How Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman Proved There’s No Checklist to Patriotism

Pranav Guru
6 min readAug 29, 2021

November 19, 2019 proved to be a newsworthy day in America.

Having already responded to subpoena and delivered a Congressional testimony behind closed doors the prior month, then-U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman testified before the House of Representatives during the impeachment inquiry against now-former President Donald Trump (which eventually led to just the third successful vote to impeach a sitting President in United States history).

Lt. Col Alexander Vindman served as Director for European Affairs for the U.S. National Security Council from July 2018 until his reassignment on February 7, 2020,

Lt. Col. Vindman’s testimony exposed numerous details about the historic Trump-Ukraine scandal, including the sheer number of high-profile presidential cabinet members who were present during Trump’s infamous phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He testified that he was “concerned by the call” and felt it had the potential to “undermine U.S. national security.”

Vindman’s testimony didn’t just spur headlines; it additionally spurred an equal amount of criticism.

President Trump — who spoke dismissively of his first impeachment proceedings repeatedly since before the inquiry was first announced — spared no expense in protesting his innocence in the wake of Congressional testimonies uncovering any shred of evidence against him.

In Vindman’s case, his base of Republican lawmakers, conservative commentators, and right-wing voters made no exception.

While interviewing former Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General John Yoo, Fox News host and outspoken Trump supporter Laura Ingraham remarked, “Here we have a U.S. government official advising Ukraine while working in the White House apparently against the President’s interests.”

Remarks to which Yoo replied, “Some people might call that espionage.” Yoo later apologized for his comments.

Additionally, during an interview with CNN’s John Berman, Republican former Wisconsin Congressman Sean Duffy questioned the patriotism of Vindman, a Ukrainian-born, naturalized American citizen. To quote: “He has an affinity, probably, for his homeland.”

As retaliation for his 2019 Congressional testimony, Vindman was also targeted by conspiracy theories and harassment (such as this political cartoon).

But Vindman’s testimony — and the subsequent backlash it received — has opened up an important topic of discussion:

What does it mean to be a “Patriotic American?”

Patriotism has been a divisive concept for the past several decades. Even before Trump’s 2016 election victory, people and groups across racial, religious, and ideological lines have claimed it as their own while attacking anyone who disagrees.

Perhaps the textbook patriotism debate prior to Vindman’s testimony has been the ongoing U.S. national anthem protests, which has featured professional athletes engaging in nonviolent protest against racism by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem since 2016.

Now-former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the controversial first athlete to kneel, opened up about his rationale: “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder”, in reference to police brutality.

Colin Kaepernick explained that he kneeled for the anthem was because his belief on the issue of racial profiling was “bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”

But it wasn’t until after Kaepernick entered free agency in 2017 that the protests took off, fueled as well by Trump’s notorious, profanity-laced rally in Huntsville, Alabama that year in which he called for NFL owners to “fire” any players who kneeled for the anthem while labeling the protest “a total disrespect of our heritage”.

Even before the national anthem protests, another patriotism debate hit the news in 2014 when Coca-Cola released a Super Bowl commercial entitled “It’s Beautiful.”

The ad, in just over a minute in length, displayed a support of multiculturalism by showing scenes of America’s landscape and various ethnic groups while a multilingual rendition of “America the Beautiful” played in the background.

As we can all expect, the ad was followed by plenty of internet rage to go around. Users took to social media platforms to condemn the company for its cover of “America the Beautiful” and demand boycotts.

Coca Cola’s 2014 ad “#AmericaIsBeautiful” sparked outrage over the ad’s use of multiple different languages to sing a classic patriotic song.

As a result of years of debating the definition of patriotism and labeling ourselves based on that definition, it’s perhaps become easy to assume that a citizen of this country has to mark off a certain number of boxes on a checklist to be considered “patriotic”. So does that mean if you score any less, then you don’t qualify?

There’s a major problem with “Checklist Patriotism” (a name I’ve chosen for the sake of argument):

The standards they set are totally, 100% arbitrary.

A person’s standards of patriotism are only applicable to one person: Themselves. When confronted by those whose worldviews appear different, it can be easy to be dismissive.

But patriotism in and of itself is defined by the ability to be proud of your country, and to exercise this pride. There are many ways to exercise said pride, and pride is not mutually exclusive with criticism.

To me, there are multiple ways to judge patriotism. It won’t be enough to use a dictionary definition, as there’s not a single way to feel closest to one’s nation.

The country’s motto is, as we all know, E pluribus unum (Latin from “Out of many, one”).

Following the motto to the letter, our Constitution has culminated through the centuries into a pledge that this country will provide equal opportunity to all citizens regardless of race, religion, gender, or any label. Opportunities that have grown to expand beyond rights to property, voting, and employment.

As a proud U.S. citizen, I find it heartbreaking to see a term that signifies the term patriotism — which for long embodied a citizen’s personal admiration of their nation — be robbed and exploited for political gain.

After all, our motto and our Amendments grant our citizens to exist against the grain so long as they live in pursuit of happiness without coming at the price of their fellow man.

Which brings us back to Lt. Col. Vindman. In the opening statement of his testimony, he addressed his own father to clarify that he had no regrets that his family had left the former Soviet Union for a better life in the United States.

“In Russia, my act of … offering public testimony involving the President would surely cost me my life. I am grateful for my father’s brave act of hope 40 years ago and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant, where I can live free of fear for mine … Dad, my sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision forty years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.” — Alexander Vindman to his father Simon Vindman

Perhaps he knew that in divisive times, making any statement involving Donald Trump could turn him into an easy target of harassment, threats, and conspiracies. But in the end, he was conscious it would be no more than a small price to pay for his testimony.

Conscious that the only consequence to giving a testimony is being trolled.

To this day, despite the barrage of evidence both supporting and refuting the arguments presented in both of former President Trump’s impeachment hearings, there has been no evidence Lt. Col. Vindman committed perjury. Therefore, we’re left to take his testimony at his word.

In the end, his story serves as one of many examples of an American citizen’s patriotism coming under unnecessary suspicion for the sake of politically-charged talking points. It’s entirely a personal opinion to label him patriotic or not. The fact is, becoming a naturalized citizen requires taking a sworn oath that pledge’s one’s allegiance to the U.S. constitution. On top of that, Vindman loved this country enough to — from 1999 until his retirement in July 2020 — risk his life as an officer in the United States Army and a veteran of the Iraq War.

In the end, it may not even matter to a total stranger if you checked off every arbitrary, opinion-based standard they require to achieve the coveted title of Patriot. If they find a single reason to disagree with you, it could result in an altogether disqualification in their book.

Americans exist from all races, religions, sexual orientations, socioeconomic statuses, and walks of life. The purpose of these labels have always been to keep our personal cultures as well as our country’s culture alive through the ages. When used to police the patriotism of strangers, it goes against the motto this remarkable nation was founded upon. As I say this publicly, I can only hope I’m preaching to the choir.

Patriotism isn’t one person’s checklist; it’s one person’s badge of honor.

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