I spent a decade watching impeachment hearings this week. Hours upon hours of puffed-up pols posturing and patronizing and waging war on our psyche through parliamentary procedure.
As the week was coming to a close, brain fried from staring deep into the pixelized abyss, navigating the two alternate universes being presented, trying to contain the bubbling contempt for all involved, contemplating a permanent death to our polity, it was then that she appeared. Rising from the coal ash to bring us new life.
A woman whose lore preceded her. At age 11, a young Jim Jordan type set one of her pigtails on fire while she was taking a test. With a flick of the wrist, she put the fire out with her own bare hands. And then finished the test. Unconfirmed legend has it that the young man then micturated in his underoos and was never seen from again.
Queen Fiona. First of her name.
Dr. Hill went into the Trump administration as an expert on Vladimir Putin, holding views of him that were far more negative than those of Trump, but sharing the president’s desire for rapprochement. Her left-wing friends at the Brookings Institute didn’t know why she was going to serve. The right-wing propaganda machine accused her of being a mole and subjected her to death threats. But she served anyway, doing the right thing when those around her were more tempted by power. She did not use the perch for fame, she did not testify with one eye on her professional future. Her friend Tom Wright told the New York Times, “I don’t think she was thinking, ‘I’m going to go out in a blaze of glory, take a moral stand and testify.’ That was definitely not her intention. She just wanted to do her job with no fuss or drama.”
And that is exactly what she did. On Thursday Hill provided the testimony that our nation required. Not because it will be either the death knell or the saving grace for Donald Trump. Not because it allowed the pundits to declare yet another John Dean moment. Not because it will change the horse race or do any of the other silly things that our political life now revolves around.
No, Hill’s testimony was what we needed because, man by man she stared deep into the soul of each partisan player in this game and exposed them. And she did it using only the power of truth, the earnest belief in America that only comes from the zeal of our immigrants, and the flick of an eyebrow that brought mortal men to their knees.
She did it with the poise and expertise of someone you want to hire to come to your home and explain to you all the ways you can improve as a human being.
She did it with integrity and dignity, two traits in very short supply these days.
First Hill disposed of the lowest hanging fruit.
A straightforward testimony of the events left the slimiest Trumpers without much to attack. And so they fell back on their instincts: xenophobia. “Fiona Hill with that Prince Andrew accent…are any Americans going to testify against Trump,” asked One America News Network’s Emerald Robinson, a Trump worshipper who recently was given the first three opportunities to ask questions a presidential press conference. “A lot of Americans have to be asking why are there so many non-US born people working in our intel and state department,” queried Jack Posobiec, the Claremont “scholar” and PizzaGate conspiracy enthusiast.
But the lazy twitter racists were nothing to Queen Fiona. She testified to being born in the same region as George Washington’s ancestors, to a coal-miner who dreamed of a family member some day coming to America. Sorry, Jack, the espionage slander isn’t going to fly here.
The slightly more sophisticated tried to paint her as merely a leftist or a Never Trumper. But Hill repeatedly testified more sympathetically to President Trump than many Trump supporters I have heard in the past. She bemoaned the foreign leaders who showed a preference for Hillary Clinton during the campaign. She disdained people who see Trump as an illegitimate president. She reminded the audience that she chose to come into the administration and serve President Trump when others encouraged her not to.
Throughout the hearing she calmly and surgically batted down each passive aggressive attack leveled against her. Ambassador Gordon Sondland had testified that Hill was “shaking” (translation: all emotionally, like a girl) when discussing the Ukraine issue with him. Hill’s steely demeanor in the face of hostile questioning before a national audience is pretty much all you need to debunk that nonsense. And Hill offered a brushback pitch of her own, pointing out that Sondland’s contention that he was oblivious to the Burisma/Biden connection was simply not credible.
When the Republican lawyer Steve Castor tried to bait her into a question about how she was just upset that the Ukraine decision making was going around her, Hill flipped it on him, providing fresh testimony that she actually came to understand there were two different diplomatic channels, one that had domestic political ends (Sondland’s) and one that was focused on national security matters. Castor had walked right into a trap, and caused the most damaging testimony of the day with his own questioning.
Here’s a dramatic reenactment of the moment:
Hill also made mincemeat of some of the more ludicrous Democratic tropes. She pointed out that the Steele dossier likely contained misinformation and that one of Putin’s goals in the 2016 election was to create a cloud over the election process itself. As Jake Tapper noted, she also expressed sympathy for Rep. Elise Stefanik, who has received death threats as a result of her role as Trumpian attack dog.
And yet, Republicans continued to try to paint her as a partisan hack.
First it was Jim Jordan, lickspittling his way through condescending screams, while Hill sat there calmly waiting for her chance to pounce. Then it was two human Brent Norwalks, Rep. Mike Turner and Rep. John Ratcliffe. Turner unleashed a torrent of nonsense, berating Hill as not credible, unleashing every bad-faith talking point from the bowels of Trumpian twitter. But as the minutes went by he looked more and more like an enraged golfer yelling at the caddy while he shanked ball after ball into the drink. The slay queen sat there with an amazing “you have no idea what you are talking about” face and then finished him off with a slight raise of the eyebrow.
Turner was followed by Ratcliffe, who echoed the “Russia hoax” laments. Both left the hearing without giving Hill a chance to respond. Next was Congressman Brad Wenstrup, who revealed an unparalleled knowledge of the intricacies of the Hannity conspiracy universe. (He’s basically the Comic Book Guy of Chalupastan.) Wenstrup’s rant was about the “partisan hatred” being shown by the left and about how Hill was buying into their lies. Like Turner, Wenstrup intended to drop the mic and storm off to Bobby Van’s but Hill politely intervened, asking for the chance to respond.
Wenstrup’s face turned Coach-O-purple with rage when Schiff deigned to let the witness, whose integrity had just been impugned, answer the “question.”
Her gracious response left him speechless:
“I think that what Dr. Wenstrup said was very powerful about overcoming hatred and partisan division. And I think its unfortunate that Congressman Turner and Ratcliffe left as well.”
And then, Hill went on to offer a more eloquent defense of the Trump administration’s posture towards Russia than anyone in the president’s orbit has ever been able to muster.
If only we could amend Article 1 Section II.
Queen Fiona saved us from this impeachment death march. In control. Unfazed by the partisan nonsense. Clear-eyed about Vladimir Putin. Not jaded or beaten down by the avalanche of acrimony and foolishness that she has been dealt in the past two years. A woman who wants only to serve the adopted country she loves.
We don’t deserve her.