Post 318

Reflections on Zelenskiy's Conversation with Trump

I feel very busy these days. I feel that I don’t have enough time to do all of the good things that I feel I am supposed to be doing. I spend a lot of my time driving, and a lot of my time cooking. They are both time-consuming. And, as WiseOne once noted, they’re both dangerous but necessary. Cooking is knives and heat. Driving is speed and heavy machinery.

But I do want to write, even at the cost of not tidying up my kitchen just yet.

Moral choices pop up when you’re not expecting them. I will give you three scenarios involving moral choices. These are all true stories. One or two have happened to me, but let’s pretend they’re your dilemmas:

Story one: You are almost certain that the grocery cashier has made a mistake. You are glad that the chicken is on sale — if you purchase one, you get one free (“BOGO,” meaning ‘Buy One Get One free’) — but the cashier also has to deal with the rain check, and she has hit ‘cancel’ one too many times. Do you point out the error, or do you just pay and leave? It’s not your fault she’s made a mistake.

Story two: You receive an email that you have won a scholarship, but that one condition of collecting this award is working at a casino. It is required, not simply requested. You know that casinos exploit people. You know that many people are tempted by gambling, and that some people lose great amounts of money there, but you have earned this scholarship fair and square.

Story three: The judge has ordered your client to attend for an assessment of her mental health. You know that she is perfectly sane, and that she does not deserve to be put through this. It is a very dirty tactic. Nevertheless, opposing this will require you to go to the Court of Appeal, a prospect which is intimidating, because you’ve never done it. It will take a lot of your time and energy and it will be stressful.

You see, in all of these cases, doing what is right is painful. Did you catch that? Doing what is right can be painful. Sometimes it’s just a little bit painful, and sometimes it is excruciating.

But this is how God sets things up. He wants to know whether you can give up something that you (really, really) want or even something that you think you need, in order to do what is right.

Can you do it?

So let’s say you walk away with the chicken. You argue to yourself that it doesn’t matter. You are, in fact, kind of excited that instead of BOGO, you got BOGT (buy one get three), and you happen to mention it at supper. Your children say, “So you didn’t tell the cashier that she made a mistake?” They ask, “Is she going to get in trouble?” You assure them that the cashier won’t get in trouble. They ask you if you are going to tell the store that you should have paid more. You weren’t thinking of it. It’s true that you still have the receipt, and, in theory, you could go back to the store to pay more. You wonder to yourself what kind of an idiot would do that.

So let’s say you accept the scholarship and you sign up for the casino. The hours are long, and instead of studying more, or doing something wholesome, you’re there adding your energy and friendly face to the gambling industry. The entire atmosphere is foreign to you, and you wonder why anybody would do this. As a game, you think to yourself, which game would I play if I absolutely had to play one?

So let’s say you let your client be tested. The psychologist, being a psychologist, identifies some ‘issues.’ You meet with your client, and now you will tell her that, according to this report, she has such-and-such a condition. In layman’s terms, you will tell her that the professional says she is crazy. She will be distraught, and she will tell her husband and her family that she has been diagnosed with a mental condition. Her family, including her in-laws and her children, will never forget this, and neither will she.

The point is that the consequences of your choices are hidden from you. If you choose to do what is wrong, because it is easier or because it is, in the short term, more pleasant for you, you will set off a chain of events that are problematic. These create new moral choices for you and for others. In general, the second dilemma will require greater effort than the first, but it is God’s second chance for you to fix things.

Let’s do it again. Here’s what really happened.

You pointed out to the cashier that you think she didn’t count all the chicken. She makes you pay for the initial total, and says she will figure it out afterwards. You pay, and then she studies the receipt. Then she realizes you’re right, and she scans one of the chicken packages again. She needs your debit card again because now she’s going to charge you. You were already in somewhat of a rush, and she doesn’t apologize for her error. On the plus side, months later, when you’re trying to think of examples of moral dilemmas for your blog, you can remember this one.

You write back to the lady who offered the scholarship and say thank you very much, but I cannot accept the terms of accepting this scholarship. A few weeks later, you receive another email, and she tells you that the scholarship committee had a meeting, and they have decided that students should not be required to work at casinos. They have changed the policy, and she says that the cheque is now available for you to collect.

You go to the Court of Appeal, and you win. The three Court of Appeal judges rule that a person should not be required to submit for psychological testing when their lawsuit has nothing to do with psychological harm. The case makes its way into the handbook about litigation procedure and also appears in the online case databases. Other lawyers rely on your case in future years, and protect their clients from this dirty tactic.

There’s an expression, “a hill worth dying on,” which asks you whether you feel it is worth suffering or fighting about a certain point. In many cases, it is not. It is not worth arguing with your sister about whether such-and-such a celebrity or athlete is more talented than another, for instance. However, when it comes to moral decisions, they are all hills worth dying on.

Every time you have a moral decision, always choose what is better, even if it hurts.

Shall I retype that?

I urge this. Perhaps I am nobody to you, but consider what I say because it’s true, and not for any other reason.

Always choose to do the right thing, no matter what you believe the consequences will be. Do not give yourself the excuse that you are doing this TEENY wrong thing in order to bring some greater benefit overall. The expression “the end does not justify the means” is the best guideline.

It doesn’t matter that nobody will ever know what your moral choice was.
It doesn’t matter that nobody will get hurt if you don’t do what’s right.
It doesn’t matter that somebody else would probably do the wrong thing if you don’t do it.

Choose what is right, no matter how much it costs you.

For you see, this moral dilemma was part of God’s plan for you. He wanted you to win these moral battles. He wanted you as his soldier.

Let’s consider the case of Volodymyr Zelenskiy (Зеле́нський is sometimes written as Zelenskyy or Zelensky), President of Ukraine. He was elected recently, and his life’s story has been interesting so far. LoyalOne follows Ukrainian politics closely, and keeps me up to date. He has made significant changes to Ukraine in his fight against corruption. He has fired many people, and replaced them with those of his choosing. He is so popular that he has been able to fill his parliament with politicians who are loyal to him.

God of course had a plan for him too. God is good, and he always has a plan. His plan for Zelenskiy was to allow him to be a light for the Ukrainian people, to give them hope. For too long, the people of Ukraine have suffered under corruption. They took a chance when they gave Zelenskiy, this non-politician, the right to govern.
In many key ways, Zelenskiy has been doing what is good. Sometimes the decisions have been rather unpopular, but Zelenskiy has, for the most part, enjoyed his role as the Leader Against Corruption. Doing the right thing can be enjoyable.

God knows that Russia continues to harm Ukraine, and that Ukraine wants foreign help. God knows that the war is unjust, and that people are dying. He also knows that it is good for other countries to help Ukraine, but that most are not helping as much as they could. His plan was for the world to know that Zelenskiy is trying to fight corruption, and that countries can be changed for the better. A leader who makes good moral decisions will set his country on a new path, and God wanted Zelenskiy to be that leader.

God had a message to the world about corruption, and he wanted Zelenskiy to demonstrate that corruption could be fought, and how to fight it.

So God allowed a moral dilemma to be presented to Zelenskiy.

Zelenskiy would be asked to do something wrong, in exchange for things that Zelenskiy really wanted. You know this story. Zelenskiy knew, before his telephone call to American president Trump, that Trump would not be willing to talk with him unless he were willing to discuss the case of Hunter Biden.

The name “Hunter Biden” would have initially been unfamiliar to Zelenskiy, and he would have asked his aides to explain why Trump would care so much about Hunter Biden, an American. The aides would explain that the Biden family is a personal, political rival for Trump.

Zelenskiy would be asked to assist Trump in its attack on Hunter Biden. Before the telephone call, Zelenskiy would not have known the exact form of the help that Trump would request, but it would probably involve prosecution of Hunter Biden using the Ukrainian legal system.

This is wrong because neither Trump nor Zelenskiy should be involved in prosecutions. There must be a separation between the leader of a country and the prosecutors. The prosecutors should not begin prosecuting people just because the leader personally wants it. Similarly, prosecutors should not desist from prosecuting people because the leader wants it. That is corruption of the legal system. The legal system, in order to be a good legal system, must be free from interference by politicians. It is also an abuse of political power. Political power is given by the voters to leaders so that the leaders will govern well, not so that the leaders can fulfill their personal wishes. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did wrong in pressuring his Justice Minister to proceed differently in the criminal case against a big Canadian company called SNC-Lavalin which was involved in bribery in Libya.

As a reward for agreeing to do what Trump wanted, Zelenskiy understood that he would get so much of what he very much wanted. In the first place, he would receive hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid. This aid would allow him to fight Russia, and possibly enable him to achieve his goal of ending the fighting and ending the deaths. Success on this front is so important to Zelenskiy. In the second place, Zelenskiy could gain a powerful ally, and thereby achieve economic success. In the third place, friendship with Trump would prove that Zelenskiy was as skillful a diplomat as the previous president.

During the July 2019 telephone call, Trump gave details to Zelenskiy about the “favour” that he wanted. Trump was wanting a foreign government to begin investigations against one of his own citizens. Zelenskiy did not ask, “Who is Mr. Biden?” because he already knew. Indeed, Zelenskiy said that he was “knowledgeable about the situation.”

We all face moral dilemmas, and this one was Zelenskiy’s. You can see that it would have been painful to do the right thing. But a leader must be morally clean.

Zelenskiy’s past includes script-writing. Mine does too. Here’s what he could have said, “I am knowledgeable about the situation, and I can sympathize 100%. Indeed, I can sympathize 1000%. You know that I hate to see corruption in any form, and if this Hunter Biden was involved in any corruption, it would be very unfortunate. At present, I do not have a general prosecutor assigned, but I will be doing my best to choose someone who is very competent and ethical. The problem, however — and I hate to say this because we rely on the United States as our very great friend, and because we are counting on the military financial support that has been set aside for Ukraine — is that I cannot raise this subject with my prosecutor. Even if I wanted to, I cannot. Our system is arranged so that the prosecution is independent from the office of the president and the prosecution pursues cases based only on the information gathered by our police force or own intelligence agents. I hope you are not too dismayed, because I am hoping to be on good terms with you and the United States.”

Yes, it would have been difficult. I know this. I know it would have felt very scary to break the news to this famous and powerful world leader that he could not cooperate in this way.

But he should have resisted Trump’s plans as soon as he could see that there were any immoral elements in it. Immorality means that you have deviated from God’s plan. And God’s plan is always superior.

And what was God’s plan? How would it have played out?

Allow me to provide you with my theory.

This telephone call would have become public, not based on what Zelenskiy agreed to, but based on what Trump had requested. The entirety of the slimy request would have become known, and Zelenskiy would be on record as having stood his ground against this type of corruption. Immediately, Zelenskiy would have been known everywhere and hailed as a hero. It would be the David and Goliath story, believe me. He was born for the role of a young David — he is short (5’6” or 5’7”), he is Jewish, he is energetic, and he is ready for a challenge.

This was his moment.

We would have seen the pressure put on him by a lumbering Goliath (6’3”), who is used to having his way, who is uncouth and who has his mind in the gutter, and we would have seen how the hero, Zelenskiy, was polite yet firm. We would have admired him. The world would have admired him, and the stature of Ukraine, Ukrainians and Zelenskiy would have risen. This was what God wanted for him.

Instead, we have this.

The document which has been released, referred to as a transcript (even though it is not verbatim), may be followed later by the verbatim transcript, which is currently (and suspiciously) under lock and key.

But even this unclassified document is enough to show that Zelenskiy was excessively deferential to Trump. Zelenskiy must be so embarrassed that everyone can see how pathetic and groveling he looked. But what is worse is that Zelenskiy agreed to do Trump’s bidding. Zelenskiy said “I will:”

Zelenskiy: I wanted to tell you about the prosecutor. First of all, I understand and I’m knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament, the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue. The issue of the investigation of the case is actually the issue of making sure to restore the honesty so we will take care of that and will work on the investigation of the case. On top of that, I would kindly ask you if you have any additional information that you can provide to us, it would be very helpful for the investigation to make sure that we administer justice in our country with regard to the Ambassador to the United States from Ukraine as far as I recall her name was Ivanovich. It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100%. Her attitude towards me was far from the best as she admired the previous President and she was on his side. She would not accept me as a new President well enough.

Some have shown ‘understanding’ for Zelenskiy in this situation, by which I mean that they have — almost without thinking — excused Zelenskiy’s behaviour as being unavoidable. The idea is that Zelenskiy is a new, inexperienced, and weak politician who is understandably desperate. The idea is that nobody could have expected Zelenskiy to do any better.

I disagree. Zelenskiy is very intelligent. He is observant and socially skillful. He understands the law. He went to law school. He didn’t need to be a pawn. He didn’t need to agree to be a puppet. I am not surprised that Zelenskiy insists that he was not pushed, that he was making his own decisions. Unfortunately, people are not listening, because they want to write their own narrative.

Furthermore, Zelenskiy had help in this moral dilemma. He had two kinds of help.

First, he had human help in the form of advisors, as many as he wanted. If he had doubts or questions about ethics or legality, he had access to almost anyone he could have wanted. Yet he would have needed less help than someone less educated; a law school graduate does not always know the answers, but at least he has learned to see where the issues are. Indeed, he knew there were issues even before he had the telephone call.

Second, he had help in the form of grace. God gives grace to people all the time, but there is extra grace given to those who are faced with moral dilemmas, and there are extra graces given to those who lead others. This grace gives people wisdom to know what to do, and gives people strength to do what is difficult.

So where does this leave us?

God, being good, always has a plan. In his love for Zelenskiy and for Trump, their plan did not go any further. It was exposed before either could act on it. Zelenskiy wants to point out that he hasn’t contacted his prosecutor, and he wants to tell the world that his prosecutor is professional, and educated in the west, because Zelenskiy knows what is ethical and what isn’t, but that isn’t the part that the media is interested in. It’s too late now, and it shows he knew exactly where the problem was.

And as a side note, I will say that the era we are living in is one of revelation. What is spoken in secret is being proclaimed from the rooftops. All manner of wrong-doing is coming to light, and we are discovering that so many powerful and admired people have done so much that is wrong. It is good for all of this truth to be revealed. Sometimes, contrition doesn’t even begin until sins are exposed. Now is the time for people to be contrite; now is the time for people to admit what they have done wrong.

God’s immediate plan for Zelenskiy is for him to apologize. Zelenskiy knows that what he did was wrong. He was wrong to agree to cooperate with Trump’s plan. He should apologize to Ukraine. This apology will be more difficult than saying ‘no’ to Trump in the first place, but it would be the best starting point. And besides, being who he is, Zelenskiy would be able to apologize well. He could show the world how it should be done. God knows the world has heard too many bad apologies.

But I don’t think he will apologize. In his pride, he wants to pretend it didn’t happen, or make light of it. So that is a moral failing on top of a moral failing.

But that is not all of God’s plan for him. The second part of God’s plan is is for him to continue to fight corruption, but now he must do so with more humility. The world knows that he agreed to do what was corrupt himself, when the benefits were great, and the conversation was secret. His fight against corruption will be consequently harder, because it will always seem somewhat hypocritical. And he will not have the help that he would have received if he had acted heroically.

But that is not all of God’s plan. Zelenskiy did not allow himself to be a hero, so God will use him as an example.