Once it’s normalized that foreign governments can meddle in our democracy, we’ve crossed the red line and invited the entire world in. We no longer control our future. We instead have leaders who don’t feel obliged to report to us, the American people, but instead to their foreign backers.
In one stroke, we simultaneously lose both our democracy and security. So when the prayer for our country crosses your lips, it’ll be worth making an addendum. This time, you should also pray for our leaders to live up to their obligations and oaths of office. You should pray that they observe our Constitution, and by extension, our democracy and security.
And you should pray that we will soon again have leaders who we trust will be working for us.
Joel Rubin is a former deputy assistant secretary of state and a councilman in the Town of Chevy Chase.