From left, Daniel Goldman, director of investigations for the House Intelligence Committee Democrats, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif, the ranking member, Steve Castor, the Republican staff attorney, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, listen to testimony as the panel holds the first public impeachment hearings.
CNN  — 

This was originally published in the November 14 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Sign up here to receive it every weekday morning.

This is what the duel for America’s political soul looks like.

In the first televised hearings of the House impeachment inquiry, Democrats framed Donald Trump as a selfish President, twisting foreign policy to prey on a weaker nation for his own political ends. In striking contrast, they chose as their first witnesses two dutiful diplomats – Bill Taylor and George Kent – who have devoted their lives to a traditional vision of US leadership and furthering US values.

In the same hearing room, but on the other side of the ideological divide, California Republican Devin Nunes painted those veteran foreign service officers differently – as envoys from a “political bureaucracy” that schemes to block the will of the President and all the Americans who voted for his “America First” creed.

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And over at the White House, Trump boasted about the “honor” of welcoming his latest strongman visitor – Recep Tayyip Erdogan – just weeks after clearing the way for the Turkish President to attack America’s Kurdish allies in northeastern Syria.

Ever sensitive to the preferences of authoritarians, Trump also asked for only “friendly” questions from the Turkish press pack. (In Turkey, prison awaits those who ask other kinds of questions.)

The struggle between traditional American values like rule of law and freedom of speech and Trump’s populist instincts and ruthless transactional posture abroad is a leitmotif of his presidency. The impeachment saga will go a long way to deciding which version of America the world sees in future.