Charles G. Ikins

By now, the President’s extraordinary August 31st interview with Laura Ingraham is old news. There was a brief spike in incredulity across the media but then the Presidential sideshow in Kenosha followed by reporting of his alleged comments about those Killed in Action (KIA) and other veterans being “losers and suckers” began to eclipse those extraordinary statements. And now there is reporting that disdain for military service — rather than a career in business — was common in his family (other than his older brother Fred, who served in the Air National Guard). And now we have the (I wish I could say something outraged here but with this Administration the outrage superlatives cupboard is long bare) revelation that the President has been downplaying the pandemic’s danger all along. Whether Bob Woodward should have at the time alerted the rest of us to that is another thing.

The Presidential charge that there are “People that you’ve never heard of. People that are in the dark shadows” controlling Vice President Biden caught my attention. Pressed even by a sympathetic interviewer for details, the President immediately retreated into coyness (“We had somebody get on a plane from a certain city”; “I’ll tell you sometime, but it’s under investigation right now”). It amounted to a grade-school “I know something you don’t know” similar to other unverifiable Presidential statements such as “People are saying…many, many people are saying” or “A lot of people” without ever identifying exactly who these “people” are and providing deniability. It reminded me of a bar conversation where a guy is telling outlandish war stories and when a skeptic presses for more detail as to date, place, or unit, he retreats into the “all my files are classified and I can’t say more about it” defense. In other words, protected from scrutiny and rarely revisited. Do we seriously think Ms. Ingraham, in search of future illumination, is ever going to bring this up again?

All week long I’ve been mulling (especially during quarantine yardwork, which is great for mulling) over the various commentaries and editorials decrying the interview by highly qualified and erudite journalists, columnists, and pundits. This isn’t one of them.

But I realized I must come clean. I have a confession to make.

The President’s right. It’s me. I’m one of those people in the “dark shadows.” I’m certainly a member of the category “people that you’ve never heard of.” Fortunately (or unfortunately?), I’m not one of those “very stupid rich people” that “if their thing ever succeeded, would be “thrown to the wolves like you’ve never seen before.” And he’d be right, because I’ve never seen anything or anybody thrown to the wolves. There aren’t that many wolves hereabouts anyway.

It’s true. I’m helping to control Vice President Biden, and I only get a chance like this when a Presidential election rolls around. Especially when I watch the norms and values I treasure, those I’ve tried to live my life by and have even traveled across oceans to defend, being consistently undermined, once-sacred institutions almost gleefully dismantled, and mistrust, suspicion, and obfuscation purposefully sown. Both from without (a certain nation, I’ll tell you sometime, many, many people are talking about it) and within (the GOP and the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, for example). I’m helping to control him because strangely enough, the former Vice President listens to people like me. Not me specifically (still waiting for that call…), but he understands what a lot of people like me represent and how we feel about what’s happening in and to this nation.

So, who am I? I like to think I share the values of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander S. Vindman (and his brother, who as immigrants know how lucky U.S. Citizens are, more than most of us), both forced from positions of great trust with the National Security Council. Or the distinguished Ambassador Marie Yovanovich, ousted from her Ukraine post after a concerted smear campaign and eventually forced into retirement. Or former top NSC official Fiona Hill, who during her Congressional testimony made me even prouder to be an American when she related her personal story as an immigrant. Or David Holmes, the Foreign Service officer who had the requisite moral courage to testify about an overheard telephone call which supported the “quid pro quo” Ukraine narrative.

I was admittedly a poster child for decades for what I thought were GOP values. I would (usually) vote a straight Republican ticket. I’m a retired Marine, having served in two wars. I’m also a retired Federal Civilian, once working at the U.S. House of Representatives for a Republican. I spent the bulk of my civil service years at the Department of Defense at the Pentagon under both Republican and Democratic Administrations and tried hard to do my best for both. I’ve always owned a gun (but am not a member of and will not support what the NRA has become). I even donated to the 2000 Bush/Cheney Victory Fund.

Ironically, nowadays that last one would be greeted with suspicion by the GOP/Trump Administration.

So what? you might ask. Well, if the GOP and by extension (although by now you can’t slip a new dollar bill between them) the President has lost someone like me, who else has he lost?

I’d been gradually drifting from the fold for years; in general elections I would sometimes vote cross-party if I thought there was a better candidate or an issue important to me. So, critics will say this is all just a convenient excuse, that I was always simply a RINO. Let them. But the sham Senate Impeachment “Trial” in which no witnesses were called became my Road to Damascus moment. The Senate’s willfully obtuse disregard of the facts (and they weren’t “alternative”) showed me the GOP no longer represented my values. As a moderate, I wasn’t really welcome anyway. I could no longer stomach being associated with the Amen Chorus the GOP had devolved to, but becoming an Independent seemed a half-measure. So, now I’m officially (I guess) a heretic.

Or even better, to use the President’s words, “human scum.” And I’m in good company. Because I am in opposition to him and the GOP personality cult’s concerted attempts to divide us and introduce American-style authoritarianism (I’m not buying the “law and order” dog whistle) in this nation. Despite everything in my background that is evidence to the contrary, I will wear that appellation proudly.

So, on November 4th (or whenever the millions of “fraudulent” mail-in ballots — mine included — are finally counted), I’ll be out in my alley preparing the ash heap for reception of the odoriferous and malevolent product of the last four years.

While this has been a very difficult personal transition for me, the hardest part is yet to come. With a Biden/Harris victory, it will take time and much effort to undo the damage done to the American psyche as well as our standing in the world. Let’s prepare now to bridge the division that’s been forced upon us under the guise of making us great…again (we were always great).

General Grant at Appomattox forbade displays of triumphalism as damaging to the massive work of reconciliation that was coming. Similar forbearance must be exercised when the time comes.

I’m confident we’ll soon be able to emerge from the so-called “dark shadows.” Our finest hours may well be just ahead.

Charles G. Ikins is a retired Marine and Federal Civilian Foreign Affairs Specialist.