Ride or die.
Support The Bulwark.
  Join Now

Medals of Democracy

President Biden should lay out a new vision of patriotism, accountability, and courage for public servants.
December 20, 2020
Featured Image
US President Barack Obama awards Vice President Joe Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a tribute to Biden at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 12, 2017. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

Michelle Obama’s 2016 credo, “When they go low, we go high” has never been more relevant than in this season of post-election lunacy. Soon to be Ex-President Donald Trump is still peddling bizarre conspiracy theories aimed at overturning a decisive loss.. Next, almost surely, Trump will roll out a wave of presidential pardons for a posse of long-time cronies whose felonies and perjury struck at the heart of American democracy. When it comes to “going low” Trump has no equal.

President-elect Biden has wisely “gone high.” Ignoring Trump’s antics, he has calmly proceeded to create a new government leadership team ofimagine this—actually qualified people. While Trump tweets, golfs, schemes and whines, Biden and his professionals are laying out plans to cope with America’s twin crises of COVID-19 and a still-struggling economy. The contrast between Trump’s sad pathology and Biden’s steady leadership becomes starker by the day. 

But it’s not soon for Joe Biden to begin thinking about another way to “go high”—acknowledging this very real assault on democracy while honoring those who resisted it. 

Biden should make plans to award our nation’s highest civilian distinction—The Presidential Medal of Freedom —to a select group of true American heroes. These are men and women, members of both major parties, who risked their jobs, their careers, and even their lives, to defend American democracy in the 2020 election. Here are six utterly deserving candidates.

  • Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, the son of political refugees from Soviet tyranny, helped expose Trump’s attempt to extort Ukraine into announcing an “investigation” of Joe Biden by withholding military aid authorized by Congress. Vindman endured scathing criticism to tell Congress the truth, never wavering under tough probing. He was then hounded out of office by Trump and, in essence, forced to resign from the Army he loved and served in heroically. 
  • Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, the daughter of immigrants from the USSR, defied the President’s attempts to stonewall Congress and confirmed the essence of Trump’s extortion plot in Ukraine. She endured and surmounted intense criticism, including death threats, to convey the facts of the Ukraine plot to Congress and to all Americans. 
  • Professor Fiona Hill, an immigrant from England who rose to become the National Security Council’s top Russia expert, confirmed and deepened the damning evidence of Trump’s Ukraine machinations. Like the other witnesses in the Trump impeachment hearings, she was subjected to a wave of criticism, lies and death threats. 
  • Christopher Krebs, A lifelong Republican, appointed by Trump to lead the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Krebs worked for more than two years to protect America’s electoral systems from foreign penetration. Days after the 2020 presidential election, Krebs publicly affirmed the security of these systems and the validity of the result, undercutting Trump’s fraud claims at the root. Trump promptly fired Krebs for that act of truth-telling. Krebs was then assaulted on social media and Trump’s sometime lawyer, Joe DeGenova, viciously suggested on talk radio that he be “shot” and/or “drawn and quartered.” 
  • Gabriel Sterling, A top Election Security official working for Georgia’s Secretary of State affirmed the validity of Biden’s victory in that state. He passionately warned that President Trump’s bogus fraud claims were inspiring death threats to Georgia state election officials and even to young IT techs, and would get “somebody killed” if they did not stop. Sterling, like others, has endured an avalanche of social media assault and death threats to himself and family members. 
  • Aaron Van Langevelde, a 40-year old Republican appointee to Michigan’s board of state election canvassers, Van Langevelde resisted pressure from his party and the President to deny Joe Biden’s thumping 150,000-vote victory in that key state. While his other GOP colleague recused himself, Van Langevelde cast the deciding vote to affirm Michigan’s voters’ choice. The response from Trump backers on social media was so potentially violent that he and his family are now under police protection.

Bringing these brave citizens together for national recognition should be a proud moment, a ceremonial occasion for President Biden to lay out a new vision of patriotism, accountability and courage for public servants— and for all Americans. As Donald Trump has so brutally taught us, American democracy depends, at its most crucial moments, not just on “checks and balances” but on individual men and women brave enough to risk careers they’ve worked their whole lives for—to preserve, protect and defend something greater than themselves—and Keep America Great. 

To anyone who might say that such an award ceremony would be too partisan a way to use the Medal of Freedom, I suggest you recall Trump’s own granting of the award to Rush Limbaugh—in the middle of his last State of the Union Address on national TV. Limbaugh is a man whose entire career has been defined by vicious partisan vitriol and is now climaxing in full-throated backing of Trump’s mad election fraud claims and floating notions of “secession.”

Republicans, clearly, are not shy about partisanship. And if any Republican does criticize Biden for honoring these truth-tellers and defenders of the rule of law, Democrats should welcome that. That would tell our fellow citizens more about how “low” Trump’s party has fallen morally than any attack on these genuine American heroes.

As to the timing of the ceremony, what better date than February 12, 2021, the birthday of our greatest president, Abe Lincoln? The first Republican president, the man who crushed the most treasonous conspiracy the United States has ever seen. Like him, these men and women understood the stakes at play when democracy itself is assaulted. They all took real risks to ensure that “government of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish.” All Americans are in their debt. 

Let us now “go high”—and honor them.

Lenny Glynn

Lenny Glynn served as a speechwriter in the presidential campaigns of Michael Dukakis in 1988 and Bill Clinton in 1992