cutting up our moral calling card

on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall

My childhood memories are dotted with golden-hued afternoons and evenings spent at my grandfather’s house. It was an imposing brick structure built in the 1700s, complete with creaky floorboards and a terrifying basement. My grandfather, who had arrived in the United States in 1952, having been deported from Poland to a Soviet work camp in 1940 and spending the intervening twelve years as a displaced person, bought the place after starting a successful business and living a version of the American Dream. But even with that very American origin story, my memories of his house are very Polish. As I kid, I would sing the “goose girl” song in Polish to party guests. My cousin and I were sure that Baba Jaga lived in the creepy basement. The property’s old smokehouse was nicknamed “Jagodowa,” the Polish word for blueberry.

My grandfather and his children in New Jersey in the late 50s.

One night after some sort of celebration — perhaps it was Polish Christmas Eve — my grandfather took me on his knee at the dining room table to talk about my future career. I couldn’t have been more than five. I probably told him I wanted to be an astronaut. “Ninusia,” he said, using the Polish diminuitive, “you could be President.” I pulled a face, but he was adamant, repeating himself. I squirmed away.

I’m telling this story now not because I am announcing an impending presidential run — there are far too many candidates already, and I’m not yet 35 😉— but because I’ve been thinking about my grandfather a lot since the Ukraine scandal broke. He died when I was 13, so I never got to interrogate him about great power politics, but I don’t think he’d appreciate seeing Ukraine treated as a means to an end, not a sovereign nation.

More often, I think about the values that brought my grandfather here, that get me out of bed every morning, that brought thousands of people to Kyiv’s central square, the Maidan, six years ago. I might have grown up European, but my grandfather decided to move his entire family to America, a land of opportunity, a land of democracy, a land of free expression, a land where his granddaughter could run for president if she wanted to. And today, on the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I think about how over and over again, in actions as small as a presidential retweet that claims “Americans don’t care about Ukraine” and as large as including our foreign aid in a bribery package, the Trump administration is undermining the values for which millions behind the Berlin Wall struggled, for which my grandfather immigrated. And we are undermining those — like the 13,000 Ukrainians who have died since Russia invaded their country — who have died for those values. As I told The New Republic’s Casey Michel for his piece on the Wall’s tarnished legacy:

“What did they die for? They died because they believed in the ideals of democracy and rule of law, and they want a future with dignity—that’s why [the 2014 Ukrainian revolution] is called the Revolution of Dignity…those are ideals that have guided U.S. foreign policy at least since the Cold War, and certainly before that too, I would argue…When we’re putting [support for Ukraine] up for grabs as part of a partisan political battle, it undermines our moral calling card—not only in Europe, but around the world.”

It has been a busy few weeks since the Ukraine scandal morphed into the impeachment inquiry. Here is a selection of my latest and greatest:

  • I’m finishing up edits on my book, which is now available for preorder directly from the publisher (cheaper!) and also on Amazon (more expensive and more evil, but you do you). I know my pub date is a million years away, but preordering helps create buzz around the book and let booksellers know how many to order, so if you are able to preorder I’d be much obliged.

  • I had a nice chat with Christiane Amanpour on Ukraine a few weeks ago. (Sadly the camera cuts away from me as I nearly burst out laughing when she almost calls Giuliani’s associates, Parnas and Fruman, his “henchmen” ;))

  • Believe it or not, lots has continued to happen in the social media space, especially in the debate over online political ads. I wrote this piece for the Washington Post asking why some of the most commonsensical social media regulations, including the Honest Ads Act, have not yet been passed, with a just under a year until the 2020 elections.