By Thomas Adcock
Copyright 2020-Thomas Adcock
NEW YORK CITY, near America
As I write on this final day of January, it appears that Donald Trump will be found not guilty in his so-called impeachment trial in the upper chamber of the United States Congress. Despite the dishonest verdict—orchestrated by a once grand old American political party, now destined to live in infamy—I encourage a cheerful view: Donald Trump is toast.
In this bleak moment, my outlook may be considered Pollyannaish. But as surely as the calendar moves forward to Election Day in November, this shabby man with a face the color and texture of candied orange rinds—he, along with all the president’s henchmen—will ripen to removable garbage.
The great Orange Exit is upon us—at last. And in the putrid wake of Mr. Trump’s regime of fellow incompetents, ignoramuses, bigots, racketeers, misogynists, and perverts, questions for the American people are these:
• Do we allow ourselves the dubious luxury of a long nap after three exhausting years of greed, vulgarity, and determined cruelty?
• Do we simply say good-bye to those on the public payroll who performed as accessories to a Trumpian crime wave—happy enough to bid them good riddance, failing to make them accountable to the law?
• Do we remain oblivious to Donald J. Trump’s red-capped, mouth-breathing cult of flag fanatics, gun zealots, nazis, klansmen, bird flippers, bikers, and bible bangers who believe the initial “J.” stands not for John but for Jesus?
• Do we ignore a fresh search for a new and equally useful idiot, a search now surely commenced by the usual suspects—Wall Street money-changers, fascist foreign potentates, and the gaggle of corporate barflies at Mar-a-Lago and in the saloons of Manhattan?
• Do we likewise avert our gaze from invertebrates of a prostituted Republican Party, men and women who have swallowed the Kool-Aid and gargled the bald lies of Trumpian true-believer pathology?
Or, do we seize the moment—occupandi temporis—and recognize an opportunity for American Reformation?
Do each of us citizens here in the world’s longest continuous democracy find individual paths to aiding the founding cause of our country—“a more perfect union,” as set forth in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution?
Do we, both in political leadership and among the polity, seek means of contributive action in the spirit of what our Declaration of Independence says of our civic rights—“life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?”
Do we arise from the shallow comfort of our couches to tell a worried world, “I refuse to live in a country like this, and I am not leaving?”
Our choice is cynicism versus optimism, lethargy versus militancy. Which side are you on?
About that aforementioned sham trial:
In the early afternoon of January 21, the U.S. Senate raised the curtain on a staged mash-up of theatrical genres—paranoia, absurdity, existential anxiety, surrealism, and political satire.
Officially speaking, this was opening day in the trial of Mr. Trump, impeached in December by the lower chamber of Congress—the House of Representatives, controlled by its Democratic Party majority. The House charged Mr. Trump with two counts of violating the Constitution: abusing the enormous power of his scandal-plagued presidency, and defying Congress by quashing the release of injurious testimony and documents from authorized government investigators. To wit:
• Donald Trump attempted to bribe Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by withholding U.S. military aid amounting to $400 million (€363 million), critically needed to combat Russia’s ongoing armed invasion of his country. Release of those congressionally appropriated funds, according to the House impeachment charge, was dependent on Mr. Zelensky’s public announcement of an investigation into corporate corruption in his country, in which a leading Democratic presidential candidate in this year’s presidential election could be seen by Mr. Trump’s propagandists as tangentially involved.
• Mr. Trump issued a blanket gag on testimony before congressional oversight committees from administration officials with direct knowledge of the president’s criminal use of taxpayer money as a bargaining chip for his personal gain. Ditto the documentary evidence of perfidy.
Accurately speaking, the “trial” was a farce designed by Senate Republicans to camouflage the willful destruction of American political norms—established by the impeachments of Presidents Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998; and during an impeachment process against President Richard Nixon forty-seven years ago, aborted when the late Mr. Nixon was shamed into resigning his office.
Were he with us today and desperate for a freelance job work, crass hackery though it be, the most capable candidate for scripting the Senate’s malignant pomp would be Franz Kafka (1883-1924), the German-speaking, Prague-born novelist and master of all the foregoing dark literary themes.
Among the works of Herr Kafka is, fittingly, an allegorical novel—“The Trial.” Published posthumously in 1925 under the original German title “Der Prozess,” Mr. Kafka’s prescient novel concerns mysterious devotion to corrupt authority, debouched judicial rhetoric, and the bizarre nature of the powerful. The novel’s protagonist, Josef K., asks us now, and for the ages: “To what authority did they belong…Were there objections which had been forgotten?…All I want is public discussion of a public outrage.”
In lieu of the late Mr. Kafka, we have the script plotted by one Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr.
As commander of the Senate’s dominant Republican caucus, Mitch McConnell—one-time Kentucky state judge and later assistant U.S. Attorney General, frequently mocked for his turtle-like appearance—is mysteriously devoted to Dear Leader. Prior to Mr. Trump’s assuming office, the Senate boss used all available dilatory tactics, over the course of nearly two years, to prevent then-President, Barack Obama from appointing the well-respected non-ideologue Merrick Garland to a vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
This allowed the anticipation of a Republican president to lard the nation’s highest court with yet more Republicans, opening the floodgates to a larger and scary right-wing menu: Mr. Trump has made some one hundred and fifty lifetime appointments of brash young right-wingers to federal courts throughout the land, a disturbing number of them rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association.
Empowered by procedural rules and his command status, the former jurist McConnell ruled that Mr. Trump’s Senate trial would be devoid of witnesses and documents pertaining to newly discovered, highly convincing evidence of Mr. Trump’s criminal conduct. The ruling was an act of Kafkaesque irony. Trials of any sort—whether held in civil or criminal court, or in the political context of impeachment—consist of nothing but witness testimony and documents.
The world of Facebook seems to grasp the significance of trial witnesses, even if Republicans and their leader do not. A popular meme just now has Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán—convicted last year in New York federal court on charges of money laundering, kidnapping, and murder in connection with narcotics trafficking—complaining he got a raw deal.
Absent the business of trial mechanics in the longstanding American tradition of (ideally) even-handed litigation, the wheels of injustice moved quickly. The Senate leader’s drive toward the speedy acquittal of a reprehensible president was transparent: “Everything I do during this [trial], I’m coördinating with the White House,” Mr. McConnell admitted in a television interview prior to the sham. “There is zero chance that Donald Trump will be removed from office.”
The whisperings of Washington wags find it odd that a man who looks as if he might possess the DNA of a turtle would be so keen on moving so rapidly to end a trial of such consequence. Further irony: Mr. McConnell and his Republican comrades insisted that the House was fatally deficient in its indictment rôle due to the paltry number of witnesses and documents it was able to call for its December proceedings. Republicans, of course, fail to note the House was crippled by the Trump administration’s refusal to honor subpoenas for testimony and documents.
Throughout the rigged trial, Donald Trump was widely reported to have slept fitfully in the White House bedroom he does not share with his wife. Measured by the volume and timing of his Twitter messages—a slew of them shot forth during prime time television broadcast hours, another slew at midnight on into the tiny hours, and an execrable dump at dawn whilst performing his toilette—the president slept, and sleeps barely a wink.
Calling Herr Kafka!
Alan Dershowitz. Meshugganah?
The lowest note of rhetoric in the pseudo-trial was struck by a Harvard University emeritus professor of law and über high-profile defense attorney and TV talking head whom many in the American legal universe believe has lost his mind. Accordingly, Professor Alan Dershowitz led the Republican juris prudential cheerleading for Donald Trump.
Notwithstanding the purpose of America’s colonial-era revolt from the tyranny of monarchical rule by Great Britain, Mr. Dershowitz argued that a U.S. president may legitimately behave as a king—so long as he, in the case of Mr. Trump, believes it best for his subjects. Bottom line, full stop, according to Alan Dershowitz: The greasiest means justify the most odious ends, a code of fractured ethics that Mr. Trump has spent a lifetime mastering.
In the penultimate moment of trial, consider what Mr. Dershowitz said on the hallowed Senate floor: “[I]f a president did something that he believes will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot [result] in impeachment.”
In further defense of inflated personal belief, Mr. Dershowitz added this paraphrase of presidential reasoning, which sounds as if client Trump had dictated the wording: “’I want to be elected. I think I’m a great president. I think I’m the greatest president there ever was, and if I’m not elected, the national interest will suffer greatly.’ That cannot be an impeachable offense!”
Alan Dershowitz is not necessarily a stupid old man, but at the age of 81 he may well be prone to memory loss. An elderly fellow tends to forget a fair number of things, small and large. The Harvardian mouthpiece has apparently forgotten a central tenet of our American Revolution, as truthfully defined by late-night TV comedian Stephen Colbert: “Only the public gets to decide what’s in the public interest, not the politicians. It’s ‘We the People,’ not you, douchebag!”
It is useful to remind ourselves how We the People can turn on a political dime, per the example of our regard for Richard Nixon (1913-1994). The impeachment process against the former president began in October 1973, at which time his public approval rating was sixty-eight percent, according to a Gallup poll. In his landslide reëlection victory of November 1972, Mr. Nixon won voter pluralities in forty-nine of America’s fifty states.
By August 1974, disgraced by the clear evidence of his crimes, Mr. Nixon was sent slithering along on his shabby way at the suggestion of bona fide conservatives—specifically, a delegation of Republicans who believed in conserving constitutional principles.
Were this year’s presidential election held today, major and even minor Democratic candidates—Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, and Tom Steyer—would all defeat Donald Trump, according to polling by the New Jersey-based, nonpartisan SurveyUSA. Margins of victory over Mr. Trump range from nine to two percent.
—Then, of course, Mr. Trump could act true to weasel form. Like Mr. Nixon, he could engineer a presidential pardon and resign. Unlike Mr. Nixon, he would proudly do so as a martyr to twin forces arrayed against him: the impeachment “hoax,” as he calls it, and the “fake” news media. Resignation could begin with his all-too-predictable post-trial Vindication Tour, in which he will soon jet from city to city to madly shout at his dwindling cult of admirers.
Worthy of optimistic mention, to be sure, is a growing national effort by modern-day conservatives interested in conserving things—the Lincoln Project. Named for the nation’s first Republican president, the iconic Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), this committee of former Republican White House officials and operatives urges today’s Republican voters to cast their November ballots for whomever the Democrats nominate. One of the committeemen is both close to and vociferously opposed to the Trump regime—George Conway, husband to Kellyanne Conway, shrieking blonde media counselor to the president.
On this final day of January, Mr. Conway took to Twitter to blast the corrupt Senate trial: “The president’s lawyers this week floated their catch-all impeachment defense, one tailor-made for [Trump]…in essence that a narcissistic president can do no wrong.”
For the historical record, House Democrats were eloquent in their minority arguments against the foregone conclusion of the repugnant Republican Senate trial. None were more eloquent than Representative Adam Schiff of California, dismissed by the childish tweeter-in-chief as “Shifty Schiff.”
A former federal prosecutor and graduate of Mr. Dershowitz’s own Harvard Law School, Mr. Schiff chaired the House committee that authored the impeachment charges against the president. He required no little-boy schoolyard taunts to call out the bully president.
He simply said, “You don’t realize how important character is in the highest office of the land until you don’t have it.”
And to the smirking faces of his Republican senatorial counterparts, Mr. Schiff said, “If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost. If truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost.”
During an August 2016 campaign rally in Albany, New York, then Republican presidential candidate Trump bellowed, “We’re going to win! We’re gonna (sic) win so much you may even get tired of winning, and you’ll say—Please, please, Mr. President, it’s too much winning! We can’t take it!”
Mr. Trump has scored an impressive string of what he counts as winning:
• The first of his three wives accused Donald Trump of marital rape, then recanted and has remained silent ever since, per a non-disclosure agreement attached to the couple’s divorce decree.
• Though often portrayed as an astute businessman, Mr. Trump’s corporate bankruptcy rate is extraordinarily high.
• As a New York landlord in the 1970s, Donald Trump won the right to admit no guilt in the multi-million dollar settlement of a federal civil rights lawsuit.
• Likewise, he won the right to admit no guilt in the multi-million settlement of New York State litigation against his fraudulent “Trump University.”
• He won election in 2016 despite the accidental release of an audio tape in which he prided himself as a sexual assailant…
I could go on, but the point is clear.
A running tab maintained by the Washington Post reports that Donald Trump has, to date, told 16,241 lies in the three years since his sparsely attended presidential inauguration in January 2017. He has, however, told one important truth: As he told the campaign assembly in Albany, “Please, please, Mr. President, it’s too much winning! We can’t take it!”
Indeed, we cannot. Such “winning” is exhausting and revolting.
We are not lost, not yet.
We have much business to attend in repairing a society damaged and blasphemed by Donald Jesus Trump.
Right and truth and character are indeed still important, as most of my fellow Americans are painfully aware—indeed, as all the world is aware—and these things are far stronger than Mr. Trump; stronger than the dissolute Republican Party.
There is a wonderful old tune in the American songbook that comes to mind—“The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” its lyrics were written in 1861 by the abolitionist Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910). Ms. Howe speaks to judgment of the wicked:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on…
—Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag