Fiona Hill: “Our democracy is on the precipice right now”


Before one of Russia’s top American experts testified at Donald Trump’s (first) impeachment hearing, his legal advisor’s colleagues groomed her not just on what to say, but what to say. what it should look like. How to minimize distractions from your outfit; how to style her hair; how to avoid shivering in the cold room of Congress.

This is how Fiona Hill begins her new book, There is nothing here for you: finding opportunities in the 21st century. Hill had worked as senior director of European and Russian affairs in Trump’s National Security Council. Her testimony at the impeachment hearing made headlines: she spoke about the extent to which Trump tried to use U.S. foreign policy for domestic policy purposes in Ukraine.

Hill is the daughter of a coal miner turned hospital porter and nurse in the North East of England. She went to St Andrews University, then Harvard, then the White House, writing many books on Russia along the way. His latest article is about his experience with national security and Trump, but also the different types of inequalities that shape our lives and our societies. It’s about the odds she beat – and Trump used – to get to the White House.

I told Hill that I had been pleasantly surprised to see a high profile woman draw attention to the pressures of being a woman in the workplace. How, I asked, did she decide to start her book with that?

“I’m a woman in all of this,” she told me. His book, and even his story, is not just about Russian politics. It’s also about dealing with the threat of sexual harassment, the gender pay gap and how women learn to dress to be taken seriously at work. Trump “never listened to me because I’m a woman,” she said. The former president mistook her for a secretary, and some of his colleagues called her “Russia’s bitch.”

“Being a woman matters a lot,” Hill said. And in the book, she “just wanted to explain how being a woman can be a barrier.”

That’s not to say it doesn’t include Hill’s area of ​​professional expertise; It does. “Russia is the phantom of America’s Christmas future, a harbinger of things to come if we cannot adjust course and heal our political polarization,” she wrote. During our interview, she admitted that there was “no equivalence” between the two. But both have very powerful presidencies, she said, and that Russia doesn’t have much else in terms of political institutions is a warning to the United States.

Regarding Joe Biden’s policy towards Moscow, Hill told me he took care of the Mountain peak with Vladimir Putin in the “best possible way”. However, she said the fundamental problem is still that the United States wants to find a way so that Russia is not a problem, while Russia must remain a problem for the United States, both for mobilization. internal and to have common ground with China. “We want them to go, and they can’t afford to go,” she said. “Biden is at an impasse. “

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Her experience on the National Security Council is also in the book – she says, for example, that she was vilified as a ‘Soros mole’. She worries about the rise of conspiracy theories and their hold on the American public.

“I don’t see it getting any better,” she said, pointing to the “giant conspiracy theory that we are living now” – namely, January 6 and the storming of the US Capitol by supporters. of Trump who wanted to stop the recognition of Biden’s Victory in the 2020 presidential election.

But the main thing she wants people to take away from the book, she writes, is that “opportunities don’t come out of nowhere and no one does anything alone.” It’s the complete opposite of Trump’s myth of being a self-made man. The former president had a father who could give him a million dollar start, she pointed out. “Most people don’t.”

This is true in the UK, where, as Hill testified in 2019 and as she writes in her book, class and region of origin means she wouldn’t have had the opportunities that she found in the United States. Prior to joining the Trump administration, she served on the National Intelligence Council and led research projects at Harvard. She is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank.

Boris Johnson’s government is promoting a “race to the top” idea, aimed at improving results everywhere while reducing inequalities between regions. “Department of Leveling Up looks like something Monty Python,” Hill said, adding that it couldn’t be accomplished by central government alone. On the contrary, it required “the full participation of the communities”.

And so it is certainly the same in the United States, where Biden’s infrastructure and reconciliation bills, which would pour billions of billions into roads and bridges, education and health care, are currently. retained in Congress.

“I think Biden understands,” Hill told me. “I don’t think the rest of his party got it.”

Of Biden’s slogan ‘Build Back Better’, she said, “I think Biden is using it as a motivational message. However, she doesn’t know exactly what we aspire to get back to.

“Back to what we were before?” Where is before? We haven’t solved many of our problems. These were the problems, she said, that Trump exploited.

“’Rebuild better’, ‘we’re back’, ‘Global Britain’ – these are all aspirations,” she told me. What we need is concrete action. She doesn’t think everyone should show up for Congress. But she thinks there is a need for greater connection within communities; that we need journalism in which people can “see themselves”; and that access to education is extremely important. She concludes her book in a somewhat unconventional way, with a list of recommended steps for teachers, students, young professionals, and those in senior positions to act as mentors.

Hill also thinks we need to come to grips with what we just went through. Which brings us back to the United States Capitol.

In the United States, there is a public debate on whether the country should move on from January 6. Mitch McConnell, who heads the Republican minority in the Senate, thinks he should. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, appearing in a popular daytime talk show View, said that while she thought what happened on January 6 was bad, it was time for lawmakers to “move forward in several ways.”

And Colline?

“We don’t need to ignore it at all,” she said, calling the day a “foundational event”.

“It’s an indicator, for me, of how far we’ve fallen,” she continued. “Our democracy is on the brink of a precipice right now.”

And we have to see where we are, and how far we’ve fallen, and how far we collectively could fall again, before we can back off the ledge.

[See also: Ambassador Daniel Fried: The Biden administration should want a strong Poland in a strong Europe]

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