Saturday, February 13, 2021

Questions and Answers

The only comment to make about yesterday afternoon's derisory performance by Donald Trump's defense team is that they took less than three of the sixteen hours they were entitled to use, thus sparing the Senate and the nation too many more hours of their contempt both for the process and for the truth. After the Defense rested, however, the Question-and-Answer period began. As one who appreciates parliamentary procedure, I appreciated the process as a somewhat charming relic from an earlier era, enabling everyone to exhale and settle down as Senators submitted written questions one by one, their questions then manually taken to the Chair, where the President pro tem took his time checking them. After announcing whom the question was from and whom it was for (the House Managers, the Defense Counsel, or both), he then handed it to the Clerk who stood up to read it. Only after all this, did the appropriate lawyers get up to answer (or, in the case of the Trump Team, often avoid answering). That said, some of the questions were very good ones, and they did enable the managers to highlight important elements from their earlier presentations.

Trump's defenders seem to have had a hard time letting go of their ostensibly constitutional objection, although that issue has now been legally settled by the vote of the Senate, which has sole jurisdiction in this matter. Trump's defenders also seemed determined to deny the extent to which the President seemed at best indifferent to his Vice President's safety on that terrible day, a particular aspect of the story that the Managers had effectively highlighted. presumably to the discomfort of Trump's loyalists in the Senate. Vice President Pence was probably the most obsequiously loyal of all the members of the Trump Administration. His reward was to be thrown under the proverbial bus on January 6 - surely a lesson for any other Republican foolish enough to hope his own loyalty might be reciprocated.

One of the ironies of Pence's political tragedy is that he was put on the ticket in the first place as a bridge to conservative Christian voters. Four years later, however, he was dispensable - not just to Trump but apparently also to them. What does that suggest not just about Trump but about his conservative Christian acolytes? "Faith must always fail when it goes political," Philip Rieff wrote in 1987. "So far as it remains in good faith, spiritual authority cannot become at one with political power." 

Trump's defenders also seemed, somewhat obsessively, to want to analogize aspects of this process to some of the standards of criminal judicial procedure, as if this process posed some substantive danger to ordinary Americans' rights to due process. But, in response, the Impeachment Managers made what may be ultimately the most important point of this exercise. Trump, as the Managers repeatedly pointed out, would not serve a single day, hour, or minute in jail as a consequence of conviction by the Senate. The purpose of this process is not personal punishment but protection of the Republic, setting a standard of behavior for those in positions of public trust to be held to.

If, as almost everyone expects, the Republicans stick with Trump and acquit him a second time, what will it mean for this country which Trump and his political party have so grievously wounded these pat several years? That is the final question and the most important one.

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