I’ve been accused (more than once) of overthinking everything. That accusation is often valid. I tend to overthink some stuff because it’s amusing to me and because it reminds me that everything is connected.
For example, this photograph. It’s just a cat sleeping in a patch of sunlight. Nothing significant, nothing particularly interesting in itself. But if you overthink it, it links together a series of at least ten seemingly unrelated facts.
FACT 1: I belong to an online global collective of photographers called Utata. This group, which has over 30,000 members, creates a variety of photographic ‘challenges’ or projects for its members to participate in. One of the current challenges involves photographing a collection of seven related things.
FACT 2: Pomegranates originated in a historical region called Mesopotamia which occupied the ancient Near East and Western Asia.
FACT 3: The cat that lives here likes to sleep in patches of radiant heat. On winter days, to please the cat, I open the front door to allow the sun to shine in.
FACT 4: For more than three thousand years, Aramaic was one of the prominent languages of the ancient Near East, which included regions of Mesopotamia.
FACT 5: A balustrade is a railing, often ornamental, supported by individual short posts or columns, which are called balusters.
FACT 6: Near the front door, where the cat likes to sleep in the winter sunlight, is a stairway leading to the basement; the stairway is protected by a balustrade.
FACT 7: The earliest examples of balustrades are found in sculptured Assyrian bas-relief murals, some of which have been dated back to a period between the 13th and 7th centuries B.C.
FACT 8: Assyria was an ancient Mesopotamian empire.
FACT 9: The term ‘baluster’ comes from the Aramaic balatz, which refers to the flower of the wild pomegranate. Balusters in the bas-relief murals had double curves, which resembled a half-opened pomegranate flower.
FACT 10: I noticed the cat sleeping in the sunlight from the open front door. The light illuminated seven of the balusters supporting the balustrade, meeting the requirements for the Utata photo challenge.
Does knowing those facts make this a better photograph? Nope. It’s still just a photograph of a cat sleeping in a patch of winter sunlight.
But surely you’ll agree there’s a certain delight in knowing that the cat is sleeping in a patch of sunlight beside a railing supported by posts that were originally named in an ancient almost-forgotten language because of their resemblance to the flower of a fruit that first grew in an empire that no longer exists.
Okay, Republicans, quō vādis and all that. Whither goest thou? To where are you marching? Where in the holy hell do you go from here? After a couple decades of shifting your focus away from policy and governance and investing almost exclusively in ‘owning the libs,’ what comes next? Where do you go when your party has lost control of both Congress and the presidency, and is now defined almost entirely by unquestioned subservience to a leader who’s been impeached twice? What comes after supporting the only president in U.S. history to foment a violent assault on the nation’s Capitol building? Seriously Republicans, quō fucking vādis?
Quick tangent. You may be asking, “Greg, old sock, why the Latin? Why quō vādis?” Because it’s appropriate in a couple of ways. First, it’s appropriate because most Republicans call themselves Christians, and the Latin phrase comes from a Biblical story. Well, sort of Biblical. It’s in the Acts of Peter, which is one of the apocryphal gospels. I’m going to resist the temptation to explain the apocryphal gospels, because that would require me to go off on a tangent within this current tangent. If you’re curious, do the research.
Second, the Latin is appropriate because of the lesson of the story. So, here’s the story. Around thirty years after Jesus got crucified, Peter, the apostle, goes to Rome to preach the gospel. While he’s there, he gets in a fuss with a guy named Simon Magus (again, if you’re interested, do the research), after which Peter decides it would be a good idea for him to leave town for a bit. Let the fuss die down. As he’s on his way, Peter meets Jesus toting a cross. Remember, Jesus had been dead for three decades at this point. Also, that cross? It talks. (I am NOT making that up; this talking cross may help explain why the Acts of Peter was shifted into the apocrypha). Anyway, Peter asks Jesus, “Quō vādis?” This is usually translated as “Whither goest thou?” or more simply, “Where are you going?” A more accurate translation, I’m told, would be “To where are you marching?” but the intent is the same. Jesus answers, “Rōmam eō iterum crucifīgī,” which means “I’m going to Rome to be crucified again.”
This is the Biblical lesson. Sometimes you need to stop, think about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, then turn around and get back to doing the good work you know you’re supposed to be doing. It gives Peter the courage to return to Rome and keep preaching. Unfortunately for Peter, he gets crucified on his return to Rome. Upside down, apparently.
So yeah, it didn’t end pretty for Peter, but the idea is still sound. The question and the answer are still important. Where are you going, Republicans? What’s your intended destination? What’s the purpose of your journey? What’s the nature of your good work? Where does the Republican Party go after they’ve attempted to overturn a fair election…and failed? Where do they go after they’ve shrugged off a violent insurrection?
Think about it. A hundred and twenty-one Republicans in the House objected to the Electoral College vote–and that was after the insurrection threatened their own safety. A hundred and ninety-seven of them voted against the second articles of impeachment. Forty-three of the fifty Republicans in the Senate voted to acquit Trump of inciting the insurrection–an insurrection that was not only intended to disrupt and/or stop the peaceful transfer of power to the legitimately elected president, but also threatened the lives of the next three people in the line of presidential succession.
The only good thing about this is that some Republicans are asking themselves about the future of their party. Susan Collins, the tower of Jello representing Maine, said this:
“I think we need to get away from the idea that the Republican Party is just one person and adherence to just one leader.”
She thinks that’s what the GOP needs. But her comment is a sad example of the very problem Republicans are facing. Instead of addressing the actual issue–instead of trying to figure out a viable future direction of the party–Republicans are concentrating their energy on whether or not they should remain faithful to an unfaithful, dishonest, failed former president. That simply reinforces the notion that they ARE a party of just one person, just one leader. Without Trump, the Republican Party is rudderless. Without Trump, there is…well, nothing.
Don’t forget, for the first time since 1854, the GOP didn’t bother to craft a party platform for a presidential 2020 election. They basically said their party platform was whatever Trump wanted at any given moment. There is no longer any traditionally conservative governing philosophy that unites Republicans and shapes their policy positions. There is absolutely nothing that moves the GOP forward except the entertainment value of “owning the libs.”
Do they try to regroup? If so, as what? As a traditional center-right conservative political party? Do they gather together and concoct a political party platform? Do they get caught up in some sort of political mitosis and split into two different political parties? Do they just continue to drift randomly, driven only by opposing whatever Democrats propose and the haphazard, arbitrary, volatile anger and resentment of their base? Do they organize and morph into a violent guerrilla insurrectionist movement?
I don’t have any answers. I know what I’d like. I’d like to see the GOP reform into a functioning organization with moderate, conservative values and policies I can oppose but still understand. I’d like them to be a traditional loyal opposition party. But that seems unlikely. Hell, nothing seems likely. No particular possible future seems more likely than any other; it all seems pretty aimless and accidental.
I haven’t a clue what comes next. But I’m genuinely curious, and a wee bit fearful.
Yesterday I came across a news item…wait, make that a ‘news’ item. I mean, there’s news, which is information important to me, and there’s ‘news’, which is information I might find momentarily interesting. Like, say, ‘sports news’ or ‘religious news’ or, in this case, ‘entertainment news’.
Yesterday I came across a ‘news’ item which informed me that the protagonist in a BBC/PBS show called (and I am not making this up) Miss Scarlet and the Duke was patterned after Miss Elizabeth Bennett (of Pride and Prejudice, I shouldn’t have to tell you that). You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire Miss Bennett. I’ve always been of the opinion that her keen observational skills coupled with her lively wit and plucky nature would make her an excellent detective.
So, of course, I determined to watch the show. Last night I watched the first episode. Let me just say this: I know Miss Elizabeth Bennett. Miss Bennett is a friend of mine. Miss Eliza Scarlet is no Miss Elizabeth Bennett.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The differences between the two characters are actually important to the narrative. Miss Bennett, of course, is a gentleman’s daughter; Miss Scarlet is the daughter of a police detective. In addition, Miss Bennett is the product of the Regency Era, whereas Miss Scarlet is firmly planted in the Victorian. Finally, the pace of Miss Bennett’s life is determined by the rhythms of a rural and village existence; Miss Scarlet lives in London. Those differences–in social class, in social status, in societal change over time, and in environment–radically expand the parameters of Miss Scarlet as a character.
Being a police detective’s daughter in Victorian London allows the character of Miss Scarlet access to most of the common tropes of the modern criminal investigation show. This is both unfortunate and very convenient. It’s convenient in that it makes the nature of the show familiar to the viewer; it’s unfortunate since the viewer knows pretty much what to expect.
And the first episode of Miss Scarlet and the Duke meets that expectation. There’s nothing new, nothing original, nothing surprising. Basically we have a 21st century woman protagonist set in 19th century London, with a nod toward a more historically restrictive patriarchal system. In other words, we have a generically plucky woman detective who has to 1) strive to be taken seriously, 2) overcome obstacles presented by the patriarchy, 3) defy gender norms, but only to a certain degree, and 4) establish her independence.
That said, I think we can all agree that you can’t judge a television series on the basis of the first episode. Or even the second or third. But you can, I think, get some idea of the nature of the show. And Miss Scarlet and the Duke gives every impression of being…pleasant. It wasn’t exciting, it wasn’t intriguing, it wasn’t compelling, it wasn’t even particularly interesting. It was a mildly entertaining diversion that doesn’t require much on the part of the viewer. It was…pleasant.
That’s not a criticism; there’s a need for mildly entertaining diversions, especially during a pandemic. So let’s take a look at that first episode.
WARNING — ENGAGE SPOILER ALERT SYSTEM. SPOILERS FOLLOW. STOP READING IF YOU WANT TO AVOID SPOILERS.
Because it’s the first episode, a certain amount of narrative has to be spent introducing the characters. It opens with Eliza being led by a street urchin to an unsavory part of London. She’s paying the kid to lead her to a dead body. Not any particularly dead body. Just a random dead person. Why? So she can…investigate something? The body appears to be that of a woman we assume to be a one-eyed prostitute. She is, in fact, one-eyed and a prostitute. She is not, however, dead. Only drunk.
As a scene, it makes absolutely no sense–unless Eliza has some sort of necro-curious fetish, which doesn’t seem likely from PBS. The point is to show she’s eager to prove herself to her father, a retired police detective turned private investigator. Eager, but inexperienced. And not very competent. Not only does she not get a dead body, she doesn’t get her money back from the urchin.
Her father would be horrified, but he doesn’t learn of the encounter because he’s nowhere to be found (ooh, suspense). He’s not at his office, and his police protégé (Chief Inspector William ‘Duke’ Wellington) hasn’t seen him. Eliza assumes he’s either working a case or drunk. He’s not. He’s dead.
Eliza returns home to find a stranger–a doctor, no less– and her dead father in the drawing room. This stranger found her father dead and apparently brought his body home. I suspect in a later episode we’ll learn there’s something odd about her father’s death (because that’s how the Mystery Story Universe works). Possibly the doctor is involved (the Mystery Story Universe is predictable).
Before she can even begin to mourn, Eliza encounters a prospective client looking for her father. Needing the money, she lies to him, telling him her father will accept the case. This is where the actual plot begins. Oh lawdy, the plot. Let’s dispense with the plot as quickly as possible; it’s convoluted, and the least interesting thing about the first episode.
The client, a man dying of some undisclosed illness, is looking for his estranged niece, Tilly, his last living relative. She married unwisely and was cast off by the family. Now that he’s dying and has an estate to dispose of, he wants to find her again. Eliza finds Tilly working as the human target for a knife-throwing act in an unsavory dance hall in Soho. Tilly confesses her uncle was right–her husband, a once-widowed actor, was only interested in her uncle’s fortune. When he learned she was disowned, he disappeared. She’s willing to meet and reconcile with her dying uncle.
Case closed! No, of course not. The dying uncle turns out to be–and, again, I’m not making this up–Tilly’s husband in a fake beard. He’d learned of the uncle’s death, and as her husband in Victorian England, he basically has control of the estate she inherited. He has the estate, but he has no need of a wife. And yet he decides FOR REASONS that he must find her. Does he return to Soho where he left her? No. Does he look for her? No. Instead, he puts on a disguise and hires somebody to find her. Does that make any sense? No. Doesn’t matter. When Eliza brings Tilly and her husband together, he removes his disguise, calls in a pair of ruffians, and has Ivy hauled off to be committed. Which allows him to control the estate he’s already controlling. I know, I know…just go along with this.
The husband pays Eliza her fee. She feels awful (girls have all these emotions), so she decides FOR REASONS to investigate the husband’s first marriage. She discovers his first wife wasn’t actually dead (gasp)! This makes him a bigamist. Eliza threatens him with arrest, he threatens to strangle her, but she’s had a maid lace his tea with laudanum, knocking him out. She then calls her friend Chief Inspector Duke Wellington, who arrests the husband and chides Eliza for being a girl doing police work. Why didn’t Eliza simply notify Duke of the husband’s crime and let the police arrest him, avoiding the need to 1) risk her life and 2) spike the man’s tea with drugs? REASONS, that’s why.
Tilly is released from wherever she was committed to and everybody is happy, except the Duke who insists Eliza shouldn’t investigate anything because she’s a girl. The end.
This sounds painfully bad…and it would be, if you were only interested in the plot. Or in the characters. But Miss Scarlet and the Duke is meant to be a confection. It’s a teacake, not a meal. It’s a show about Miss Scarlet’s costumes, and men with precise beards wearing bowler hats and long coats. It’s about stage sets depicting Victorian London, the drawing rooms, the taverns, the bawdy houses. It’s not meant to make you think.
Oh, Miss Scarlet takes on the patriarchy in a variety of non-threatening ways. She mocks the men for being protective and condescending, she out-thinks them, she finds a way around whatever attempts they make to keep her docile and biddable. The viewer understands that the patriarchy is awful, but isn’t it cute and clever how Eliza gets around it?
Only two scenes were potentially interesting, potentially dramatic. Eliza, in her search for Tilly, encounters Moses–the black man who ‘protects’ the women who work in the dance hall. There’s something awkward about the only person of color in the show being a criminal. But Eliza wants information about Tilly, Moses wants a bribe; she pays the bribe, he takes her coin purse. When he refuses to return the purse, Eliza flirts with him (Miss Elizabeth Bennett would have vapors). When Moses responds, Eliza quickly handcuffs him to a rail (a tangent: ratchet cuffs weren’t invented until the early 20th century). She then threatens to burn him alive unless he 1) returns the money and 2) tells her where to find Tilly.
The second scene was momentarily very distressing. Eliza is arrested during a raid on the dance hall where Tilly is employed. Three men take her by force to a room with an exam table, and are apparently about to ‘inspect’ her to see if she has a venereal disease. For a brief moment, there was nothing amusing or sugary about the show. Eliza quickly defuses the situation by claiming to be the preferred prostitute of Chief Inspector Wellington, who then rescues her. What was potentially traumatic and horrifying becomes somewhat comedic. Eliza is completely unfazed by that sexual assault.
Is Miss Scarlet and the Duke a good show? Not by most PBS standards. Is it worth watching? It’s a nice diversion. I’ll watch the next episode, if only for the set design and the costumes. Miss Scarlet knows how to wear a hat.
At the beginning of the 20th century W.W. Jacobs, a former post office clerk turned short story writer, published an anthology of his work — The Lady of the Barge. It was a collection of three types of stories: the misadventures of sailors ashore, celebrations of artful dodgers in slow-witted villages, and what were called ‘tales of the macabre’. Included in the collection was The Monkey’s Paw.
It’s the story of the White family — Mr. and Mrs. White and their son Herbert — who receive a visit from Sergeant-Major Morris, a villager who’d recently returned after 21 years spent in the British Army in India. Morris regales them with tales of “wild scenes and doughty deeds; of wars and plagues and strange peoples.” Mr. White had heard something about a mummified monkey’s paw.
“It had a spell put on it by an old fakir,” said the sergeant-major, “a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people’s lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it.”
Morris tells how he’d obtained the paw from its original owner. “I don’t know what [his] first two [wishes] were, but the third was for death.” He refuses to discuss his own wishes, but suddenly throws the paw into the White’s fireplace. Mr. White retrieves it over the Sergeant-Major’s objections. Later, Herbert encourages his father to use the paw and make a wish. Mr. White wishes for 200 pounds, the amount needed to pay of their home.
The following day Herbert goes to work at the nearby factory. The wish of the night before is forgotten. That evening a man from the factory arrives with the unfortunate news: Herbert was caught in the machinery and killed. The factory “admit no liability at all, but in consideration of your son’s services, they wish to present you with a certain sum as compensation.” It’s 200 pounds, of course.
Ten days later, after the funeral, Mrs. White insists her husband use the monkey’s paw to “wish our boy alive again.” He’s reluctant, but eventually gives in. Later that night, there’s a knock at the door. Mrs. White wants to answer it; her husband resists. She breaks away from him, he finds the monkey’s paw and “frantically breathed his third and last wish.”
The knocking stops. Mrs. White opens the door.
A cold wind rushed up the staircase, and a long loud wail of disappointment and misery from his wife gave him courage to run down to her side, and then to the gate beyond. The street lamp flickering opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road.
Why am I telling you about this 120-year-old story? Because yesterday, the House impeachment managers had a monkey’s paw moment. They wished for the power to call witnesses, and that wish was granted. But the wish came with an enormous price for interfering with fate.
I don’t believe in fate or destiny (or any other unchangeable, predetermined course of events) but I’m not innocent. I knew — we all knew — Republicans would vote to acquit Comrade Trump, the most mendacious and corrupt being ever to inhabit the White House. Evidence didn’t matter. We knew that. And most of us knew that if the Democrats used the monkey’s paw, there’d be a price to pay.
I wanted them to do it anyway. Almost everybody I know wanted them to do it anyway. When they didn’t call witnesses, most of us immediately assumed the Republicans played tough and the Democrats caved — because that’s been our experience. But in fact, we were all Mrs. White, wanting to resurrect the mutilated body of her dead son. We could have had witnesses. Maybe witnesses for weeks. Witnesses testifying to Trump’s appalling behavior. It would be so satisfying. It would be…well, profoundly stupid. No competent lawyer wants to put a hostile witness on the stand, even under oath. The risks are too great.
And now we’ve learned the Republicans threatened to filibuster Biden’s appointments and the Covid relief bill (and probably everything on the Biden agenda) if the House managers called witnesses. To call witnesses would have born out the fakir’s warning: those who interfered with [fate] did so to their sorrow. Even though I don’t belief in fate, I believe Jamie Raskin did the wise thing; he threw the monkey’s paw back into the fire.
And so things happened pretty much as we all expected. Senate Republicans did what we knew they’d do. It wasn’t fate, but it’s close enough that it makes no difference. Raskin didn’t use the monkey’s paw again; we didn’t get the 200 pounds to pay off our mortgage. But at least we didn’t end up with a ten-day-old mutilated corpse on our doorstep. So there’s that. Plus, the fact that seven Republicans showed a degree of honor and decency by refusing to follow the GOP lie is actually a sort of victory.
But lawdy, that mummified monkey’s paw is still awfully tempting.
I suppose by most metrics, this is a bad photograph. It’s dark, except for where it’s maybe a tad overexposed. There’s nothing special about it, it’s not terribly attractive. It’s just a blue plaid shirt hanging on a stairway post. But I was drawn by the narrow band of December light and the way it slid through the transom over the doorway and sidled up against the shirt.
I saw it originally from another angle, and was captivated enough to go fetch a camera. An actual camera, not my phone. I moved to this angle, squatted down to get the perspective right, shifted over just enough so that the windows in the neighboring house seen through the kitchen window were balanced, and made the shot.
It probably didn’t take more than 15-20 seconds. It’s a semi-casual shot of an utterly ordinary moment. Eggleston might call it a ‘democratic’ moment, though I didn’t photograph it in a democratically Eggleston way. I probably took 14-19 seconds longer than Eggleston would have. You can jam a lot of pretentious formality into 15-20 seconds. He was all about the unpretentious impermanence of everything, after all, and the revolutionary notion that art existed everywhere and anything was worthy of being photographed. I believe in that approach, but haven’t liberated myself from the tyranny of composition. There’s always, always, some level of thoughtfulness in anything I photograph.
After I shot the photo, I chimped it just long enough to see if I got what I was after. What was I after? The light, obviously. But also the darkness–the nothingness of the stairway in the center. There’s really not much to see in the photo; there’s the shirt, the window, the handrail, part of a closet door. What’s not there is as important as what is. I was pleased with the photo.
Then I put the camera down and basically forgot about the photo until yesterday. Yesterday I bought a new card reader and uploaded the half dozen images from the camera. Most of the images were crap and immediately deleted, but this one sparked the memory of the moment I’d shot it.
I don’t often spend time looking at the photos I shoot. I shoot them, review them at some point, process a few, delete most of them, then I post some of the few I’ve processed. That’s it. I’m not very interested in seeing the photo after I’ve finished it. But I looked at this one for a bit, thinking about Eggleston and the democratic eye and the way the light fell and the enigmatic darkness…and I realized I was being a pretentious dick. It was just a murky photograph of a blue plaid shirt.
I’ve had that blue plaid shirt since 2001. I didn’t buy it; I sort of inherited it. It belonged to one of the guys who worked for the moving company that shifted my stuff from a small apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to an old farm house in rural Pennsylvania. The shirt got left behind. I probably should have returned it, but the movers also walked away with my antique shepherd’s crook and a walking stick topped with a hand-carved morel mushroom made by my brother — so I figure they got the better end of the deal.
I’ve been wearing that guy’s shirt for two decades now. It’s a comfortable shirt. It’s a sort of utility shirt–a useful shirt, a practical shirt for knocking around in. I wear it around the house, I wear it when I go mushrooming in the Spring, I wear it like a light jacket when it’s chilly or breezy, I wear it to do yard work. It’s a shirt I don’t have to worry about; I don’t care if it gets snagged by thorns, I don’t care if it gets dirty, I don’t care if it gets stained. I don’t care because I didn’t buy it and even after two decades I tell myself it’s not really MY shirt.
But clearly, it is my shirt. After looking at that photo, I realized I’d taken other photographs that included that shirt. Of me wearing that shirt. Other folks had photographed me in that shirt. I realized how much time I’ve spent in that shirt. I realized I’ve grown fond of it. I realized I have a relationship with that shirt. I didn’t really know that; not until I stopped being a pretentious dick, thinking about that photograph as a photograph.
Which brings me back full circle to being a pretentious dick again. Howard Nemerov, the poet (and brother to photographer Diane Arbus) once wrote, “The camera wants to know.” I can’t really agree with that. I’m more inclined to agree with the Eggleston approach; the camera just wants to see. But sometimes the act of seeing helps the viewer to know.
This is what I know: I have a blue plaid shirt. It’s my shirt. I didn’t buy it, but I own that shirt. It belongs to me. Now that I know that, I’m going to try to forget it. Because if I think about it, it might change the way I wear the shirt, and I don’t want to do that. It’s a lived-in shirt, and it deserves to be lived in. I want to wear that shirt the way Eggleston shoots photographs.
Yesterday Congressman Jamie Raskin, the lead impeachment manager, sent Comrade Trump an email inviting him to testify at his impeachment hearing. The email was in response to Trump’s reply to the House’s trial memorandum (which I discussed earlier).
The email (which you can read here) began Dear President Trump, which I thought was nice. I doubt if Raskin really holds Trump dear, but the term is a traditional courtesy. And like my poor old momma always said, “It never hurts to be polite when you can.” Raskin then got right down to business. He wrote:
[Y]ou filed an Answer in which you denied many factual allegations set forth in the article of impeachment. You have thus attempted to put critical facts at issue.
You’re probably asking, “Greg, old sock, what critical facts would those be?” I’m glad you asked — although really, you need to stop calling me ‘old sock’. The trial memo basically said Trump “gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government” and “threatened the integrity of the democratic system” and “interfered with the peaceful transition of power” AND “imperiled a coequal branch Government.” He did all that by lying about the election results frequently and in public. Trump, in his response, basically said, “What? Me? No way. I didn’t do any of those things.”
Raskin, in his email, responded:
In light of your disputing these factual allegations, I write to invite you to provide testimony under oath, either before or during the Senate impeachment trial.
Again, very nice. Very polite. Trump is offered the opportunity to present his side of the events and defend himself. He can explain how he actually won the election. He can explain his phone calls to the Georgia secretary of state; he can explain what he meant when he said he wanted to ‘find’ those extra votes. He can explain his call for Vice President Pence to “do the right thing” and refuse to certify the election results. All he has to do is show up and testify under oath.
But…and we all know that it’s what comes after the ‘but’ that really matters…Raskin also included a bit of iron fist inside that velvet glove.
If you decline this invitation, we reserve any and all rights, including the right to establish at trial that your refusal to testify supports a strong adverse inference regarding your actions (and inaction) on January 6, 2021.
In other words, put up or shut up. Trump has the absolute right to present his side of the story. But in order to do that, he has to swear to tell the truth. If he refuses to take advantage of that opportunity — if he refuses to make, under oath, the same claims he’s been making in public speeches — then Raskin (and the Senate, and the public in general) is free to infer that Trump was, as we say in the justice system, a lying sack of shit.
A few hours after he received the email, to nobody’s surprise, Trump declined to accept Raskin’s polite invitation to testify.
You’re probably wondering, “Greg, old sock, can the Senate compel Mr. Trump’s testimony?” You bet your ass, they can. Once the trial starts, the Senate can vote to issue a subpoena to Trump (or any witness, for that matter). All it takes is a simple majority vote.
Let me amend that. I think he can be subpoenaed. Here’s the problem: in a criminal case, if the accused chooses to remain silent, the prosecution can’t call them as a witness; nobody can compel a criminal defendant to testify. In a civil case, defendants can be forced to testify. But an impeachment is neither a criminal nor a civil matter; it’s a legislative process. Trump hasn’t been criminally charged with a violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 2383, the federal crime of insurrection. But that IS the impeachment charge. So you bet your ass the Senate CAN subpoena him, but it’s not clear to me whether Trump could be compelled to actually testify.
My guess is that IF the Senate chooses to subpoena Trump (and I hope they do), his lawyers will do everything they can to quash the subpoena. That will require a hearing. Probably several hearings. And a lot of time — time that might be better spent passing President Biden’s legislative measures.
Would it be worth all that time and effort if Trump could be compelled to testify under oath? Historically, yes, absolutely. But is it worth it at the risk of disrupting Biden’s attempt to get the pandemic and the economy under control? Probably not.
I suspect we’ll be forced to settle for the ‘strong adverse inference’ that Trump’s refusal to testify under oath means he’s a lying sack of shit.
The House of Representatives has filed its trial memorandum, outlining the case it will present to the Senate in the looming repeachment trial of Comrade former-president Donald J. Trump. You can read the memorandum here.
You can also read the answering brief presented by Trump’s attorneys. His most recent attorneys, not the attorneys who quit over the weekend, or the attorneys who represented him in his last impeachment and declined to represent him in the repeachment. (Also, yes, I know, ‘repeachment’ isn’t an actual word, but I’d argue that we’ve never needed it to be a word because until now there’s never been anybody in US history who ever needed to be repeached.)
I’ve read both the House’s memorandum and Trump’s response. In order to save you the effort, I’ll summarize them here (I’m a goddamn saint, is what I am). But here’s the TL;DR version of Trump’s defense:
Run away, run away, fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!
First, the House managers set the stage, noting the US Constitution says the House of Representatives “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment” and that the President “shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
Trump’s response: admitted in part, denied in part, not relevant. Yes, the Constitution says Congress can impeach and try POTUS. But hey, guess what, Trump isn’t POTUS, and therefore it doesn’t apply to him.
Second, the managers say the Constitution prohibits any person who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against” the United States from holding any federal office.
Trump’s response: admitted in part, denied in part, not relevant. Yes, the Constitution says that, but Trump didn’t do any insurrectioning or rebelling. Also, he doesn’t hold any federal office, so there.
Third, the managers say Trump violated his constitutional oath to “faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
Trump’s response: denied, and irrelevant. They claim Trump totally faithfully executed his duties as POTUS, and he never ever not even once did any high Crimes or Misdemeanors. Also, he’s still not POTUS.
Fourth, the managers say Trump DID SO engage in high Crimes and Misdemeanors, on account of inciting violence against the government by repeatedly lying about the Presidential election results and telling folks the results shouldn’t be “accepted by the American people or certified by State or Federal officials.”
Trump’s response: admitted in part, denied in part, and irrelevant. Trump, they say, only exercised his First Amendment right “to express his belief that the election results were suspect.” Plus, there isn’t sufficient evidence to show that Trump knew his lies were lies, and besides, he believes them. Also? That First Amendment thing again.
Fifth, the managers point to Trump’s speech to the crowd at the Capitol ellipse, in which he repeated his lies, claiming “We won this election, and we won it by a landslide.”
Trump’s response: admitted in part, denied in part. Yes, Trump spoke to the crowd. Yes, he told them he’d won the election. But that was just Trump being Trump and expressing his opinion. First Amendment, and all that.
Sixth, the managers say Trump willfully made statements that “encouraged – and foreseeably resulted in – lawless action” at the Capitol building. That action resulted in an attempt to “interfere with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election.” You know, on account of all the rioting and violence and murder.
Trump’s response: admitted in part, denied in part. Yes, some people “unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol” and yes, “people were injured and killed.” But POTUS denies they did it on account of what he said. Also, Trump never “intended to interfere with the counting of Electoral votes.”
Seventh, the managers assert that Trump’s behavior on January 6, 2021 were part of “his prior efforts to subvert the certification of the results of the 2020 Presidential Election.” Those efforts included calling Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia Secretary of State, and urging him to ‘find’ enough votes to overturn the Georgia Presidential election results. Also, Trump sorta kinda threatened Raffensperger if he failed to ‘find’ those votes.
Trump’s response: admitted in part, denied in part, denied as irrelevant. Yes, Trump spoke to Raffensperger, but not to “subvert the certification of the results of the 2020 Presidential election.” He only wanted Raffensperger to do a really really really thorough count. Also, the term ‘find’ is taken out of context. Also too, Trump never really threatened Raffensperger. And besides, none of that matters because Trump still isn’t POTUS.
Eighth, the House managers assert that Trump, by doing all the shit he did, “gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government.” Also, he “threatened the integrity of the democratic system.” Also too, he “interfered with the peaceful transition of power.” Also too plus, he “imperiled a coequal branch Government” by sending murderous rioters to the Capitol building, none of which he should have done because it was a betrayal of his trust as President.
Trump’s response: Denied, and denied as irrelevant. Nope, Trump never endangered the security of the United States, never endangered its institutions of Government, never threatened the integrity of the democratic system, never interfered with the peaceful transition of power, never imperiled a coequal branch Government, and never betrayed his trust as President. In fact, Trump “performed admirably in his role as president, at all times doing what he thought was in the best interests of the American people.” Also, he’s still not POTUS, so this is irrelevant.
Trump’s current crop of lawyers sum up his defense, claiming 1) the Senate doesn’t have jurisdiction to try him because they can’t remove him from an office he doesn’t hold, that 2) the House denied him due process by impeaching him without giving him an opportunity to defend himself, that 3) even attempting to try him under those circumstances is equivalent to a bill of attainder (okay, quick note: a bill of attainder is a legislative act that declares a person guilty of a crime, and punishing them, without the benefit of a trial), and 4) the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court isn’t acting as the trial judge (which is true, because the Chief is only required to act as judge in an impeachment of a sitting president), and 5) the impeachment is constitutionally flawed because it includes multiple allegedly impeachable offenses in a single article (they seem to be suggesting there should be MORE articles of impeachment), and 6) there’s that whole First Amendment business, which is being ignored.
In other words, Trump is saying, “I didn’t do it. But even if I did do it, it was legal. And even if it wasn’t legal, you shouldn’t do anything about it. And even if you should do something about it, you can’t. It’s basically the Gingerbread Man defense.
Run away, run away, fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!
Comrade Trump has a new legal team. Another new legal team. A new new legal team. His original impeachment team declined to represent him in his repeachment, so he had to find a new legal team. Over the weekend, his new legal team walked away from him, which makes them his old new legal team. His new new legal team will probably defend him in his repeachment trial. I say ‘probably’ because this is Trump and who the hell knows?
The new new team revolves around two lawyers, David Schoen and Bruce Castor. These guys are taking a metric ton of shit about their previous clients and legal decisions. Castor, for example, was the prosecutor who initially chose NOT to prosecute Bill Cosby for drugging women and raping them. And Schoen? He represented Jeffrey Epstein, among others. He’s been quoted as saying the following:
“I represented all sorts of reputed mobster figures: alleged head of Russian mafia in this country, Israeli mafia and two Italian bosses, as well a guy the government claimed was the biggest mafioso in the world.”
Me, I don’t have a problem with that. In the US every accused criminal has the right to defend themselves, and every defense lawyer has an obligation to defend their client to best of their ability. The fact that Trump’s new lawyers worked with some other nasty folks doesn’t bother me at all. It’s the least interesting aspect of the looming repeachment.
I like the sound of that. The looming impeachment. [Okay, tangent: loom as a verb is entirely unrelated to loom as a noun. A loom, of course, is a weaving machine, and the term originates from the Old English geloma, meaning a utensil or tool. An heirloom is a crafted thing bequeathed to one’s heirs. Nobody is quite certain how loom as a verb meaning ‘to be imminent, especially in some menacing or threatening way’ came into being. Some folks think it’s from the East Frisian lomen, which meant “to move slowly” and was probably related to the way ships move in a harbor. Which is appropriate, since Trump’s repeachment is slowly coming to the dock — and lawdy, there’s another etymological rabbit hole.]
Anyway, what I find interesting about the repeachment is how Trump’s defense is being framed. Trump, it seems, wants his lawyers to focus on the same thing the rioters and insurrectionists focused on — the ridiculous claim that the election was stolen from him by fraud. That would require Trump’s lawyers to present a case based on lies, which would get them soundly spanked by the American Bar Association. Instead, Trump’s lawyers apparently want to challenge the constitutionality of the repeachment, claiming that it’s unconstitutional to impeach a president who’s no longer president. Most constitutional scholars describe that strategy as “a load of stinking bullshit.”
Steve Bannon, Trump’s recently-pardoned former adviser, has been suggesting Trump should lead the defense team himself. It’ll never happen, but lawdy, there’s part of me that would love to see that, because there’d be a really good chance of a Colonel Jessup / A Few Good Men moment. “You can’t handle the truth! We live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns!”
But no, that’s not going to happen. Still, what’s interesting is that neither defense approach really addresses the crime with which Trump is charged: incitement of insurrection. The sole article of impeachment accuses Trump of engaging “in high Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States.” Claiming “the election was stolen from me” may speak to Trump’s motives, but it isn’t a defense against inciting violence against the government. Claiming it’s unconstitutional to impeach a former president isn’t a defense against inciting violence against the government either; it’s just an argument saying the Senate isn’t legally authorized to rule on Trump’s behavior since he’s no longer in government.
On February 9th Democrats are going to say, “Trump incited a riot.” Trump wants his defense team to argue, “The election was stolen from him; he was just trying to get it back.” His lawyers want to argue, “Y’all aren’t authorized to decide whether or not he incited a riot.” It appears nobody will be arguing, “No, Trump didn’t incite no riot.”
That’s because Trump did, in fact, incite a riot. To be clear, he hasn’t actually been charged with the federal crime of inciting a riot. I’m not a lawyer, but I suspect you could make a case that Trump violated 18 U.S. Code § 2101 in that he 1) traveled interstate, 2) told his supporters the election had been ‘stolen’ from him…and from them, 3) encouraged them to travel to DC, 4) on a specific date, where 5) he told them they had to “fight like hell” to stop Congress from ratifying the Electoral College results, and then 6) told them to walk to the Capitol building.
He may not have specifically told them to riot, or to break into the Capitol building, or to harm anybody, but he created the conditions that inflamed the crowd, then he pointed them in the direction of the Capitol, and told them to fight like hell. Which they did.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Republicans in the Senate will vote to find Trump guilty. They’ll probably never find him guilty of anything. Republicans have proven themselves to be invulnerable to evidence.