THE TRUMP IMPEACHMENT TRIAL: WILL THE JUDICIARY BE COLLATERAL DAMAGE?

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

The Constitution of the United States, Article II, Section 4.

By the time you read this post, the impeachment proceedings against President Trump may have wound down to their inevitable conclusion. This was only the third such trial in our nation’s 230-year history, which renders such occasions as rare as Halley’s Comet. Like the Comet, they are worth careful observation.

Much of the debate has centered on the nature of impeachable offenses. Are such offenses limited to criminal conduct?  Or may non-criminal conduct – such as abuse of power – qualify? Both sides have recognized that this issue affects not only President Trump but also future presidents.

Very little has been written or said, however, about another group of public officials affected by this question: federal judges.

constitution

We have all heard repeatedly that Article II, Section 4 provides for removal from office only after “Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” But we rarely hear the words preceding it: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States.” Federal judges are civil officers of the United States, so whatever precedents may be created by the trial of President Trump, they will apply to judges as well. Continue reading

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WHY NOT A 1776 PROJECT?

Last August, the New York Times launched The 1619 Project, an ambitious effort to educate the public on the role of slavery in shaping America. The Project began with an issue of the Times Sunday Magazine devoted entirely to the subject of slavery. It has grown to include a podcast, and curriculum materials for schools. A book is planned. There is reason to believe that a generation of young, impressionable students will form their historical outlooks based on the Project.

Its title says much about its purpose: to challenge the notion that 1776 is the birth year of America. According to the Times, 1619, when slaves are said to have first arrived on our shores, “is the country’s very origin.”

It’s worth noting at the outset that the title of the Project may be misplaced.  According to Professor Nell Painter, the first Africans to arrive on our shores in 1619 were indentured servants, not slaves — a status they shared with many impoverished white arrivals. Racialized slavery did not emerge in Virginia until the 1660s. But setting aside the question of dates, the abominable institution of slavery took root in the New World and two centuries would pass before it was extirpated.

chains

Now any project that aims to educate the public on our nation’s history should be lauded. Much of the information imparted by the 1619 Project is thought-provoking and valuable. But its central theme should not go unchallenged.

Project creator Nickole Hannah-Jones, in her introductory essay, describes this theme:

Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery. By 1776, Britain had grown deeply conflicted over its role in the barbaric institution that had reshaped the Western Hemisphere. In London, there were growing calls to abolish the slave trade. This would have upended the economy of the colonies, in both the North and the South…. In other words, we may never have revolted against Britain if the founders … had not believed that independence was required in order to ensure that slavery would continue. … [S]ome might argue that this nation was founded not as a democracy but as a slavocracy.

If these statements were true, if the purpose of the American Revolution was to preserve slavery, then our nation was founded in evil, and every American should properly feel some element of shame in his or her heritage.

But these statements are not true. They are wrong. Continue reading

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TIME TO RETIRE PEOPLE ‘OF COLOR’?

People “of color” are everywhere. We are here referencing the term, not the people.  “Debate so white: candidates of color miss out as Democratic field narrows” a recent headline in The Guardian informs us. “Physicians of color are far too rare” worries the Philadelphia Inquirer. “People of color win majority of acting Oscars for the first time in history” announced the headline of Entertainment Weekly in the wake of the awards last February.

The history of the term “of color” is, well, colorful. Its use dates back at least as far as the 1790s, when French colonists coined the term “gens de couleur” to refer to light-skinned people of mixed African and European heritage. In the Deep South, freed blacks called themselves “people of color” to distinguish themselves from African slaves. During the Civil War, Frederick Douglass gave a speech in Rochester, New York, entitled “Men of Color, To Arms!” urging African Americans to enlist in the Union Army.

MEN OF COLOR TO ARMS

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ERDOGAN THREW IT ON THE GROUND

I go to my favorite hot dog stand
And the dude says,
“You come here all the time! Here’s one for free”
I said, “Man! What I look like? A charity case?”

I took it and threw it on the ground!
I don’t need your handouts!
I’m an adult!
Please!
You can’t buy me hot dog, man!

The Lonely Island (“Threw it on the Ground”)

In his Threw It On the Ground video, Adam Samberg demonstrates to an energy drink salesman, a hot dog vendor, his girlfriend, and others, that he is not a man to be trifled with. Whether he is handed a free sample drink, a complimentary hot dog, or a cellphone on which his Dad is calling, he shows his fierce independence by throwing it on the ground.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not exactly throw President Donald Trump’s October 9, 2019 letter on the ground, but he was animated by the same defiant spirit when he visited the White House and returned the letter to its author.

Adam Samberg   Erdogan

In fairness to the Turkish President, President Trump’s letter could be viewed, much like the hot dog man’s gesture, as an attempt to buy him. The U.S. leader had written that in return for halting his invasion of Syria, Trump would help him “make a great deal.”  Not only that, but also: “History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way.”  He warned him not to be “a tough guy” or “a fool.”

According to early reports, Erdogan threw the letter, not on the ground, but in the garbage bin. Continue reading

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HARVARD’S BILL OF RIGHTS PROBLEM

On May 5, 1941, in the bleakest days of World War II, with most of Europe under Nazi or Communist domination, Life Magazine devoted its cover story to Harvard University. The article began portentously:

The names of Alexandria, Padua, Paris, Heidelberg, Gottingen, Oxford and Cambridge are deathless, because each in its time has been a world center for man’s learning and his search for truth. To that roll has been added the name of Harvard, America’s oldest, the New World’s greatest and the world’s richest university. Today it stands alone. On the European continent the universities have been engulfed by a tyranny that recognizes no truth but the perversion of propaganda …. In the fourth year of its fourth century, Harvard must re-examine the purposes that justify its existence, count its resources and consider how it shall serve man in his unknown future.

The article deemed Harvard mankind’s academic beacon, its last best hope to preserve the flame of free inquiry in a darkening age.Life Magazine

Things haven’t quite worked out that way.

Visit Harvard today and one sees, not the last best hope for free inquiry, but an environment hostile, if not toxic, to the Bill of Rights and the values underlying them.

The latest symptom occurred in the aftermath of a demonstration calling for the abolition of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The demonstration was staged by Harvard College Act on a Dream, an immigrant advocacy group. It attracted a crowd of about one hundred people. The Harvard Crimson, the main campus newspaper, published a generally sympathetic story, quoting several of the organizers, one of whom happened to be a Crimson editorial executive.

And there the story, like the event, would have quickly faded — but for the inclusion in the article of one, seemingly routine sentence: “ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.” Continue reading

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LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS NAMES

Pumpsie Green has died at the age of 85. He was famous as the first black baseball player hired by the last major league baseball team to integrate its roster. That team was the Boston Red Sox, and its delay may explain why it suffered an 86-year drought without winning a World Series.

Pumpsie Green

But Pumpsie Green deserves remembrance for a different reason: his name.

In ancient times, the names of gods and heroes revealed some quality of their divinity. For children, to whom professional baseball players rank with gods and heroes, athletes’ names perform a similar task.

From 1959 to 1966, the Red Sox never had a winning season. Pumpsie Green was signed during that drought, and before one saw him play at Fenway Park, his talents were predictable. He would be loose-limbed and agile. He would prowl the infield and nothing would get by him. A man named Pumpsie would not be a power hitter. But he would be fast on the bases. And so he was. On his first time up in the majors, he tripled.

Pumpsie Green was not unique. Other gods of that age also bore names befitting their personae.

Frank Malzone played third base. His name told you that he was all business. One pictured him playing with a cigar clenched in his mouth, never smiling. A man named Malzone was not to be trifled with. If you hit to third, you had no chance to reach first.

There was their Bill Monbouquette, a four-time all-star. On hearing his name, one imagined him dancing on the mound, befuddling hitters with his variegated rhythm. His teammate Dick Radatz was another, more frightening story. He stood 6’6” and simply obliterated hitters. His name evoked a creature from science fiction, emitting deadly gamma rays.

In 1967, the world changed. Dick Williams took over a team that had finished next to last, with a dismal 72 – 90 win/loss record, a team that ranked 8th out of 10 in League attendance. Under Williams, that same team would win the American League Pennant and boast the highest paid attendance despite playing in the smallest stadium.

There were legends like Carl Yastrzemski, Rico Petrocelli, and Jim Lonborg. But the more ordinary players with the resonant names deserve to be remembered.

Jerry Adair. Of course, anyone named Adair would play with agility and grace. And you could count on his audacity at the plate. Yastrzemski called him the coolest clutch hitter in the game.

Joe Foy. An infielder with that name would be a happy warrior, playing with flair and joy.

Billy Rohr. The name was meant to startle. And so he did. In his debut game against the Yankees, he was one strike away from an unprecedented no-hitter when Elston Howard blooped a single to right. He retired the next batter for a one-hitter. He won one more game, and then his growl faded and he vanished from the game.

Elston Howard

Speaking of Elston Howard. The same player who spoiled Rohr’s debut, joined the Red Sox in August 1967. He was 38 years old – ancient by professional baseball standards – and his career already spanned 19 years in the Negro Leagues and major league baseball, where he became the first black player hired by the New York Yankees. He was, in other words, an elder statesman whose very name evoked the stature and dignity of a British nobleman. And the veteran catcher lived up to it. In one storied night in Chicago, Boston held a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth. With one out, and the speedy Ken Berry at third, pinch hitter Duane Josephson hit a fly ball to short right. Jose Tartabull, a man not known for his arm, caught it. As Berry tagged, Tartabull sent an arcing throw to the plate. There stood Elston Howard, solid and imperturbable, the very embodiment of his lordly name. Sir Elston leapt high to catch the throw, blocked Berry, and swept the tag to complete a game-ending double play.

Chicago Manager Eddie Stanky rushed from the dugout to protest, in vain. Eddie Stanky. Of course, legendary villains bore revealing names too.

Another villain was Harmon Killebrew, one of the most feared sluggers in the majors. His name oozed mayhem and murder. Of course he was nicknamed “The Killer.” In the final weekend of the 1967 season, Killebrew’s Minnesota Twins led the Red Sox by a single game. The teams were slated to play two games, so Boston had to win each one. Killebrew homered in the first game, and got two hits in both games. But Boston, powered by Yastrzemski (7 for 8) prevailed, winning both games, and the Pennant.

Were the baseball legends of the 50s and 60s actually graced with names more revealing of their talents than modern athletes are?  It seems so, but perhaps it was just a matter of being less visible. Since fewer games were televised, many youngsters “watched ” night games by smuggling transistor radios beneath their pillows. Baseball players were not as much seen as they were imagined. And their names lent guidance to their young fans’ imaginations.

Farewell Pumpsie Green. Your name will be forever remembered and honored. Farewell to all the legends whose names evoke their stories.

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HISTORY AND ITS DISCONTENTS

In 1940, when Great Britain stood alone against the Nazi juggernaut, France lay conquered, the United States was officially neutral, and the Soviet Union was tied by treaty to Germany, Winston Churchill recruited history to cheer his countrymen and stiffen their spines. In a September 1940 radio broadcast, as invasion loomed, Churchill said:

We must regard the next week or so as a very important period in our history. It ranks with the days when the Spanish Armada was approaching the Channel, and Drake was finishing his game of bowls; or when Nelson stood between us and Napoleon’s Grand Army at Boulogne. We have read all about this in the history books; but what is happening now is on a far greater scale and of far more consequence to the life and future of the world and its civilisation than these brave old days of the past.

Churchill could speak in this fashion because, not only was he well versed in British history, he knew his listeners were too. He knew that they knew who Drake and Nelson were.  And he knew that British schoolchildren found pride and inspiration in their country’s long history.

Churchill

It’s harder for American leaders to follow his example. For one thing, American schoolchildren do not learn much history, and their ignorance follows them into adulthood.

A recent study by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation found that only one in three Americans (36 percent) can actually pass a multiple choice test consisting of items taken from the U.S. Citizenship Test, which most immigrants pass easily. (Example: “Identify whether Rhode Island, Oregon, Maine, or South Dakota is a state that borders Canada.”)

Only 13 percent of those surveyed knew when the U.S. Constitution was ratified, even on a multiple-choice exam similar to the citizenship exam. About 60 percent didn’t know which countries the United States fought in World War II. Seventy-two percent of respondents either incorrectly identified or were unsure of which states were part of the original 13. Only 24 percent could correctly identify one thing Benjamin Franklin was famous for, with 37 percent believing he invented the lightbulb. Twelve percent thought World War II General Dwight Eisenhower led troops in the Civil War, while 6 percent thought he was a Vietnam War general. Fortunately, only two percent identified climate change as the cause of the Cold War.

If it’s any consolation (and it isn’t), the situation is no better in Great Britain. If Churchill were alive today, he would have to find something other than history to leaven his oratory. In a 2008 survey of British teenagers (cited in Andrew Roberts’s excellent biography of the man), 20 percent thought Churchill was a fictional character, while 58 percent thought Sherlock Holmes and 47 percent thought Eleanor Rigby were real people. Continue reading

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