The U.S. ambassador to Denmark during the second term of the Obama Administration was a wildly popular fellow named Rufus Gifford.
Gifford began his career in show biz, where he worked as an assistant producer on several films and appeared as Dog Owner #1 in Garfield: the Movie.
Having thus conquered Hollywood, he made the lateral move into politics, working in behind-the-scenes campaign roles first for John Kerry in 2004, then for Barack Obama in 2008. Following Obama’s victory, he served as the DNC’s financial director for a few years before taking a similar role on Obama’s re-election campaign. He was sworn in as America’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Denmark in January 2013.
Danes couldn’t have liked him any better if he’d been served to them on a slice of rye bread and covered in herring. He was photogenic, friendly, and said all the right things about all the right subjects. He was the man American media described as “Obama’s unofficial ambassador to the gay community” and married his partner Stephen in Copenhagen’s town hall to great fanfare in 2015.
Gifford became a celebrity in Denmark, and even got his own television show: Jeg er ambassadøren (“I am the ambassador”). Two seasons. Ten episodes. On taxpayer-funded DR.
The show was produced and broadcast while he was still serving as ambassador. (And if you follow the link above, you can watch all ten episodes from the DR archive.) It won the “Big Character of the Year” award at the 2015 Copenhagen Film Festival.
The job requirements of an American ambassador to a little country like Denmark, however, are more or less those articulated by Spencer Tracy for actors: know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.
The role of an American Ambassador is the promotion of American policy and interests, not the promotion of the American Ambassador’s interests. The two are not mutually exclusive: one could argue that Gifford was promoting American interests with his populist approach: surely, the luster of his popularity—his celebrity—would rub off on America, so in that way at least he would be providing a diplomatic service of value. (“Gosh, I like that Rufus Gifford; America must be a wonderful country to have produced a man like him!”) However, by making his ambassadorship so very much about himself, whatever value his popularity was providing for America was tied up with his own personality: remove Gifford, and whatever halo effect he’d been providing disappears along with him.
But there was another problem with Gifford: he clearly shared his boss’s love affair with social media. I’d been following the U.S. Embassy in Denmark’s Facebook account for several years by the time Gifford was sworn in, and had barely noticed it. Once Gifford took over, however, the account was practically spamming my feed. Gifford wasn’t just using Facebook to promote American policy and interests, he was using it to promote Barack Obama, and to promote the positions of the Democratic minority in Congress, and, of course, to promote himself. The posts coming from the U.S. Embassy weren’t just excessive in number: they were often more political than diplomatic.
Possibly I was oversensitive to this, so let’s be generous and say that only a fraction of the posts that I perceived as political actually were. Even so, the sheer volume of posts meant that there were still a considerable number of purely political messages hitting my feed, and the feeds of anyone else following the Embassy on Facebook.
It didn’t horrify, disgust, or outrage me, but it annoyed me.
So when I saw this headline on DR.dk, I assumed Gifford’s partisan and self-aggrandizing approach to the post had finally caught up with him:
Warned 11 Times: Former US Ambassador Charged with Legal Violations, Louise Brodthagen Jensen, DR.dk, February 20
I should have known: the article’s not about Rufus Gifford, but his Trump-era replacement, Carla Sands.
Sands also came to politics by way of Hollywood: you can see her as Carissa in the 1988 feature film Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell. You can see quite a lot of her, actually: as she was taking up office in December 2017, the Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet actually ran an article about her work in that movie: “New USA Ambassador to Denmark Was Nude in Film.” (Her nude scene is embedded in the article, if you’re curious.)
She abandoned Hollywood for the glitter of life as a chiropractor, then married a rich real estate guy. From there she followed a path similar to Gifford’s: she got into the money side of Republican politics, became a fundraiser for Trump, and was rewarded with an ambassadorship to Denmark.
But let’s get back to the DR article. Here’s how it opens: :
Despite a series of warnings and reminders, Carla Sands deliberately continued to support and advance the interests of the Republican Party while serving as Ambassador to the official United States in Denmark.
In doing so, the former US ambassador has violated a law that exists to prevent her, as the official representative of the United States, from using her office for partisan political purposes.
That’s the conclusion of a report by the body responsible for investigating violations of the 80-year-old Hatch Act legislation.
The investigative body is currently investigating a number of violations of the law committed by several officials who worked in the former Trump administration, according to Politico.
Several of the Trump administration’s ministers and close advisers have also been accused in the past of violating the law, without immediate consequences other than sharp criticism.
I will grant her the presumption of innocence to which she’s entitled, but I’d be surprised if Sands were in fact innocent of these charges. I have no doubt that, to a greater or lesser degree, nearly every American Ambassador to every country has used their role to promote their boss and their party, directly or indirectly.
But I have a very hard time accepting that her own violations are being investigated while Gifford’s transgressions of the same law have been completely ignored. This despite transgressions that were flagrant and obvious and are still dangling out there on Facebook and Twitter and Gmail, and in snippets of a Danish reality television show produced by the same company that published this article.
The logic is obvious: Obama was good, and Democrats are good, so promoting them is good, and nobody wants to enforce laws against people who are promoting good things. Republicans are bad, and Trump was bad, so promoting them is bad. The laws have to be enforced against them.
It’s just another stupid verse of the same old stupid song: America is no longer a nation of laws. We’re a nation of people who decide what laws should apply to what people, and people who have the laws applied to them whether they like it or not.
Call for demonstrations against Biden, and you’re flagged as an insurrectionist and purged from social media. Call for demonstrations against Trump, and you’re a hero of the resistance.
Throw Molotov cocktails at occupied cop cars in the name of the Black Lives Matter movement, get caught red-handed, and you can look forward to being bailed out of jail by a Hollywood celebrity or a vice-presidential candidate, and having all charges dropped. Show up in Washington D.C. to contest the 2020 election, and you’re added to no-fly lists and doxxed all over the internet, even if you were miles away from the mess at the Capitol Building.
Talk about sending in the national guard to protect cities that are literally on fire, and where actual insurrectionists have declared autonomous zones, and where people are being raped and killed in street violence, and you’re a fascist dictator. Put the nation’s capital under military occupation on the basis of a single riot (where not a single person was raped or lost their lives at the hands of the rioters), and you’re a great unifier.
To be clear: I’m not calling for conservatives or libertarians who break the law to be cleared of charges simply because leftists breaking the same law have been; I’m calling for the return of a quaint little principle called equality under the law. By all means, throw the book at Carla Sands.
Then throw it just as hard at Rufus Gifford.
The best part of the article is that it includes a “lighting analysis” by DR’s ace U.S. correspondent Steffen Kretz, who helps us understand the issue in its most important context: how it will effect Joe Biden. Here’s a delicious excerpt:
It’s only four weeks ago that Biden moved into the White House. The first two weeks came down to a political showdown with his predecessor in the form of an impeachment trial. The last thing Biden probably wants now is to throw himself into political archeology: to dig into the Trump-era breach of etiquette, traditions, and rules.
I don’t think a president who starts his term with a military occupation of the capital, and whose own administration is telegraphing its intent to treat political adversaries as domestic terrorists, is losing much sleep over anyone’s breaches of etiquette, traditions, or rules.
But there are indications that President Biden will not escape. For his fellow Democrats in Congress are eager to expose and convict the violations of abuse of power that they believe people in the Trump administration have been guilty of – including Trump’s ambassador to Denmark, Carla Sands.
They’re not interested in anything but retribution and vengeance, because that’s what their base is demanding of them.
The argument is that if the Biden administration simply glosses over these cases, then it will be an invitation for the same thing to happen again: officials will abuse their platforms to conduct politics. And it will undermine Americans’ already slightly shaky faith in the federal government.
Kretz is apparently going for some kind of award for lifetime achievement in understatement. And is he suggesting that allowing ambassadors to continue shilling for their president and their party will do more to diminish Americans’ faith in government than a series of retributive prosecutions?
The Nagan Boomerang Principle comes to mind: does anyone think for a minute that if the Democrats persist in these kinds of retributive investigations, Republicans won’t return the favor the next time they’re in power?
So Biden is in a dilemma. He wants to help Americans “rediscover the soul of the nation” and restore respect for the United States, but can that happen if, at the same time, one closes one’s eyes to cases of possible abuse of power? Probably not.
This is exceptionally disingenuous, even for DR’s ace U.S. correspondent.
The problem isn’t that there were widespread abuses of power by Republicans: it’s that what Democrats are calling “abuses of power” are standard operating procedure for Democrats as well as Republicans.
Biden also promises that he will reunite the nation, reach out to political opponents and reach compromises. Can that happen while his government is suing the Trump people?
Like all American presidents, Joe Biden’s arrived at the point where he’d like to shape the agenda with political action. And like all his predecessors, Biden will discover that it’s to a large extent events that are going to shape his time as president.
Dragging political opponents to court isn’t an “event” like a drought or an earthquake. It’s not even like a market crash or a financial bubble. It’s something that requires very specific and direct human agency. If Biden doesn’t want political opponents punished with kangaroo courts, he can stop it.
What he seems to want is to let it happen without having to take any blame for it.