Impeachment hearings, Donald Trump, and Princeton's public service| December 2, 2019
The House of Representatives is carrying out an impeachment inquiry against the President of the United States. The House Intelligence Committee has heard testimony from numerous witnesses, including State Department officials, U.S. intelligence community members, and ambassadors appointed by the President himself.
The investigators have sought to determine whether President Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” in his dealings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. While the name of Rudy Giuliani, the transcript of a July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky, and the Latin phrase “quid pro quo” have featured prominently in the public impeachment hearings, Princeton University has played a critical role in the nation’s service during the impeachment inquiry.
Two Princeton alums, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch ’80 and David Holmes ’02, offered compelling testimony before the House Intelligence Committee and demonstrated to the American public the ideal of public service essential not only to a Princeton education but also for the survival of our nation — and democracy itself.
Ambassador Yovanovitch served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine before being fired and publicly smeared by President Trump for her defiant stance against corruption in Ukraine and her resistance to Trump’s dealings to secure an investigation of his political rival, Joe Biden.
At the University, Yovanovitch concentrated in history and Russian studies. Six years after graduating in 1980, she joined the U.S. Foreign Service. Meanwhile, in 2002, David Holmes attended the Woodrow Wilson School for Public & International Affairs for graduate work in international affairs. He later entered the U.S. Foreign Service.
Both Princetonians played crucial roles in the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings two weeks ago, providing testimony that transcended partisan political arguments to divulge the truth about President Trump’s distinct overreach of executive powers. Both public servants have served as career foreign service officers and American diplomats throughout their lives, working under Democratic and Republican administrations alike.
Their involvement in the impeachment probe stems not from a sense of domestic political gains to be made for one side or another but rather from a deep commitment to the ideals of the United States and the foundational tenets at the core of our democracy — namely, that no one is above the law.
Yovanovitch and Holmes have proven the essential role of public service in our country and our world today, and their involvement in the impeachment inquiry should inspire a renewed devotion to Princeton’s unofficial motto: “in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.”
Public service, as exemplified by these notable alumni, stands as a bastion of truth, integrity, and commitment against abuses of power, such as corruption. To serve the public is to work for a more just, more equitable, more ideal world. It is the unselfish commitment to progress that looks beyond personal greed and individual betterment in order to craft a more perfect union.
Public service is the cornerstone of democracy. It is only when citizens engage beyond their private interests and devote themselves to the higher ideal of public service that a nation can truly flourish and achieve the promises it sets out for itself.
Princeton’s unofficial motto is a nod to this very truth. By declaring that Princetonians act “in the nation’s service and the service of humanity,” the University recognizes an essential tenet of our undergraduate and graduate educational journey: that knowledge should serve a higher purpose than personal gain, and that intelligence and achievement are fundamentally measured by the ways in which they serve others.
Yovanovitch and Holmes’ testimonies and professional histories are meaningful reminders of this fundamental truth, particularly at a time when today’s campus climate makes it all too easy to forget. Indeed, during Yovanovitch’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 15, Representative Terri Sewell ’86 recognized the Ambassador for “doing Princeton in the nation’s service.”
As explained in a recent piece published in The Daily Princetonian, of the 2017 and 2018 Wilson School undergraduate classes, only 4 percent entered public service. Of the 2016 and 2015 Wilson School undergraduate classes, only 10 percent and 11 percent of students entered public or non-profit employment in a concentration solely devoted to policy work and public and international affairs, as the School’s name suggests.
A 2008 lawsuit filed against the University by the Robertson family, who donated the funds for the building that houses the Woodrow Wilson School, illuminated this very disparity. The suit argued that, contrary to the host of private-sector careers into which WWS graduates enter, the Robertson family’s funds were intended to support Wilson School concentrators for government and public service careers.
It seems the Wilson School concentration has become more akin to the pursuit of jobs in finance, banking, and corporate consulting than the ideals of public service, diplomacy, and policy work.
Many have argued that the Trump presidency has demonstrated the functional capacity of our nation’s institutions of government. Ever since the inauguration of the 45th President, the checks and balances of our government have come alive and been put on display for the American public and the world. As many argue, this institutional design is one of the cornerstones of American democracy, and its importance has been shown, now more than ever, in times of crisis.
My hope is that these impeachment testimonies can serve as a similar reminder to the Princeton community of Princeton’s core dedication to public service. In my opinion, to be “in the nation’s service and the service of humanity” is not simply a catchphrase or a panel to walk across on the path leading up to Nassau Hall.
Fundamentally, it is a reminder that our privilege and our education at this institution should not come without a sense of duty to others and to our community at large, without an idea that our education can and should serve others in the most authentic way possible.
Specifically, for those of us in the Wilson School, a dedication to the ideals of public service and a career path in the service of others should be a prerequisite for the concentration, rather than a slight percentage of students each year. Public service demands a commitment of the self and should be a position of honor and dignity that all aspire to in their professional careers beyond our four years at Princeton.
Kaveh Badrei is a senior Woodrow Wilson School concentrator from Houston, Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.