Here, Right Matters: An American Story by Alexander Vindman
Here, Right Matters: An American Story by Alexander Vindman – Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who found himself at the center of a firestorm for his decision to report the infamous phone call that led to presidential impeachment, tells his own story for the first time. HERE, RIGHT MATTERS is a stirring account of Vindman’s childhood as an immigrant growing up in New York City, his career in service of his new home on the battlefield and at the White House , and the decisions leading up to, and fallout surrounding, his exposure of President Trump’s abuse of power.
0900, Thursday, July 25, 2019: President Trump called Ukraine’s President Zelensky, supposedly to congratulate him on his recent victory. In the months that followed, the American public would only learn what happened on that call because Alexander Vindman felt duty-bound to report it up the chain of command: that the President of the United States had extorted a foreign ally to damage a political challenger at home. Vindman’s actions and subsequent testimony before congress would lead to Trump’s impeachment and affirm Vindman’s belief that he had done the right thing in the face of intense pressure to stay silent. But it would come at an enormous cost, straining relationships with colleagues, superiors, and even his own father, and eventually end his decorated career in the US Army, by a Trump administration intent on retribution.
Here, Right Matters is Vindman’s proud, passionate, and candid account of his family, his career, and the moment of truth he faced for his nation. As an immigrant, raised by a father who fled the Soviet Union in pursuit of a better life for his children, Vindman learned about respect for truth throughout his education and military service. As this memoir makes clear, his decision to speak up about the July 25th call was never a choice: it was Vindman’s duty, as a naturalized citizen and member of the armed forces. In the wake of his testimony, he would endure furious partisan attacks on his record and his loyalty. But far louder was the extraordinary chorus of support from citizens who were collectively intent on reaffirming an abiding American commitment to integrity.
In the face of a sure-fire career derailment and public excoriation, Vindman heeded the lessons from the people and institutions who instilled in him the moral compass and the courage to act decisively. Like so many other American immigrant families, the Vindmans had to learn to build a life from scratch and take big risks to achieve important goals. Here, Right Matters is about the quiet heroes who keep us safe; but, above all, it is a call to arms for those who refuse to let America betray its true self.
Review: Here, Right Matters
This is a brisk, interesting memoir. Most readers will remember Lt. Colonel Vindmen–44 years old and in full dress uniform–testifying at the House impeachment hearing. His opening statement made quite an impact because it wasn’t only about the events in the White House that the president was being impeached for, but also about his own first-generation immigrant experience and what protecting and valuing American democracy meant to him. The book is like that, too, but of course, in greater depth. I enjoyed the descriptions of his childhood in Brighton Beach in the 1980s.
Shaped by his family and also his military training, he writes about the importance of listening to your moral compass, even when you have to pay a price. In Lt. Colonel Vindman’s case, the price was a lost career, lost promotion, and suffering vicious public attacks from rightwing officials and media.
It’s good to read that, after all, he’s been through, he would absolutely do the same thing again.
Vindman describes himself s a “late bloomer”, but in his 20s began to discover his talents, including ability as a leader in the Army. He goes from a platoon leader on a training mission in South Korea to combat in Iraq where he’s wounded by shrapnel. He trains to become a top expert on Russia and Ukraine (where he was born when it was the USSR). That sends him to the Pentagon and then onto the NSC. In 2019, he was in the Situation Room translating and taking notes of President Trump’s now-infamous call to Ukrainian president Zelensky.
He knew immediately that what the president had said in the call was “corrupt” and needed to be reported. He did it—with trepidation, but also with a determination to do the right thing. He never expected that report or his call notes to become public. (The NSC lawyer improperly hid his notes in the codeword protected, highly classified, server.)
Vindman thinks a lot along the way about what makes good leadership, and he shares those ideas. It’s good to be reminded about what public service should look like–and how important it is to not just be pursuing one’s own self-interest but to be willing to put the country and the Constitution first, even when it isn’t easy.
Although he doesn’t specifically say it, there is an obvious contrast here between those who testified to Congress (inc. the whistleblower and IG Atkinson who had integrity and courage, too, but weren’t there) and President Trump. Sadly, we see the president use the power of his office to corruptly pursue his own self-interest even when it hurts U.S. national security.
Interestingly, many of the features of Impeachment #1 described here were also present in Impeachment #2, including the disruptive machinations of Rudy Giuliani.
We don’t give out medals for speaking up against corruption—in fact, Vindman lost his career and his promotion to colonel for doing it–and finally resigned from the army. (Also making his choice to expose the president’s corruption difficultly was the conflict with his beloved father who begins here as a firm Trump supporter). But Vindman ends with an honourable spot in the history books, new career beginnings in his life, and still a belief that “Here, right matters” –although you have to fight harder for it than we expect.
About the Author
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander S. Vindman (Ret. ) was most recently the director for European Affairs on the White House’s National Security Council. Prior to retiring from the U.S. Army, he served as a foreign area officer with assignments in U.S. Embassies in Kyiv, Ukraine and Moscow, Russia and for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a Political-Military Affairs Officer. He is currently a doctoral student and Foreign Policy Institute Fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, a Pritzker Military Fellow at the Lawfare Institute, a board member of the Renew Democracy Initiative nonprofit, and a Visiting Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perry World House.