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Speak for America, John!

This is John Bolton's moment.
January 27, 2020
Speak for America, John!
The man on the spot. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

September 2, 1939, the day after Hitler’s invasion of Poland, saw fierce debate in the British Parliament. Following Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s temporizing remarks, the deputy leader of the opposition, Arthur Greenwood, rose to respond on behalf of the Labour Party. As he began to speak, Greenwood was famously interrupted by the anti-appeaser and former First Lord of the Admiralty, Leo Amery, who shouted from the Conservative back benches across the party aisle, “Speak for England, Arthur!”

Today one feels a similar urge to shout from the anti-Trump Republican back benches to Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton: Speak for America! The president stands impeached for distorting U.S. foreign policy on behalf of his personal political interests and covering up what he has done. John Bolton knows what happened. As he has confided to friends, he has also seen up close how this president runs our foreign policy and just how dangerous this is. “It’s worse than you can imagine” is what he’s reported to have said privately.

Now he needs to help us all imagine. He has a chance to act for the country, both by telling America what he knows and by setting an example for others in putting the nation’s welfare ahead of partisan loyalty and personal ambition. He should testify to the Senate, of course, and the Senate should ask him to do so. But nothing stops him from speaking up even if not subpoenaed.

Whatever the venue, he has a chance here to speak for America.

And so do many others. The silences of former administration officials who did their best but saw the worst of Trump are bewildering. The obligations of patriotism don’t stop when one leaves office. Where are Mattis and Tillerson, McMaster and Kelly, at this moment of truth?

It is generally understandable, even honorable, for a former appointee to want to be discreet about his former boss’s failings. But this is no ordinary time. It is a decision point in which America’s elected representatives are being asked to determine whether or not the president should be removed from office for offenses against the Constitution.

In order for them to make wise decisions, they need to have as much information as possible. And the president is trying to deny them—and the public—that information. John Bolton–and other former colleagues of his—can provide it. Speak for America, John!

So the Senate would benefit from their guidance both with respect to impeachment and removal from office while the rest of the country would benefit from it in regards to the coming election if the president is not removed.

These men chose to work in this administration from a desire to serve their country whatever their doubts about the president. In a democratic republic, the obligations of service to country do not end once out of office. They are a duty we all strive to live out, every day.

But the man on the spot right now is John Bolton.

One might say his entire career has prepared him for this moment. If he chooses to tell the nation what he knows, he would be taking on most Republicans and conservatives. His book sales and speaking fees might suffer. But he would be acting in a way that would earn him the gratitude of his countrymen and a generous judgment by history. It is precisely because doing your duty can be so arduous that history thinks so well of those who bend down to shoulder the load.

Speak for America, John!

William Kristol

William Kristol is editor-at-large of The Bulwark.