Purim: The Power of Punting

It is Purim. I know that Purim is about turning a prospective tragedy into joy and celebration. At least that is how it is celebrated. However, I take that as simply a specific instance or case of inversion whereas Purim is about the art and tactics of inversion, about inversion more generally as a way of dealing with conflict. Or what I call punting.

When I was in high school, I played on our football team. I was a wide end. It is a hybrid role both in defence and offence. On the one hand, you are supposed to be an offensive lineman. I was very tall and expected to hold the line against the opposition as well as track their players, usually the opposing end running to catch the ball. I was supposed to intercept. On the other hand, when your team has the ball, you are a wide receiver.

I was a terrible player in either role. Though big and tall and easily able to see the whole play, I was skinny as a bean pole. I was no match for anyone who blocked me hard and low. And I did not have long legs. I just had a lengthy torso. I could not run fast and was easily tracked by their players when I ran to catch the ball. And if it happened to fall into my hands because of the skill in throwing of the quarterback, I just as often fumbled it. And yet when we were on defence, I was expected to interfere and catch the ball.

I was the wrong guy for the position. Actually, I believed, for any position on the team. I got the role because I was very tall relative to my fellow students. But I was a fumbler and a bumbler, and a slow runner to boot. After I had proven my mettle – or lack of any – I ended up spending the remaining portion of the season warming the bench.

The rest of the team was better than I was – every single player. But not much better. Except perhaps for Steve Lewis who was our quarterback. He was excellent. Nevertheless, we lost every game. It did not help that our couch was terrible. Or perhaps he was not. Perhaps he had appraised us correctly. Lacking any confidence in us, he did not bother to teach us to play an aggressive game of keeping maximum pressure on the other team by cleverly alternating throwing and running strategies. Nor did he teach us how to play a clever defensive game. Instead, he taught us to punt, or what he thought was punting.

Perhaps I would not have been as bad a player as I was if I had been seen as a punter, someone who practiced his position, not by outrunning the opposition and leaping to catch the ball. Nor by running interference and catching the ball intended for their tight end. Perhaps I could have been taught to be an artful dodger able to deke out and trick my opposing player – seeming to go one way, but in reality going in the opposite direction. But this is a nostalgic dream of emerging victorious from a season of humiliating play. Besides, our coach, though he had advised us repeatedly to punt and hope the other side would fumble the ball and we could gain yards that way, never understood the core to the art of punting.

When we had the ball, he did not teach us how we could punt on the second down and greatly enhance the other side fumbling the ball because we had so confused and tricked them. Instead, he just advised us to kick on the second down and try to take them by surprise. Perhaps it worked the first time, but the coach became a broken record. On the other hand, he did not teach us to run a defensive strategy either, one where we held the other team in check by keeping them from advancing by the use of stealth instead of serving as a mighty Maginot Line. Instead, to repeat as he did, he taught us to punt, to punt on the second down and take. in a dream world, the  opposition by surprise and hope that when the ball was in their end they would err. We were supposed to gain our yards by their mistakes, but they usually outplayed us and marched rapidly down the field towards our goal posts.

I could be writing this as a parable about handing the JCPOA crisis over the Iran nuclear deal. Trump had followed an all-out aggressive strategy of a full court press against the other team but though the other team was significantly weakened, they pressed ahead with their nuclear strategy. Prior to that, President Obama had followed a policy of engagement to stop the Iranian progress down the field through the use of a singular focus on their nuclear strategy but permitting the other side to employ other strategies to progress down the field. Neither policy turned out to be a formula for victory.

But we were taught neither a policy of maximum pressure against the other side nor a policy of clever defense to hold them in situ. Instead, we were taught to punt. For years I used to recall the coach and disparage him for his continuing stress on kicking on the second down. I thought it had been a foolish strategy that exhibited no confidence in us as players – even though that lack of confidence was well deserved.

Then reading the Megillat Esther, I had a flash. The problem was not resorting to the punt when you have a weak hand. The problem was a failure to master the art of punting. Punting is the art of redirection in place of the art of confrontation or aggression or, alternatively, the art of engagement for defensive purposes. Punting is practicing defence by being offensive to the other, by indeed putting the ball in their court, but doing so in a way that will induce them to err instead of just relying on chance or serendipity. That is what Mordechai does to Haman in the story of Esther.

What is punting? Formally, in European soccer or rugby, it meant hitting the ball back to the other side before it was allowed to land. More generally, it suggests doing to the other what they would do or are trying to do to you. Megillat Esther is a lesson in intelligent punting. For that is the strategy followed by both sides, only it is Mordechai who mastered its execution.

Haman tried punting in response to Mordechai’s use of the tactic. Haman was no dummy. Mordechai had introduced the art. He had refused to bow down to Haman, refused to submit to his aggressive bullying, Mordechai refused to meet aggression with aggression. But neither did he bend. Neither did he adopt defensive strategies that would simply slow down or mitigate Haman’s aggressive bullying order. Instead, Mordechai refused to bow down before Haman. He practiced non-violent civil disobedience.

Members of the king’s court begged Mordechai to accede to Haman’s demands. Mordechai ignored their entreaties. He was a Jew. He would not bow before Haman. Haman could have responded by resorting to physical force like Bull Connor from Selma, that icon of racism from Alabama, in fighting the Black peaceful sit-ins and peaceful protest marches in Birmingham in the sixties with billy clubs. Instead, Haman punted as well.

My daughter, Rachel, who is a biblical scholar who trains rabbis in Boston, offered a midrash to explain Mordechai’s resistance. Bowing to Haman would have been a form of idolatry since Haman in his dress and manner and behaviour had turned himself into an idol. Bowing down before Haman meant bowing to an idol, an act specifically forbidden to Jews. Rachel could cite Abraham ibn Ezra as an authority, but no text itself supports such an interpretation. Further, that would be a tactic followed where direct confrontation was the order of the day, but, as I have argued, the art of conflict management celebrated here is not confrontation, not maximum pressure to weaken the opposing force. Nor even engagement and a defensive posture to wait to fight the battle on another day. Instead, it became a battle of wits. It is a battle that will be won by one side out punting the other.

Haman adopts a very different mode of indirection than the simple and direct honesty of Mordechai and Esther – more on this later. He joined QAnon. He deflects by indulging in a conspiracy theory. He does not go to King Ahasuerus and accuse Mordechai of challenging his power. That might simple have revealed how weak he really was, how his power was an empty shell, one built only on formal authority rather than any genuine skills of leadership. King Ahasuerus might have replied to him had he made such a complaint, “Go take care of your own problems. Don’t come sniveling to me. You are supposed to be my chief minister, my vizier.”

Haman knew that. Therefore, he used indirection.  He told King Ahasuerus that, “There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among other people in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; and it is not in your interest to tolerate them.” In other words, there is a fifth column in your midst. They threaten you, not me. They threaten the realm, not myself. Therefore, every last one of them, must be destroyed, must be exterminated.

Notice the slip in logic. From the claim that these other people (he meant the Hebrews) have their own laws, Haman draws the inference that they disobey the king’s laws. However, having separate laws can complement or supplement rather than challenge the legal system of the realm. King Ahasuerus did not catch the illogic of the claim, but rather accepted the depiction of the existence of a “deep force” as a threat.

Haman had turned Mordechai’s protest against his (Haman’s) personal excessive use of power and accused the Hebrews of indulging in an excessive and threatening use of power by having the Jews follow their own legal code. I am not threatened. You, the king, are under threat. The only way to respond to such a threat is by uprooting the danger at its root and destroy those who would threaten the realm. Non-conformity in general was the threat, not a failure to comply with specific orders.

Mordechai was in a very tough position. If he directly attacked Haman, it would only be used as proof that Haman was right. But if he kowtowed to Haman and took up a defensive posture, he was doomed. No appeasement would stop the eventual and slow grinding down of his own people. His only out was to punt back, to, in turn, reverse Haman’s position and put the ball back in Haman’s court, but in such a way this time that Haman would make a fatal error.

By this time in the story, the suspense is not whether Mordechai can pull it off but the delight in watching the way he does it. Or really Esther. For she had listened closely and well and proved to be a master of the punt. By now, we have gained a great deal of trust in the artful dodgers than Mordechai and his protégé would show herself to be.

The Megillat begins with a display of conspicuous consumption on a grand scale. King Ahasuerus is clearly someone who believes that all is glitter – fine cotton, blue dyed, embroidered with purple linen, silver rods and marble columns; couches of gold and silver, on a pavement of green, white, shell, and onyx marble. Luxury, luxury, all is luxury. Superficiality, superficiality, all is superficiality.  Is there any better mark on whom to use the practice of punting? Specifically, the text states that there was to be no coercion. It was a time of joy and celebration. However, the target of the punt was not the self-indulgent king, but another punter, a ruthless and mean one.

King Ahasuerus had a trophy wife, the beautiful Vashti. He ordered her to come to court so he could put her on display. She refused. She practiced non-violent resistance to being used as an object. The king became furious. So much for banning coercion. But he did not punish her for disobeying him. That would have seemed petty. He did what Haman would later do to himself. He claimed to be acting on behalf of the entire realm lest women everywhere follow Vashti’s example and disobey their husbands. Men were ordered to be the dominant part of the partnership.

So much for King Ahasuerus’s avoidance of coercion. He proved to be a hypocrite. The sycophants who surrounded him then set out to find a successor, a maiden who would be both beautiful and compliant. Esther, a Jewess, the niece and adopted daughter of the Jew, Mordechai was spotted, put on display and won the king’s favour.  But, on Mordechai’s order, she did not reveal she was Jewish. The deception had begun of a king who had been trapped and enraptured by appearances. The first rule of the art of punting is to only reveal what was absolutely necessary and enticing to the other and nothing that would invite closer inspection.

The next step was to turn attraction into enchantment, to mesmerize the king so that he did not simply call her forth from his harem for a dalliance, but won his grace and favour, won his love sufficiently that he made Esther Queen instead of Vashti. How did she do it? She punted. How? By first enchanting Hegai, the king’s chamberlain. How? Vashti had proven to be an independent rebel. Esther put herself forward as totally obedient to Hegai. She asked for nothing but what Hegai requested of her. The second rule of punting was not only to keep secret what need not be revealed, but to appear to reveal all and convince the target’s most trusted courtier that no trouble would come from this source.

In fact, compliance came easy to Esther. That is how Mordechai had raised her. She could both keep the secret of her nationality and religion while appearing to be fully transparent and obedient. Then the deke! Mordechai learned of a planed conspiracy and insurrection. He did not report it to the king. Instead, he told Esther who whispered it in the king’s ear. What a surprise he had to learn that he not only had an extremely comely woman to sit on his throne by his side, and one that was very compliant, but someone who was sharp as a tack, a good listener out to protect him and his power. She had become a triple threat with neither an ounce of aggression nor any semblance of defensiveness, someone apparently totally open to him alone.

King Ahasuerus was now ripe for the picking. But even he was not the main target. Punting requires a ruse, a distraction, but one that can and will play a role in the ultimate deception against the main target. The king was the quarterback expected to throw the ball to Haman and ended up throwing it to Mordechai as an interception while Haman is wiped out in the play.

Enter Haman who was named vizier, presumably because he had mastered the same magic of appearances as Esther – keeping his huge ambitions secret while appearing totally transparent and compliant with the king’s wishes. But he was two-faced. When he turned away from the king, he in turn expected total compliance. Mordechai refused to give it, hence enticing Haman to set out on his final solution for all Jews. At first, Haman seemed to succeed even more than heretofore. The king placed his ring on Haman’s finger and gave him the power “to do to the Jews as it pleases you.” The king gave the royal endorsement to commit genocide, “to destroy, kill, and cause to perish all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, on one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and their spoils to be taken as plunder.”

Lamentations throughout the Jewish community of Persia. Except, Esther; she evidently presumably thought she might escape the edict given her favour in the eyes of the king. But Mordechai informed her that the edict was universal, applicable to all Jews and the edict had been delegated to Haman for execution. It was likely that she would not escape the consequences. For if she remained silent, then Haman would be able to blackmail her; If she told the king that she was Jewish, then he would both be upset that she withheld this news from him but would also be furious at being trapped by his own edict.

The fourth stage of the punt was in place. The king had to be offered a way out of the Catch-22 in which he had found himself while ensuring that Haman fumbled the ball, tumbled and fell, not just on the ground, but from grace more generally. Esther appeared before the king, without approaching him, in her finest, but with a demeanor as if she wore sackcloth. The king summoned her and asked what was troubling her. “What is your petition? Even to half the kingdom, it will be given to you.”

Wow!!! Had he even heard what he had just promised? Esther retained her composure and simply asked that Haman be invited to a banquet she would throw for him, in itself an apparently huge win for Haman. At the banquet, she would do the king’s bidding and reveal her request. But Haman, even more bitter at Mordechai’s intransigence, especially as he had risen as far as he could go in both the king’s and the queen’s favour, accepted the advice of his wife and friends to construct gallows intended for Mordechai that looked very much like the gallows the insurrectionists had constructed for Mike Spence in the plaza of the Capitol on 6 January 2021. Mordechai would be hanged in the morning.

But the king was haunted during the night with the memory of Queen Esther being told by Mordechai about the conspiracy and plot against him. When he asked in the morning whether Mordechai had been rewarded, he was told that, “Nothing had been done for him.” Haman was preparing the execution and was summoned by the king.  

“What should be done to a man whom the king wishes to honor?” And Haman said to himself, “Whom would the king wish to honor more than me?” And Haman said to the King, “A man whom the king wishes to honor. Let them bring the royal raiment that the king wore and the horse that the king rode upon, and the royal crown should be placed on his head.”  

However, it was not enough to trap Haman by his own narcissism into following the king’s orders and honoring Mordechai. Now he was stricken by foreboding and lamentations. He foresaw the end he faced. He thought he might redeem himself at Esther’s banquet. When the king then asked her to disclose her wish and promised that it would be given, she said,

“If I have found favor in your eyes, O king, and if it pleases the king, may my life be given me in my petition and my people in my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish; now had we been sold for slaves and bondswomen, I would have kept silent, except the adversary has no consideration for the king’s loss.” When the king asked, who was responsible, she said Haman. When Haman heard, in fear and trembling he came to the queen and cast himself down on her couch begging mercy. The king came upon the scene and suspected Haman of trying to accost his beautiful Esther.

Haman ended up on the gallows.

Now that is a real punt.

The Implosion of the Republican Party in the United States

It was Ash Wednesday on the Christian calendar, the first day of Lent in the six weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday is a day for fasting. It is a holy day to celebrate self-sacrifice and the exalted purpose of prayer. As Pope Francis said in his Ash Day homily this year, it is a day when God pleads for eternal return. Not a twenty-year cycle. Not a four-year cycle. But a journey that involves a whole life., in fact, the entire lifetime of humanity. From dust thou came. To dust thou shalt return.

A week ago, on Ash Wednesday 17 February 2021, I was called over to watch the blowing up of the 32-story Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City on a cell phone. It was a drab lead-grey day with a cold and biting wind sweeping across the city from the Atlantic Ocean. I am not sure that I could have endured watching either free from the deserted boardwalk or even from a car in a parking lot nearby where gawkers were charged $10 to watch the event, the charge going into the pockets of an Atlantic City charity. Where else would a thirty second implosion become a tourist attraction?

And on such a holy day! On a day when self-reflection should denote return, return for self-salvation and away from self-destruction, return away from demolition towards redemption. Perhaps the mayor saw in the event a sign of resurrection for a declining city, a rebirth for a modern Sodom. The Pope understood, even if the mayor did not. It was a day to ask, “Where is my life’s navigation system taking me – towards God or towards myself? Do I live to please the Lord, or to be noticed, praised, put at the head of line.” Assuredly, Donald Trump never asked such a question. He presumed the answer was to get to the head of the line even if he took Atlantic City and now the Republican Party – downwards towards self-destruction.

I wished I had seen the implosion on the full TV screen that had been Trump’s medium of choice before he fell in love with the twitter universe. It was both thrilling and appalling to watch this large skyscraper collapse on itself and be totally eliminated from the Atlantic City skyline in less than a minute. The building started to collapse inward from the top floors at the rear, gathered momentum until, really in seconds, there was only a pile of rubble hidden under a cloud of dust at the base. I wish I could send out the video with this blog, but you will have to look it up yourself. – https://news.yahoo.com/atlantic-city-recover-may-more-135235215.html.

The actual implosion was dramatic and sudden. The process leading up to the actual demolition was dragged out, repetitive, boring, and really quite tedious – there were a myriad of adverbs one could attach to the process. But whatever the words chosen, the event overall was not sudden. The big bang at the end was but the climax of a long and painful chapter in American history.

It seemed to me to be a perfect pictorial metaphor for where the Republican Party in the United States had been and was heading. Between 1984 and 2014, Trump had ostensibly owned Trump Plaza along with two other casinos – Trump Taj Mahal (now the Hard Rock Café) and Trump Marina (now the Golden Nugget). With his great love of pugilism, he had staged the 1987 Mike Tyson – Jose Ribalta heavy-weight bout there, which ended up being a dragged-out ten round spectacle as Iron Tyson, with a record of 25 wins and 23 KO’s, barely eked out a technical victory against his 6’6” opponent.

Iron Mike had been a gladiator of the ring, a fighter who was not only determined to win, but to destroy his opponents. He was a man committed to leaving no other man standing to hold up a fist of victory. If he could no longer stand himself, if another won and stood in what he presumed to be his destined place, he would, like Sampson, bring the whole building crashing down upon himself.

The boxing event adumbrated Trump’s own political career where he won the presidency because of the technicality of the Electoral College, though he lost the general election by three million votes in 2016. Eventually, Trump abandoned all three of his casinos in Atlantic City to bankruptcy when he moved on to politics and his new venture – and entered a political career that would end not only with a failed presidency, but with the bankruptcy of the Republican Party. The trajectory would repeat the slew of redundancies and unpaid bills that he bequeathed to the residents and local businesses of Atlantic City.

Mayor Marty Small of that city may have sighed with relief as he watched the collapse of the tower and remarked on what a great day it was for Atlantic City. But it had come about with enormous and excruciating pain for those who watched and much more for those who endured the process.

When the hotel was in its glory days, it was ostensibly owned by the Trump organization, but like much having to do with that business, that was smoke and mirrors. It was really owned by investors and banks. The Trump organization was only the manager. When the hotel-casino complex fell into receivership, the billionaire (an estimated 15 billion) Carl Icahn bought the property out of bankruptcy proceedings in 2016 in the same year that he had supported Donald Trump’s electoral bid to the tune of a quarter billion dollars. Icahn became the owner as the entire former Trump Plaza that gradually became a dilapidated wreck, with chunks of concrete periodically falling from the skyscraper and crashing to the street below. The building had become a danger to every passer-by. In 2020, Icahn donated only a pittance to the Trump election campaign. Trump’s personal value for a smart investor – in contrast to the man-in-the-street – had depreciated much more than the wreck of the Trump Plaza..

One of the striking features of the building was its huge 22-foot-thick glass windows – they appeared transparent and you could see through them, but they were, in fact, impenetrable. They could not be broken, only exploded into smithereens. Observers have noted the comparison with the self-destruction of the Trump presidency at the end of his term as he called foul and declared that the election had been stolen – but another lie in a presidency built on lies. Certainly, the ending was dramatic – a violent insurrection against the Capitol culminating in an impeachment. But though impeached, Trump escaped being found guilty and was acquitted because the Senate could not achieve a two-thirds majority to render a conviction. Further, Trump had an even more historic destiny – to bring down the Republican Party crashing down around his head.

One fear is that the decline and destruction of the Grand Old Party (GOP) would mean the twilight of democracy as the sun set in favour of the lure of authoritarianism. Certainly, this is what Trump represented – an icon for idolaters enamored with self-assured (and self-centred) dictators. But America escaped what John Dean had called an authoritarian nightmare. But by the skin of their white gleaming teeth as Michael Schmidt, The New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times described it in his dramatic account of Trump’s indifference to the rule of law in Donald Trump v. The United States: “Inside the Struggle to Stop a President.

The boardwalk is strewn with discarded bodies from General John Kelly who served as a security adviser, to Donald McGahn who served as White House counsel. And what about the 500,000 – yes, half a million – corpses, 20% of the world’s total of dead, left after a worldwide pandemic that Trump ignored, belittled or for which he prescribed fraudulent cures? Democratic opponents bear the scars of their infighting with Trump with two – yes two – impeachment failures to convict. His enablers, like Mitch McConnell, may finally stand up on plastic legs (“There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” after he voted to acquit), or they may come crawling back to be blessed by Trump’s good graces, like Lindsey Graham, even when it is reasonably clear that Trump will never again rise from the ashes.

Trump’s political legacy and belief that prisons have only been constructed to house his adversaries and never himself has come into clearer view as he seems destined to end up in jail as he faces a multitude of indictments from an array of sources. Charges of assaults against women piled up alongside assaults on dedicated civil servants, subservience to Moscow and Putin and waltzing with North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, to whom he had offered a lift home from Hanoi in 2019 after a summit. An FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Trump’s Russian ties disappeared in a wisp of smoke even as the Ukraine “scandal” of intimidation in return for dirt on Biden went up in flames.

Democracy proved to be fragile and ephemeral in the face of an ideology that disdained rational planning, believing that just-in-time delivery was a substitute for rather than a product of careful forethought, and was committed to the profit motive even in areas where there was no profit to be made. But this absolutist and all-encompassing belief system has proven hollow, but at a great cost to genuine conservative beliefs and faith in a free-enterprise system as George Will and the anyone but Trumpers in the Republican Party had been warning for years. George Will may desert the GOP but not conservatism, “An essential conservative insight about everything is that nothing necessarily endures. Care must be taken. The Republican Party will wither if the ascendant Lout Caucus is the face it presents to this nation of decent, congenial people.” (George Will)

But that true conservatism has not been the face the Republican Party has continued to display in the first five weeks of the Biden presidency. The louts – Ted Cruz (Texas), Josh Hawley (Montana.), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin) and Rob Portman (Ohio) – continue to rule the roost even in the hearings on the insurrection. Their lies and conspiracy theories multiply at a faster rate that even the rabid right-wingers who invaded the Capitol. If 9/11 taught Americans the real dangers of foreign terrorism and its ability to create great havoc and damage on American soil, that lesson for domestic terrorism as a result of 1/6 has not sunken in deeply enough. One quarter of Republicans now may turn their backs on Trump as their leader, but just over 50% seem determined to go down with him as Trump will never ever be able to win with only 25% of the vote. But he has more than enough support to beat his opponents in the primaries as he brands them as traitors and deserters.

Domestic fanaticism has shown that it can flourish and exert considerable influence, mostly destructive, as it is used to fertilize weeds rather than healthy crops. Trump, as Alexander Hamilton prophesied, has a talent for “low intrigue,” the main instrument in seeking and holding power for a populist. He courts the violent far-right, celebrates violence and privileges his own interests. But he demands absolute fealty from others as those others remain enthralled to his mythos.

Modern media, magnified enormously by twitter, has allowed Trump’s presence to become more ubiquitous among his followers than even television allowed, but it has reduced his reach among the general public. By closing off his access to twitter because of his unending stream of incendiary lies, even that support has begun to shrink. But it still has a huge base, half the Republican Party, and enough to bring the GOP to its knees, especially in the face of too few courageous souls in the party.

The downward spiral of the Republican Party is not helped when the Democrats fail to fight Donald Trump on his own grounds and launch a proper show trial rather than an investigative and prosecutorial effort in seeking justice. The system is rigged against winning. It may sound ironic that I am chastising the Democratic Party for not doing more to save the GOP by fighting on populist soil, but the conservatives in the GOP cannot do so alone. They need outside aid. And offering outside assistance is crucial for the salvation of democracy and a strong two-party system.

They should trade help for getting Republicans to help save democracy by defeating efforts to gerrymander and reduce voter participation. There are enough genuine believers in democracy in the GOP to launch a cross-the-aisle assault on undemocratic committed populists.  For democracy is not majority will but minority protection. Democracy is, in fact, not an expression of will alone, as conservatives recognize, but of institutional norms that protect against mob rule and foster reflection and deliberation. Hopefully, this will happen in the inquiry into the attempted insurrection, even if many Republicans try to sabotage that effort. There are still enough institutionalists in the Republican party to at least save democracy even as the GOP self-destructs.

However, it will be no easy task. The Republican Party is ridden with malignancy and becoming sicker day by day in the face of worsening radicalization. Elected Republican members of the House voted unanimously to reject any proposal to punish Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (Georgia) for her blatant sympathies for QAnon and her endorsement of the use of violence against Democrats. Of three camps, cheering on a street brawler, remaining a passive enabler or declaring war but only fighting in accordance with Marquess of Queensberry rules, the latter is a distinctive minority.

But perhaps the Republican Party will not implode if the Democrats are determined to save it. However, I suspect they too are short-sighted and understandably bitter and unwilling to help. However, even as the implosion takes place, to the degree the key supports for democracy are strengthened, then at the very least democracy will emerge stronger than ever even as the two-party system suffers a temporary hiatus. Trump will use all his banalities and once again resort to anti-Washington rhetoric to set up and concentrate the antipathy upon which he feeds.

Unfortunately, Republicans have prioritized tribalism over patriotism. When a sitting president so blatantly violates his oath of office and Republican members in a significant majority support rather than condemn his rhetorical lie to “Stop the Steal” instead of condemning Donald Trump for not crying out, calling out, to “Stop the Assault,” then this evident lack of integrity will be the inevitable root of the rot that leads to the withering away of the GOP. For its elected representatives in the majority are complicit in the process of self-destruction.

How can these representatives stand by and stand aside as a president praises those who would hang his own vice-president, calls them special and expressed his love for the assailants? How can this so-called law-and-order president stand by as a police officer screams in pain, as other officers are poked and probed and struck with metal poles, as police officers are killed or die in a post-traumatic stupor?

Gross insensitivity will cost the GOP its life as Donald Trump declares himself the party’s presumptive nominee for 2024 at the forthcoming CPAC annual conservative political conference, Trump has become the Republican Party. McConnell may have issued a declaration of war, but Mitch is a Senate stalwart not a street brawler.

Reviving Middle East Focus

In November 2020, Irwin Cotler was named Canada’s first Special Envoy for Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In the 1970’s, Irwin, then a Professor of Human Rights and Constitutional Law at McGill University and later a Member of Parliament in Canada and Canada’s Justice Minister, together with the late Harry Crowe, founded the Canadian Professors for Peace in the Middle East (CPPME). It was an organization of academics focused on the Middle East and particularly the Israeli-Palestinian problem with a mandate of raising the level of awareness on the very many dimensions of the conflict. To that end, many academics traveled together to Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and sometimes Jordan and Egypt on study tours. Harry Crowe also started a periodical, Middle East Focus (MEF) that became a mainstay of investigation and publishing on the issues of the day under discussion.

Some of those academics began to play some active roles as well. David Dewitt and I became involved in the Track II efforts at peace negotiations in the 1980’s. Irwin Cotler was active much earlier and undertook a visit to Syria pioneering work on behalf of Syrian Jewry when he was an academic visitor at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, a Cairo think tank.

When Boutros-Ghali (later Secretary-General of the United Nations) was the president of that think tank, Irwin played an introductory role in the Egyptian-Israeli peace deal. Since the end of the Yom Kippur War, Anwar Sadat of Egypt had been searching for ways to shift Egypt’s course away from confrontation with Israel in order to recover the territories it had lost to Israel in previous wars. Sadat used Boutros-Ghali, a good friend, to arrange a meeting between himself and Irwin. Sadat wanted to send a message to Menachem Begin, the new Israeli Prime Minister, that he was open to peace talks on two conditions:

  1. Israel withdraw from the entire Sinai
  2. Israel recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

Begin was initially closed to either possibility. However, Irwin’s initial and subsequent meetings led to the establishment of a backdoor channel between Sadat and Begin. That backdoor channel led to Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem in 1977 and the eventual peace agreement.

The background story is just as intriguing as the backdoor diplomacy for it melded inter-personal romance with international diplomacy. Irwin’s wife, then Ariela Zeevi, was Begin’s parliamentary secretary at the time. Irwin, even though then someone who probably identified with the Labour Party at the time, on the return from one of his trips to Syria where he had conferred with the Jews there, traveled to Israel to brief Israeli politicians. I recall to this day the vivid description Irwin gave to me of the Jews on one street where Syrian Jews had their businesses being guarded at each end by an armed Palestinian and where they were asked to show ID every time they left or returned to the street.

Ariela was in attendance at Irwin’s briefing on Syrian Jews in Jerusalem as the eyes and ears of Begin. I once teased her long ago that she sent a note to Irwin on that occasion asking him if he was available to meet Begin, but, in reality, so she could meet this charming, young, charismatic and committed Zionist from Canada more than to get Irwin to brief Begin on Syrian Jews. That was how Irwin met his wife, Ariela. That was how Irwin met Begin. And that was when he brought up the issue of Sadat’s desire to travel to Jerusalem to meet Begin and discuss peace. What followed was the historic invitation Begin extended to Sadat.

That year, 1977-1978, I was a Lady Davis Visiting Professor in the philosophy department of Hebrew University. There was no way that I was going to miss Anwar Sadat along with Simon Peres and Begin appearing on the stage of the Jerusalem Theatre on 19 November 1977 for such an historic occasion. I wangled an invitation as an ostensible journalist writing for Middle East Focus (MEF) (I wrote many academic articles for the magazine, but it was a real stretch to call myself a journalist. Further, MEF was then still only a dream in Harry Crowe’s eye at that time.) I suppose I could have tried to use pull through Irwin, but our conversations at the time were too full of his accounts of his courtship with Ariela; there was little time left for international affairs.

It was indeed a dramatic occasion. Anwar Sadat addressed the audience on the promise of peace. Shimon Peres talked about the challenges that stood in the way and the courage and commitment Israelis had to meet those challenges. Begin spoke about the deep scars of the Holocaust on the Jewish psyche with the clear implication that a great deal of effort was required on the other side to overcome Israeli suspicions and wariness. Begin was not immediately ready to buy into Sadat’s offer of exchanging captured Egyptian land for peace and, at the very least, initiating direct talks with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (the PLO) which Menachem Begin considered a terrorist organization.

But the evidence supporting an openness to peace was widely evident in that Boutros-Ghali had been appointed Foreign Minister. Tahseen Bashir, Sadat’s chief-of-staff, was reputed to be a peacenik. And the ace-in-the-hole was Jihan, Anwar Sadat’s wife, who let Sadat and others know that it was time to forge peace with the Zionist state. (For a more detailed version of the story, see the one that appeared in the Canadian Jewish Record on 8 December 2020.)

Unfortunately, Middle East Focus did not exist at the time so I never had an opportunity to write up my observations and analysis. When MEF did come into existence, I am convinced that it played a very important role in raising the level of Canadian awareness on the issues. One of the casualties of the Oslo Accords was the demise of both the Canadian Professors for Peace in the Middle East and our stellar periodical. For we thought peace had arrived. We were no longer really needed. The Jewish community had other priorities. So did we. And each of us put our major energies into other endeavours.

What does that say about the clairvoyance of academics looking into the future? In any case, many of us felt the deep loss when events turned for the worse. It was not that we did not have available other journals and other outlets. But none with a particularly Canadian angle.

Recently, a small group of academics and others who have been intimately concerned with Israel met together. They had all maintained a high degree of involvement concerning the Middle East. One idea raised was the possible revival of Middle East Focus as a twenty-first century electronic journal. It would, of course, not be the same. For one, we saw it initially servicing the interested general community rather than having a singular focus on academia. It could be an information-sharing instrument for the Jewish and non-Jewish communities. After all, there is so much more that is available and accessible to anyone now than was not available three decades ago.

Each issue would be sent out, not as a single publication, but as a series of dispatches from different departments intermixed with articles. The departments could include:

  1. Forthcoming webinars over the following two weeks.
  2. Lists of podcasts available by category.
  3. Lists of previously distributed recorded webinars by topics.
  4. Bibliographies
  5. References to relevant articles that had appeared in the past month with perhaps brief summaries of them.
  6. New books and references to reviews of those books relevant to the concerns of the periodical.
  7. Notices of events being put on by various Canadian Jewish organizations that relate to the concerns of the magazine.
  8. Publications of critical documents as part of the historical background, the changing interpretations of their provisions and the impact of the different interpretations on the peace process.
  9. Memories and recollections of specific past historic events that can throw light on the present.
  10.  Announcements

There are other ideas. But this list suggests the flavour. Other suggestions would be welcome. More significantly, if antone would like to become involved in the production of the periodical or contributing material, please contact Howard Adelman at howarda72@gmail.com.

To make the above suggestions more concrete, I include one example – Forthcoming Webinars. I will send others in subsequent blogs. Let me know if you find this list useful and we welcome suggested improvements.

FORTHCOMING WEBINARS (times are eastern standard time)

Date      Day        Start      End        Sponsor   Topic                                                 Speakers

23           Tues.     11:00                     APME      Settlements ICC                            Michael Sfard

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/#inbox/FMfcgxwLsdFBqNTGFVHThCLvQxFJzMhR

12:00                     ASMEA    Clash of Civilizations                    Lewis, Ajami

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/?hl=en_GB#inbox/FMfcgxwLsdFBWXwbTSnQhTWvvjFWzdGg

                                12:00                     PeaceNow Israel’s 23 March elections     Merav Michaeli

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/?hl=en_GB#inbox/FMfcgxwLsdCskdNXsrNChVVXKVgrPVKq

12:30     2:00        York U      World Social Justice    Guild, Okafor, Fursky

https://yorku.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Rq98Q8d_QQahDDV9vpILWA

2:00        3:00        IPF             Israel, Iran, Region       Ben Goldenberg

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/?hl=en_GB#inbox/FMfcgxwLsdCrLhkDtHPnVzjJFnFPlkTh

4:30        6:00        Moment   Hitlers’ Food Tasters  Gabriel Rosenfeld

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/?hl=en_GB#inbox/FMfcgxwLsdFBgpqNwsDfKnZrptrmcTDz

8:00                        HRC           Resurrecting Iran Deal                Mark Dubowitz

https://www.jns.org/wire/insider-briefing-webinar-why-biden-shouldnt-resurrect-the-iranian-nuclear-deal-with-mark-dubowitz/

24           Wed.     9:00       10:00      Brookings   A conversation with H.E. Barham Salih
                            10:15                              “        A conversation with Rep. Gregory Meeks
                            11:00                             “         A conversation with H.E. Nasser Bourita
                             12:00                            “         Panel: European priorities in the Middle East

                                11:00    12:00   Munk      Changing Face of Diplomacy – panel

http://billgrahamcentre.utoronto.ca/events/2021/2/24/the-changing-face-of-diplomacy

                                12;00                 ICEJ            “Who are the Jews? Rabbi Moshe Cohn

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/?hl=en_GB#inbox/FMfcgxwLsdFBzgTgtNZsZxRDsgBfWJNt

                                12:00                     Brandeis  Germany, Israel, Palestine        Abraham Gator

25           Thurs.   9:00 a.m.              Brookings- An address by His Majesty King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein
                             9:10 a.m. –                            – A conversation with H.E. Dina Kawar
                             10:00 a.m.                            – A conversation with Dr. Anwar Gargash
                             10:45 a.m. –                          – A conversation with H.E. Sabri Boukadoum
                             11:45 a.m.                            – Panel: The Biden administration and Iran

12:00     1:00 `     APN           Electing New Knesset Merav Michaeli

                                11:00     12:00     FMEP    ICC & Israel-Palestine     Gallagher, Jabareen, Kearney, Stein

                                12:00                     APN       Elections: Labour Party  Merav Michaeli

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/#inbox/FMfcgxwLsdFBqNTGFVHThCLvQxFJzMhR

26           Fri.          9:30      11:00     LEARN  Refugees, Knowledge, Representation

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/?hl=en_GB#inbox/FMfcgxwLsdFBgxlWQpKRCkxgsdZHtMZC

10:00 a.m. — A conversation with former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper
               11:00 a.m. — Panel: Dealing with conflicts and their aftermath
                2:00 p.m. — Conclusion and lessons learned: MENA and the new U.S. administration

28           Sun.       10:00                     Yeshiva U.  Contemporary Jews in Iran   Schacter, Abale

http://yeshiva.imodules.com/s/1739/2-yu/index.aspx?sid=1739&gid=4&pgid=3360&cid=5813&ecid=5813                            

VI. The Donald Trump Show Trial

This is the last in a series on show trials. It is the only one focused on the rare case of a show trial where the accused was virtually unequivocally guilty of the charge but acquitted nevertheless. More specifically, Donald Trump was charged with inciting an insurrection. Though he had been impeached in the House of Representatives, he was discharged completely from the accusation because two-thirds of the Senate of the United States failed to find him guilty.

It is one thing not to have found Donald Trump guilty in the Senate. However, in the court of public opinion, only 58% of Americans were convinced that he should have been found guilty according to an ABC/Ipsos poll. That was just a scratch more than the 56% of senators who found him guilty, 11% less than the two-thirds necessary to convict him. It was an improvement over his first impeachment trial the previous year when 49% of the public approved of the Senate vote and 47% disapproved. But by no stretch could the results be considered a victory in the court of public opinion. A majority may do for an election. However, one of the characteristics of a show trial is that the overwhelming majority of the public must be convinced. This did not happen in the second impeachment.

There is another way to look at the result. 75 million Americans voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 election, seven million more than supported him in the 2016 election. 82 million voted for Joe Biden. Donald Trump still enjoyed almost 48% support among American voters during the 2020 election. Between the election and the impeachment trial his support among his own voters slipped only 18% in spite of the overwhelming evidence that Donald Trump had indeed incited an insurrection. In an actual poll of Republican voters, Donald Trump lost only 14% support.

If this was a show trial, something went wrong. It is not as if the managers from the House of Representatives had not conducted an excellent prosecution on the charge. Their conduct was almost universally applauded as masterful. In contrast, the defence attorneys were considered a disaster. If Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, was any indication, the vast majority of Republican senators were convinced of Donald Trump’s guilt.

After the trial, Mitch McConnell on 13 February, in a speech from the Senate floor, delivered an address that was universally considered a scalding indictment. He specifically stated that Donald Trump was morally and practically responsible for the 6 January riot against the Capitol. He excoriated Trump and called his actions on that day “a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty.” His tone was bitter as he castigated Trump for inciting the crowds, failing to offer Vice-President Pence protection when his life had been threatened and the mob was calling for his lynching, failed to call out the National Guard when the Capitol police and the Washington police forces were overwhelmed by the mob. And when he called off the insurrectionists finally, he did not chastise them, but expressed his love and admiration for them when he advised them to go home. “A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags and screaming their loyalty to him.” So pronounced Mitch McConnell.

Why did Mitch McConnell vote to acquit? It could have been because in the forthcoming battle for the soul of the Republican Party, McConnell did not want to put himself as being in league with the Democrats. Or perhaps he was genuinely convinced that its was illegitimate to impeach a president once he was no longer in office. There had been no time to conduct a formal investigation of the charge. Further, the FBI criminal investigation was ongoing and still in its infancy at the time of the impeachment trial. There had been nothing equivalent to the many committee hearings or the 600-page report on the articles of impeachment in Trump’s first trial.

The Senate was not in session when the articles of impeachment were passed and would not be in session until after the new president took office. There was the jockeying back and forth about when the House of Representatives would send the Senate the charge. Article II, Section 4, of the Constitution, read “The President . . shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for and Conviction of Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Did not that imply that he had to be holding office when the trial took place?

In the Federalist Papers (30), James Madison had written that “the President of the United States is impeachable at any time during his continuance in office.”  (my italics) Further, if the major penalty was removal, did this not mean that he had to be serving in office at the time of conviction? However, no matter what arguments of precedent were used, no matter whether the Senators who voted for acquittal were or were not sincerely convinced that the trial of a former president was illegitimate, these arguments were but parts of the show trial  and, in themselves, proved nothing.

The real problem was that the prosecution failed to recognize that it was a show trial. In a trial to render justice in a court of law or even a political court, such as the Senate, the issue is whether there is sufficient evidence to justify a finding of guilt. Th real issue was justice. That is not the standard in a show trial. In such an effort, it is not the specific behaviour that is on trial but the man. It is his persona and all he stands for – whether it be Socrates, Dreyfus, Eichmann or Donald Trump. You cannot win an appropriate verdict in a show trial if the major focus is on proving the justice of the accusation.

Further, the problem was not proving that Donald Trump was an obnoxious boor. He had spent a career establishing his reputation on precisely such grounds. Why would the public, or at least a more significant portion of his Republican supporters, turn against him for what they already knew to be true?

We live in an attention society. We live at a time when celebrity is given an independent and high value. We live in an age when image matters, not words, when words can be mangled, misspelled and misused, but do not in the end count since what counts is the image that remains as the residue. In a justice trial, words do matter. In a show trial, less so. Much less so. This is particularly true in a society that bases its sense of truth on the imagery put before it rather than a close and critical assessment of whether words can be connected directly with deeds. In the Brave New World in which we find ourselves, appearances have the highest value, not substance. And proof of guilt over an action is a substantive rather than impressionistic issue.

Image not only lorded it over words on a page, but so did affect over rationality. In the past, it is true that we paid too little attention to the politics of affect. Even though David Hume and Adam Smith had stressed the importance of sentiment in a proto-democracy and a proto-consumer society, emotion was not put front and centre in Donald Trump’s trial, or, at least, not the right emotions.

Whoa! Surely this cannot be true. After all, the trial depended overwhelmingly on the presentation of visual images of rioters wielding sticks and poles at police officers, breaking windows, trashing the Speaker’s office and occupying the seat of the Chair of the Senate. The pictures of senators and congressmen and women in flight were perhaps the most critical parts of the presentation of evidence. That is indisputibly true. But what emotions were aroused? Fears on behalf of the politicians and their staffs. Panic at the situation in which some of the police officers found themselves. But was there any compassion aroused for them? Was there any visceral hatred aroused against the rioters? Most importantly, was hatred directed at Donald Trump in any different way than in the previous four years of his increasing obnoxious behaviour? And even if hatred was the primary emotion directed at Trump at even a qualitatively different level, did it matter in the court of public opinion?

After all, Trump had run as a despised individual. Love him or hate him. Nothing in between. He was not the Ronald Reagan of the Republican Party who soothed and simplified. He was a disrupter par excellence. He deliberately antagonized. He did not win office by practicing a Norman Vincent Peal strategy of how to win friends, but in a systematic and well-conceived effort to define enemies and to consolidate the hatred of others directed at those enemies.

In a world of fragmented rather than mass media, he needed only to unite people in their hatred as he divided then by allowing them to pick different sides of his ostensible character with which they could identify. He did not have to be all things to all men, just different things to different men:

  • The womanizer
  • The bully
  • The serial liar who got away with those lies
  • One able to win power to be able to appoint anti-abortion judges
  • The purported billionaire
  • The flashy stylist
  • The smooth talker
  • The man of plain speech.

In a niche society, he was himself a fragmented persona of many parts that never did cohere. He suited a society that had become united as it grew angrier and more discontented but was divided into different silos by their fractured cultures, their different tastes and their widely differentiated allegiances. Donald Trump was a great fit for an age of heightened melodrama and sensationalist sex. He epitomized, not the pornography of power, but the power of pornography extended even into the every part of the world, including the drab world of building construction. He had transformed himself into a brand to rent space in office towers, hotel suites, expensive condos and memberships in clubs, wines and times on golf courses. He had become the shyster of post-modernity.

In such a culture, did truth matter? Did justice? Notoriety and celebrity counted much more than any of the older virtues. This devotee of TV had become its most inflate emoji. If FDR had made himself the first radio president and Reagan the first very successful television president when TV enjoyed a mass and relatively monolithic audience, Trump, first using TV, became the president of the twitter universe as TV fragmented and split apart. He graduated from being a New York carnie to a TV “bad guy” to a bird tweeter now omnipresent in the universe.

The question then is how you try such a figure? And what do you try him for? Inciting a riot?? But incitement lay at the heart of modern society? Protesting, rioting – the American public was barely able to distinguish the two. Let’s cut to the chase. The problem was not to convict Donald Trump for that for which he was already famous – his ability to arouse an audience to believe irrational thoughts and engage in irrational action. The job was to indict him for being weak rather than strong, being a coward rather than one who flaunted the courage of his convictions, however, off-the-wall. It was his incompetence as a leader of even an insurrection that had to be uncovered.

He had to be revealed as a balloon buffoon incapable of pulling off a coup when everything to do so was at his disposal. Now it is understandable why the House managers did not want to unveil Trump’s incompetence when they were trying to connect him with an attempt to overthrow a duly elected president. Revealing the cowardice of a leader was a peculiar way of establishing his leadership of an insurrection. But that is exactly what the managers should have emphasized.

After all, Trump had said that “we” will march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol together, and then retreated into the White House to watch it all on television. Given his role as Commander-in-Chief, if he had studied any successful coup, he would have learned that he would have had to recruit a key part of the military to his cause and neutralized the rest, but he had over the years alienated the military with his erratic behaviour for which more tools of war and better salaries could not compensate. The rioting leadership would have had to undergo practice runs and establish divisions of responsibility as they headed towards capturing and destroying the ballots of the Electoral College.

America was far readier for a dictator to seize power than most people imagined. It was fragmented and incoherent. The opposition that won power misunderstood the threat that stood before them and wanted to try the leader according to older and firmer standards of justice. But those standards demanded that the opposite be put on display – facts and images that stood for facts rather than emotions that could dissolve Donald Trump’s support. Of course, if the managers emphasized his cowardice and his incompetence, how could he be held responsible for inciting a riot? But your utter incapacity offers no indication that prevents you from being stupid. You do not have to be astute and determined to mount a serious assault on a government.

Trump should have been revealed as a weakling hiding behind a bully’s pulpit. He should have been revealed as an utter incompetent, not simply in being president, but in retaining the presidency by fair means or foul, a rigged election or the use of force. He was a loser on both counts. Then it is possible that the managers could have penetrated public opinion and even aroused the bear to re-emerge from his lair and seal the proof of Trump’s ignorance, incompetence, weakness and cowardice.

Terumah: It is Harder to Receive than to Give

Exodus 25:1 – 27:19

Terumah is the name of this week’s portion of the Torah. In Hebrew, it means a gift or offering. It is about giving, more specifically about bringing gifts for God to the mishkan, God’s tabernacle. The parashah is also about the detailed working drawings for building the mishkan. What is the connection between gift giving and working and design drawings? The two topics would seem to be totally unrelated. Further, when the topic of the section is so explicitly about giving, why in my title do I imply that I will instead be writing about receiving?  

The Parashah begins:

1“The Lord spoke to Moses saying: אוַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶל־משֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר:
2“Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering. בדַּבֵּר֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְיִקְחוּ־לִ֖י תְּרוּמָ֑ה מֵאֵ֤ת כָּל־אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ לִבּ֔וֹ תִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־תְּרֽוּמָתִֽי:

The instructions are unequivocally about bringing gifts, giving gifts and doing so out the goodness of one’s heart. Not as a duty, but only as one is inspired in your heart. The portion then begins to list all the gifts that the Israelites are asked to bring to and for the house of God. It is not accidental that this section follows the receipt of God’s gift to the Israelites, the commandments telling them what they are obligated to do and not do, But this is a higher point, about what the people feel they should give, not about how they are obligated to behave.

God does not seem to be bothered by receiving the luxurious gifts listed. These are poor ex-slaves who are asked to share with the house of God whatever wealth they managed to take with them from Egypt. The section seems to be only about giving and not about the difficulty of receiving. But probe into the context a bit.

In Egypt, gifts were brought to and buried in the pyramids with the mummified body of a person of noble rank. The Hebrews, in contrast, were being asked to bring their gifts to the house of a living God, one who would live among them and not in a separate life afterwards. “Let the people make Me this sanctuary so that I may dwell among them.” The text stresses God’s nearness and not His distance, how giving is a means of bringing God closer to oneself. The theme of the section is written in opposition to “distancing” even as we are now being taught to distance from one another by at least two metres to prevent the spread of COVID-19. If distancing is now a virtue to prevent being infected, this section is about nearness as a matter at the core of the life of a spiritual community and a nation destined for a great purpose. Gifts were brought, not to be buried, but to be displayed.

So, to repeat, why write about it being harder to receive than to give? First, because it is. I was a first year pre-medical student at the University of Toronto. My Aunt Lil took me out to lunch shortly after I had begun my first year of studies. After lunch, as we stood on the south-east corner of Hoskins and St. George and we were about to go our separate ways, she reached into her purse and offered me an envelope. I asked what is was. She said it was a gift to help me out as I pursued my studies. I opened the envelope and in it there was a one hundred dollar bill – the equivalent in purchasing power to about two thousand dollars today.

I was taken aback. I insisted on returning the money to her. “I did not need it,” I insisted. My fees were paid by scholarships and I earned enough money to cover my other expenses.” I did not thank her for her generosity, but, instead, insisted on putting forth my pride in being self-sufficient. I am embarrassed to this day about my response sixty-six years ago.

It was not just the lack of grace that I demonstrated. It was about who I was and who I was not. I definitely was not a very commendable human being. I signaled that self-sufficiency was more important than sharing. I perceived receiving a gift as taking on a form of obligation that I did not want. I was not so much overwhelmed by my aunt’s offer as dismissive, in fact, contemptuous for her not recognizing my supposed strength and independence. I may have been a poor relative, one of three children raised by a single mother, her younger sister, but I would and could make it on my own. What is even worse, in my mind I gloated. I bet that my older brother who had enrolled in first year premeds with me, had accepted an equivalent gift. I never asked him, but in my mind I lauded my superiority over him. In reality, my pride stood in the way of recognizing a gracious offer.

Why then do I say that it is harder to receive than to give? My brother would have had no difficulty. He would have been thankful for easing the burden of going to university and providing extra spending money. It is not hard to receive if you are open to the generosity of others. But to learn to accept gifts – which is really very hard – one has to first learn to give them, to engage in largesse and to do so voluntarily even if you are not well off yourself. The Hebrews from the very start were being taught to give voluntarily, action even more important than obeying out of duty. For in learning how to give, one learns how to receive, in this case, how to be open to the message that God was trying to impart.  

My experience was the opposite. I remember one of my own sons when he was very young, on seeing a beggar on the street, turning to me and asking for a quarter. I gave it to him absent mindedly without even inquiring why he asked. Perhaps he wanted to buy a chocolate bar. Instead, shyly and furtively he sidled over to the styrofoam cup. While looking skyward and, thinking he was unnoticed, he dropped his quarter in the cup. He then scurried back to me with a glow and a spirit of having achieved a remarkable release and pleasure. And he clearly did not want any recognition for what he had done.

The real lesson here is not as much about his deep understanding of giving, but about his even deeper understanding of receiving. For he had no trouble asking me for a quarter and taking it. His difficulty was in giving it away so as not to embarrass the man receiving the gift of a child. He was acutely aware that he did not want to embarrass the street person. He also was not looking for any credit for himself.

Read the second verse again. “Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering.” (my italics) It is about taking, not giving, taking on behalf of God and taking from God. We can only give freely when we learn to take graciously, for what we take is not for ourselves but for the divine spirit of giving of oneself and creating.

But that is not how I once understood myself, the world and my relationship to others in my world. My wife brought home a beautiful and I daresay an expensive sweater as a gift for me. Embarrassed, I opened the gift. I expressed my admiration for the sweater. “But why?” I protested. “I already have too many sweaters.” For the hundredth or the thousandth time (she never gave up trying to teach me), she swore. “I will never buy you a present ever again.” Her generosity never allowed her to keep that vow. But in exasperation, she walked off. “You’re such a big lunk.”

This was not when I was young and full of false pride. I supposedly was older and more mature. But I easily reverted to type and my practice of always “looking a gift horse in the mouth.” The issue was not appreciation of beauty and generosity of spirit, but a close examination to see whether the horse had healthy teeth and whether it would be worth adding to one’s stable.

How do you teach those who are hard of heart? By teaching them how to give. When they learn the joys of generosity of spirit, of voluntarily giving, then their hearts can be melted and they can learn the harder lesson of receiving. And it is a more difficult lesson. Much more difficult. That is why the verse refers to taking, not receiving. I recall a moment in my life when I had been taught to be much more open even though I had grown up to be stoical. I remember the pride I took when I walked home at the age of 12 after having had my tonsils removed in a surgeon’s chair. When I went to the dentist, I always refused freezing and endured the terrific pain of low-speed drills available at the time for fixing my cavities. (It was before the time of fluoridation of water.)

However, I had attended a dentist appointment after a weekend spent in trying to learn to open up, to lower my defensive barriers, to discard my body armour.  I sat in the dentist’s chair and, as usual, waved away the offer to freeze that area of my mouth. However, when he started to drill, I almost hit the ceiling in extreme pain. I had never felt anything like it in my life. It was excruciating. It was obvious that I could not get my cavity filled when I was in such great distress and, for the first time, I agreed to having my jaw frozen while my cavity was filled.

Instead of learning that being open to the gift of feelings from another meant also becoming very sensitive to pain, I immediately tried to reconstruct my barriers. I wept for the stoical self that had been lost and which I tried to recover, but he seemed lost forever. I was betwixt and between. Neither very open but no longer with the thick walls of protection I had built around myself.  It was a dangerous place.

How do you learn to live in the vicinity of God’s home, to visit God and take the gifts on offer and partake in what God has been given? By learning to give first. By learning that generosity of spirit is a precondition for acquiring an open heart. By learning that when one gives, one must give freely. This is a very much more important lesson than the obligation to behave dutifully. And in learning to give freely, one learns the most important lesson of all, to be able to take freely. “You shall accept,” but not as a duty, but in the same spirit of freedom and generosity which is a prerequisite of giving. Learning to take does not have a functionalist meaning, does not entail an examination of the healthiness of the horse’s teeth, does not mean, as some commentators suggest, engaging in a functional and transactional exercise to vet the gifts on offer.

But gift giving requires care, requires careful thought, requires an intimate knowledge of the needs and desires of those for whom a gift is intended. My late mother-in-law excelled in such giving. When she sent a card, when she inscribed a few words accompanying the gift, and when she chose the gift, it always seemed the most perfect for the occasion and most suited to the needs and personality of the receiver. She made gift-giving into a high art and did so with aplomb and modesty. That is why the text describes the detailed working and design drawings for the mishkan. It is an expression of thoughtfulness that must go into gift-giving.

And then receiving. And then taking. Not why did you buy that for me. I don’t need it. Not, ‘I already have a tie in that colour.’ One has to learn to receive a gift in a way that teaches the other about one’s needs and desires. By making it a guessing game, one reveals a paucity of spirit. Appreciation demands that you become so engaged with the other that they learn in precise detail the colour, shape and size of the very gift perfectly suited to you. Receiving a gift is the highest exercise in pedagogy.

“These are the gifts.” They must be specific and precise, exactly what is needed. God, in communicating what is acceptable to be received for the mishkan, teaches the other how and what to give.  No sending winter boots when there is an earthquake in Haiti.

The Israelites had made their escape from Egypt. They had escaped slavery. More importantly, they escaped a value system the Israelite God abhorred. The epic escape and flight are over. Now came the much more difficult part of the journey – entering into the covenant with God. An initial phase requires learning what it means to live under the rule of law rather than a tyranny. However, the second stage is even more difficult – learning how to give freely so that one can be open to God and receive freely.

That does not involve happenstance behaviour anymore than living under the rule of law does. The pillars and beams, the curtain and the menorah, have very precise specifications. The gate of the mishkan courtyard had to be beautifully embroidered with “blue, royal purple, scarlet and fine twined linen” (38:18). The dimensions of the mishkan are specified in detail. So are the materials to be used. When we learn how to give a gift and what to give, we learn how to receive.

It is said that we live in an attention culture. The most important attribute is to be able to attract, attention, to be noticed. However, the Torah teaches us that it is we who must learn to attend to others, not as an act of disciplined will and duty, but with a fully free and hearty spirit. We do not attend by flexing our muscles, tightening our jaws and stiffening our countenance. To attend, we must be relaxed. To attend, we must surrender pride. To attend, we must acquire grace. Undiluted attention is required. No distractions. Prayer is the highest form of attention. That is what Judaism asks us to do – to attend to God, to attend to others, to attend to our real selves.

Judaism is a religion of grace and not just of laws. It is through God’s grace that the Israelites were chosen. It is through God’s grace that they escaped from Egypt. It is through God’s grace that they received the commandments and the covenant that ties every Jew to God. It is through grace that we learn the highest form of spirituality, how to attend to others and give and, even more importantly, how to receive with grace.

V. Show Trials – Adolf Eichmann

In my second blog in this series on show trials, I provided a chart as follows:

 InnocentGuilty
AcquittedPresident Bill Clinton 1999O. J. Simpson 1995 Donald Trump 2021
Found GuiltySocrates– 300 BC Jesus Dreyfus – 1894-1895 Ed Johnson 1906 Tenn. Scottsboro Boys 1931 Stalin 1930s purges Trenton 6 1948 Central Park 5 1989 Lena Baker 2005The Rosenberg Trial                        1951 Eichmann Trial 1960

I have now covered the two quadrants on the left side. In today’s blog I will cover the quadrant on the lower right side, that is, a case in which the defendant was guilty and was found guilty. But how can that be a show trial? Isn’t a show trial about innocent people put on display, charged with a crime and found guilty when they were innocent? That is certainly the quadrant I discussed in the last two blogs. But a show trial is not determined by whether the person on trial is innocent or guilty but because of the purpose of the trial. Though justice may or may not be served by the trial, its main purpose is not justice but public education – to make a strong impression and a big impact on the public.

For those too young to remember or to even have had an opportunity to remember, Adolf Eichmann was captured by Israeli Mossad agents in Argentina and secretly transported to Israel. He had been hiding in Argentina under the assumed name of Ricardo Klement and worked in a nondescript job in a Mercedes-Benz factory in Buenos Aires. The kidnap had caused the first sensation as Argentina complained to the UN Security Council about this breach in Argentina’s sovereignty, a breach, though illegal under international law, was understandable since there was very little chance, if any, that Argentina would bring this war criminal to justice let alone extradite him to Israel.

After his capture and transport to Israel, he was put on trial in a special tribunal of the Jerusalem District Court starting on 11 April 1961 where he was charged with facilitating and managing the mass deportation of Jews to the Nazi murder camps. In the first fifteen years after WWII, relatively little had been written or said about the Holocaust. The name was not even widely recognized. All that changed with the Eichmann trial. “Holocaust” became a household word.

And that was part of the sensation of the trial. Hannah Arendt in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, the book published based on her essays in The New Yorker, the magazine that had assigned her to cover the trial, had charged that the trial had not been about bringing Eichmann to justice but was, in fact, a show trial to put Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi killing machine and the shoah on public display for the education of the public. Certainly, the trial was one of the very first followed on television and is generally credited with bringing awareness of the Nazi atrocities to a worldwide audience. There is a general consensus among historians that it was this trial that embedded the Holocaust in the public mind in contrast to the Nuremberg Trials conducted by the International Military Tribunal after the war which were followed only by specialists.

I remember reading Hannah Arendt’s essays and books ever since I was an undergraduate and then her book on Eichmann as a graduate student. I had been captivated by this public intellectual ever since I read, The Origins of Totalitarianism. At the time, I was sold on her thesis about Eichmann representing “the banality of evil” and her indignation at the public sensationalism versus concern for justice in the very way the trial had been conducted. (In a twist, Arendt had not been upset at the way he was captured, though that was explicitly illegal under international law.) I resented those who attacked her; she clearly did not excuse Eichmann for formulating the regulations that implemented such noxious laws. Later, years later, the Arendt analysis of the trial became a lesson for me that there were intellectual cults and I had been a member of one. Perhaps academics were as prone to get caught up in such cults as religious or ideological believers.

But first the trial. Unlike the Nuremberg trails based on written documents, the Jerusalem trial called witness after witness, victims who escaped and victims who had resisted. As with the Trump trial in the Senate where the focus had been on the television records, the tweets and the audio recordings of what happened in real time, the Jerusalem trial tried to approximate that feeling by the words of survivors.

The controversy over the trial may have begun with the jurisdictional issue given that Israel had kidnapped the person charged to bring him before the tribunal. There was also the law under which he was tried. It was a retroactive law not existing at the time the alleged crimes were committed. Israel had not even existed at the time. In 1950, Israel passed the Nazi and Nazi Collaborators Punishment Law and it was under this law that Eichmann was charged. But how could you be charged for a crime that did not even exist in law at the time of the crime by a jurisdiction that did not even exist at the time of the alleged crime and of a person who had been criminally abducted?

But none of these issues were Arendt’s preoccupations. Gideon Hasner was the Israeli attorney general who prosecuted Eichmann. It was clear that Hannah Arendt held a particular animus against him, ostensibly based on his sensational use of evidence and witnesses, many of whom had no direct links to the actions of Eichmann as either witnesses or victims. But Eichmann was not just charged for killing or enabling the murder of specific Jews. The 15 counts under which he was tried included “crimes against the Jewish people” and “crimes against humanity” for his deportation to the death camps of Roma.

In his defence, Eichmann portrayed himself, and Arendt accepted that portrayal, that he had been a bureaucrat following orders for the efficient disposal of the material goods of these people and their efficient transport to the camps. The murder of the Jews was not within his field of responsibility. However, there was written evidence that he had been a member of the Storm Troopers (SA), the Security Service (SD), and the Gestapo, all declared to be criminal organizations in the 1946 Nuremberg Trial. Further, as head of the Reich Security Main Office for Jewish affairs, he was not just “a cog in the machinery of destruction,” as he suggested, but was an initiator who coordinated with Gestapo chief Heinrich Mueller on developing the plans for the transport and deportation of the Jews.

It was clear, as the trial stretched over months as Adolf Eichmann’s presence in a bullet-proof glass booth became an iconic vision, that the prime issue was not Eichmann’s guilt or innocence. That was easily proven and was a forgone conclusion. But succinctness is not necessarily an important ingredient in a show trial. In this case, dragging the trial out and sensationalizing the tale – that barely needed any heightened presentation – was the point.

And it was to this that Hannah Arendt had taken the greatest umbrage. Arendt recognized that Eichmann had been intimately involved in the commission of extraordinary evil. However, there were three components of a crime necessary to prove criminality – intent, legal jurisdiction and moral responsibility. (Judith Butler’s 2011 essay, “Hannah Arendt’s challenge to Adolph Eichmann” sums up her position well.)

Arendt questioned how Adolf Eichmann could have formed an intent to commit murder since, though he was totally conscious about his deeds, he did not think about them. He performed them, but gave no thought to the consequences or the rationale behind them. In law (in Canadian law, cf. Mohan (1975) QB 1), however, for intent to be established, one had to know that the result was prohibited. Mens rea means malice aforethought. The intent can be clearly deliberate or a by-product of negligence. The accused had to have been able to anticipate the consequences and wanted them to come about. Eichmann was clearly guilty of that.

Hannah Arendt, however, suggested that something much more was entailed. In Adolf Eichmann’s trial, Arendt claimed that Eichmann lacked intention because he failed to think about the crime he was committing. That, of course, made the mobster who followed a mafia boss’s orders and put a bullet in someone’s head, or the FBI agent who put three bullets into Fred Hampton as he lay on a mattress only wounded from the first machine gun fire into the Hampton apartment, were both not guilty of intent. As Fred Hampton lay in a stupor from the pills that had been dropped in his drink by the informer, he was not dead and could have been taken to the hospital. The FBI agent provided a final solution. For Arendt, Eichmann never even pulled the final trigger.

Further, and most importantly, for Arendt the crime was “banal” since it had been accepted, it had been routinized, had been carried out without any moral revulsion. It was like the murders committed in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

There was also the issue of jurisdiction, not so much because Israel used a grandfathered law nor because Israel had kidnapped the accused, but because what had been carried out was a crime against humanity. The same crime killed not only Jews but Gypsies, the handicapped and communists. It was not just an attack on a specific group in the name of its own population but on humanity itself. A specific nation state did not have the status to try such a crime lest it simply be one ethnic group exacting revenge against another in a quid pro quo because of a crime against. In that reasoning, the murders of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman by white racists in the American south could be viewed as a crime against humanity rather than just a hate crime against Blacks because Goodman and Schwerner were Jewish.

However, Arendt’s exercise in intellectual thrashing was motivated by the conviction that genocides – whether against the Roma or the Armenians (and, later, the Tutsi in Rwanda – were a consequence of the degradation of thought. The degradation of specific peoples was just a correlate. When those who put on trials for such crimes degrade their own reflection, when they lower the bar to ensure that the illustration of what happened gets the marquee attention by the general public rather than paying detailed attention to the requirements of fulfilling the principles of justice, the implication is that the banality of the perpetrator of the crime is matched to some degree by the banality of the agents of revenge and publicity rather than ensuring that they perform as instruments of the blindfolded goddess of justice.

Eichmann was a scapegoat, a symbolic burning of one witch to appease the thirst for revenge of the survivors. He was tried as a symbol rather than as an agent. And Arendt suggested that trials were not held just to inform a public that a horrendous deed had taken place, but to raise the level of self-reflection of those who participated in and observed the trial. For, in the end, what was on trial was thought itself. For Eichmann had insisted that in doing his duty, he was following the guidance of Immanuel Kant in his depiction of duty. But Eichmann’s interpretation inverted Kant into supporting blind obedience rather than a principle where each individual is a rational self-legislator.

Deborah Lipstadt (The Eichmann Trial) leveled the most penetrating criticism of Arendt, arguing that it was she who failed to treat Eichmann objectively and instead used the trial to illustrate why her own philosophical approach and critique of totalitarianism was valid. It was she who used Eichmann as a prop. Further, just as David Irving was judged as having imposed his own ideology on history at the cost of both factual accuracy and coherence, Arendt had done the same. She had naively fallen for Eichmann’s carefully constructed self-portrait when evidence in the trial pointed clearly to a more thoughtful and engaged person, but for malevolent purposes. He was not just a “desk level bureaucrat” who exercised little initiative and exhibited little talent. Arendt had laid the groundwork for the charge that the Jews had shared in the responsibility for their own destruction and had allowed themselves to become passive victims when evidence at the trial testified to many efforts at resistance, almost all futile given the power of the Nazi murder machine. She was the one that characterized Eichmann’s behaviour as “terribly and terrifyingly normal,” when the normality establish was of a monstrous order.

A fanatic, a conspiracy theorist, a supporter of the view that the recent American presidential election was a fraud, may have become a more common character in the American political landscape, but the fight against such people involved reclaiming the normal and defining such behaviour as beyond bounds.  Arendt took as her task the use of the trial to illustrate her thesis on the uses of reason and the sources for constructing destructive political regimes. However, not only did she put forth distortions, ignore contradictions in her position and even totally set aside factual evidence given in the trial – there were many days when she was not in attendance. She was contemptuous of Hausner, even contemptuous of the whole Zionist enterprise, and part of her goal, perhaps unconscious, was linking Zionism to National Socialism.

In her narrow view and expansive critique, the specific deeds of Eichmann, not his view of the Jews, should have been on trial. Suffering should not have been widely put on display, but only evidence directly related to proving specific charges.

In the end, ironically, the controversies over Arendt’s interpretations made the trial even more successful as a show.

III. Sham Trials and Show Trials Judas and the Black Messiah

In an article in The New York Times, dated 18 September 2020 and updated online on 16 February 2021 on Paul Rusesabagina, the cool and collected hotelier in the award-winning film Hotel Rwanda, he is depicted as now awaiting trial in Kigali. Paul had saved over twelve hundred guests who had fled to the Hotel Rwanda from the rampaging genocide that slaughtered almost a million Tutsi and moderate Hutu citizens of Rwanda. A Hutu himself, but with a Tutsi wife, he was the Oscar Schindler of the Rwandan genocide. He is now “under arrest, in a spartan cell in Kigali’s central police station, where he sleeps in a simple bed draped in a mosquito net,” and not in a drab prison uniform, but wearing a “pressed blazer, white shirt, polished loafers.”

In the article, this is how the NYT sets the historical stage for the arrest and pending trial. The genocide that took place and “the truth about how it unfolded is bitterly contested.” But the problem is that it is not how it unfolded. There is a broad consensus on its main features. I played a small role in establishing that consensus. (Cf. Howard Adelman and Astri Suhrke (1996) The International Responses to Conflict and Genocide.) The NYT’s article continues describing Paul Kagame in conventional terms as a tyrant. The military leader of the invading Tutsi-dominated army that overthrew the genocidaire government, and who has served as Rwanda’s autocratic leader for the past quarter century, is described in the article as something much more, as “the darling of guilt-ridden Western countries” which “lavished aid on his government, which cut poverty, grew the economy and promoted women leaders.”

But the order was reversed. The aid was not a condition of Rwanda’s remarkable economic recovery, but a consequence of it and the government’s relative and exceptional honesty, even though Paul Kagame evolved into a ruthless but not wanton dictator. Even more significant is the caricatured portrait of those who resort to militant methods to oppose racism and policies of extermination. For the greatest danger is not the Paul Kagames or the Fred Hamptons (see below) of this world, but those who target them and seek their demise in the name of restoring a racial vision of white (or Black Hutu) superiority.

The article continued. “Now, Rwanda is also known as an authoritarian state where Mr. Kagame exerts total control, his troops are accused of plunder and massacres in neighboring Congo, and political rivals are imprisoned, subjected to sham trials or die in mysterious circumstances.” But his troops were accused of plundering, rampaging and murdering in the Congo in 1996. (Cf. Howard Adelman, The Use and Abuse of Rwandan Refugees in Zaire.) This has been a refrain of Rwandan revisionist history since the genocide ended. Much of it has been based on “established” fact. Critics of the new government were killed abroad and branded as traitors, criminals, and embezzlers.  

1998 – former Minister of Interior, Seth Sendashonga

2010 – former army Chief of Staff, Kayumba Nyamwasa (failed)

2011 – the journalist, Charles Ingabire

2014 – former Head of External Intelligence, Patrick Karegeya.

These are stories of the collusion of state agents in killing perceived enemies of the state in extra-judicial murders. Their cases never come even to a sham trial. I tell this story, not to write about Paul Rusesabagina or Paul Kagame, but to write about show trials that are shams, that are kangaroo courts to eliminate enemies of the state, persons who are not guilty of the crimes for which they are charged. In my list of victims of show trials who were innocent, I included:

1906 – Ed Johnson of Tennessee

1931 Scottsboro Boys 1931

1948 Trenton 6 1948

1989 Central Park 5.

The case of the Central Park 5 is, perhaps, the most notorious because Donald Trump established his public political profile by paying for full page ads in The New York Times demanding the execution of all five of the falsely charged and innocent teenagers. The case was made into a 2012 award-winning film, The Chicago Five.

In such cases, show trials are sham trials. But at least the victims survive and in the true light of day and of truth, many were eventually released and somewhat financially compensated and rehabilitated. Most were not. But what of those who did not get tried. In Judas and the Black Messiah (we saw it on HBO last evening), a movie that has already garnered a slew of award nominations, especially for Daniel Kakuuya starring role as Fred Hampton, the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover had become an arm of a white racist cabal out to persecute, prosecute and murder Blacks who had organized into a para-military force in the 1960s under the notorious label of The Black Panthers.

In the movie, Daniel Kaluuya plays Fred Hampton, the charismatic leader of the Black Panthers of Chicago who brilliantly crafted the Rainbow Coalition in that city in the 1960’s. His nemesis and Judas-figure was William O’Neal played by LaKeith Stanfield, a petty car thief who was blackmailed by the FBI into infiltrating the Black Panthers and became an informer. His handler in the FBI, Roy Mitchell played by Jesse Piemons, keeps O’Neill on a very tight rein. But Mitchell is on a very tight leash himself. At one point in the film, his immediate boss, Special Agent Carlyle played by Robert Longstreet, asks Mitchell about his 8-month-old daughter. “What will you do,” he asks, “when your daughter comes home someday with a Black fellow?” Mitchell is flabbergasted at the question and finally protests, “That won’t happen,” in effect undermining the high moral ground towards which he had been drifting, appalled by the extra-judicial killings of Black Panthers by the FBI. As Martin Sheen playing J. Edgar Hoover advises his agents at one point, trials and jail are but a temporary solution. Everyone has learned how to interpret the indirect exterminationist directions of monsters like Hoover and Donald Trump.

We thought we had progressed. But the white racists managed to get their man in as President of the United States in 2016. The reactionaries that led to the massacres on Black Panthers in the 1960s and 1970’s are still about and strongly entrenched. Their enemies have always been and remain any liberal white who sympathizes with and supports the battle against racism. On 22 February at 8:00 p,m,, David Matas of Winnipeg will be heading a webinar for and on B’nai Brith’s legal battles in the fight against racism in Canada. But in the United States, just as often, the law has been used as an instrument of racist persecution. Sham and show trials have been key elements in the fight on behalf of racism in the United States. They have just as often, if not more often, been used as just one tool in the systemic persecution of Blacks. There, extra-judicial murders have been an essential part of the inventory of controlling Black opposition to white racism because sham trials offer only temporary “solutions”.

Michiel Horn, a historian and colleague from York University, used to ask his students concerning the working class hostility to immigration of Italian or Jewish or Asian migrants whether, for their own economic interests, they would be better off making common cause with these immigrants. This is what Fred Hampton was shown doing in Judas and the Black Messiah when he was creating his Rainbow Coalition and why he had become such a threat and a target for extermination by the FBI under Hoover. As Michiel wrote recently, “When people believe that those with a different skin colour and ethnicity can only be a threat, and that any gains made by ‘them’ will be at ‘our’ expense, they rarely if ever make clear-eyed decisions.” Under a cloud of obfuscation, those in power often pursue irrational racist policies as well.

As much as I deplore the sham show trials of Blacks defended by white lawyers with impeccable credentials, allies who continue to espouse legal remedies in the face of kangaroo courts, the resort to extra-judicial killing, seen as a key element in the toolkits of tyrants, whether Black or white, and especially of the American white racists who seem so threatened at the present time, are an even greater danger.

II. Show Trials – Clinton and Socrates

A show trial is defined as “a public trial in which the judicial authorities have already determined the guilt, and/or innocence, of the defendant. The actual trial has as its only goal the presentation of both the accusation and the verdict to the public so they will serve as both an impressive example and a warning to other would-be dissidents or transgressors.” The trial of Bill Clinton, only the second trial in history of a sitting president in the United States in over a century-and-a-half, is generally considered a show trial since the verdict was known in advance. In contrast, the outcome of Socrates’ trial was not so certain. And it too is considered a show trial. The necessary condition of a show trial is that it be addressed to the public at large where the innocence or guilt has been generally expected if not actually predetermined. However, the purpose of a show trial is NOT confined to serving as an example and a warning. For there are show trials where the accused is acquitted even though guilty, as in the trial of Donald Trump.

It is true that there are very few show trials where the individuals charged were both innocent and found to be innocent. But that does not mean the purpose of the trial was to impress and to warn, for if found innocent and if the person was actually innocent, there is certainly no need to warn. The Cambridge Dictionary offers a better definition than Webster’s because it is more general – the purpose is indeed to impress the public, that is, to alter public opinion, but not necessarily to serve as a warning or, more strongly, to reduce political opposition. The defining characteristic is that the function of the trial is NOT to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused but to shape the thinking of the polis.

That is why the trial of Donald Trump, who was charged with incitement to insurrection, was nevertheless a show trial. The objective was to impress the public. By and large, the finding of guilt or innocence was predetermined virtually independent of the evidence presented. What then is the function of the trial when someone like Donald Trump is acquitted? An initial examination of the other three quadrants of possibilities below can help clarify the issue. In this blog I will take up the cases of Bill Clinton and Socrates.

The quadrant where it is most difficult to find examples is the one in which Bill Clinton’s name appears – that of the trial of an innocent man with respect to the charges leveled against him and where he is found innocent, but the function of the trial was not really to determine innocence or guilt based on the evidence presented, but to shape public opinion. In the quadrants below, italics are used when the ultimate issue of guilt or innocence remains undecided, or, at least, controversial in history. Placing the Trump trial within a much larger conceptual and historical frame will, I believe, allow us to draw a much more careful and accurate analysis of its public purpose and results.

 InnocentGuilty
AcquittedPresident Bill Clinton 1999O. J. Simpson 1995 Donald Trump 2021
Found GuiltySocrates– 300 BC Jesus Dreyfus – 1894-1895 Ed Johnson 1906 Tenn. Scottsboro Boys 1931 Stalin 1930s purges Trenton 6 1948 Central Park 5 1989 Lena Baker 2005The Rosenberg Trial                        1951 Eichmann Trial 1960

President Bill Clinton was very unlikely to be convicted in his Senate impeachment trial in 1998-1999 because, as in the trial of Donald Trump, there was a very high bar for conviction. Two-thirds of the Senate had to make a finding of guilty. Unlike Trump’s trial, not one Democrat deserted supporting a finding of innocence.  His 12 February 1999 acquittal was never really in doubt given the party-line vote in the House of Representatives for impeachment. He was entirely innocent of the alleged corruption in a land deal back in Arkansas before he ever became president. And that was the instigation for the investigation of him. But how could the Senate acquit him since Clinton clearly had perjured himself and lied to the grand jury about not having any sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky?

Clinton was also guilty of having a sexual affair with Paula Jones, a former employee of the Arkansas state government, who had sued Bill Clinton for sexual harassment. Of the 11 possible impeachable offences that the investigating attorney, Ken Starr, had leveled, the Republican dominated House of Representatives only put forth four articles of impeachment against him, two for perjury in depositions to a grand jury and two for obstruction of justice for impeding Congress. However, the impeachment that emerged from the House of Representatives was only for one charge of perjury and one charge of obstruction of justice. In the Senate, he was acquitted of both charges.

There was no question over whether Clinton perjured himself. But there was a real question over whether his conduct amounted to obstruction of justice. Further, there was the real issue over whether his perjury in this case justified impeachment as a punishment. As a clear show trial, the spectacle affected public opinion only slightly. As the Pew surveys of public opinion indicated, “Clinton’s impeachment barely dented his public support, and it turned off many Americans.” Nevertheless, it evidently was enough for Al Gore to exclude Clinton from his presidential campaign, though not enough to diminish Clinton’s public approval rating. Further, though George Bush won the presidency over Al Gore, Gore received a higher percentage of the popular vote. A number of analyses suggested that the Republicans lost support because of the resort to impeachment in a situation that barely warranted such a serious charge. Thus, though the function was to impress the public in a certain way, there is a great deal of doubt that it succeeded and a lot of evidence that the effort backfired.

The largest number of cases of show trials fall into the category of those who were determined to be guilty but were found to be innocent in subsequent appeals or, at the very least, by history. In one of the most notorious cases, that of Socrates, history turned him into a martyr for truth, almost singularly as a result of the writings of Plato. He may indeed have been guilty as charged of corrupting youth, but not in the way one might imagine, for there is some evidence to suggest he was a pedophile. But the latter was not something for which he was charged. Socrates was charged with corrupting the hearts and minds of Athenian youth.

How? By teaching them to be wastrels? Certainly not. By teaching them to disparage the polity? Possibly. But, again, not in the way we were taught to believe, namely that Socrates was a symbol of the pursuit of truth independently of public opinion; kowtowing to public opinion was the root cause of corruption.  But this is a Gestalt experiment. For the same behaviour can be viewed as its opposite – as engaging in corruption by teaching youth not to consider themselves as responsible for the well-being of the polity. He corrupted them by putting down the status of the democratic polis as incapable of pursuing truth independently of self-interest.  

Plato and Xenophon have been the major purveyors of the first thesis, namely that democratic government was inherently corrupt. Socrates, in their view, rightly taught youth to think independently of interests and public opinion. However, much more recently there arose a contrary voice, not by an academic, but by an investigative reporter who for decades prior to his research on Socrates had published I.F. Stone’s Weekly to which I had subscribed for years.

Plato in the Apology (apologia in Greek means “defence”) argued that the purpose of his dialogue was NOT “to try to educate the people,” (19e) lest Socrates be dubbed a sophist, but rather, using a reference to the god of Delphi himself, to demonstrate that Socrates acted in service of advancing human wisdom. There was, in fact, very little evidence that he was truly guilty of the second charge leveled against him – that of impiety against the pantheon of gods of Athens.

Leveling the charges against him was motivated by the politics of resentment by one, whom he did not name, and whom Socrates had embarrassed because Socrates revealed that the other’s reputation as a wise person who taught wisdom was undeserved. Socrates discovered and revealed this by following the commandments of those very same gods for whom he was charged with impiety.

As to the charge of maliciously influencing youth, Socrates accused his accuser, Meletus, of being “a thoroughly selfish bully” driven to slander him because of jealousy. But what did Socrates teach youth – not to fear death because no one really knows what it is. And he challenged the Athenian jurors chosen by lot to offer a deal. Quit teaching such lessons and we will acquit you. But Socrates cannot refuse to do what divine command demands of him – the revelation of contradictions and claims posing as knowledge and wisdom.

If Socrates received such an offer – and he effectively did – he would be forced to answer, “I am your very grateful and devoted servant, but I owe a greater obedience to God than to you, and so long as I draw breath and have my faculties, I shall never stop practicing philosophy and exhorting you and elucidating the truth for everyone that I meet.” (29d) “(W)henever I succeed in disproving another person’s claim to wisdom in a given subject, the bystanders assume that I know everything about the subject myself. But the truth of the matter, gentlemen, is pretty certainly this, that real wisdom is the property of God, and this oracle is his way of telling us that human wisdom has little of more value.” (23a) Socrates, in unveiling the ignorance of humans, was both obeying God and helping God by proving that humans are not wise. In that, Socrates claimed, to be serving God and trying to save souls. And for that, “God has uniquely appointed me.” (30d)

But Socrates went even further in his defence and argued that, by its very nature, if you went into politics – as the jurors so readily did – then if you did so to right wrongs, you would surely be killed. Implied was that, if you were not seeking death, you would not go into politics and agree to render judgment against me. Why was Socrates so insulting and arrogant to his own jury?

A true champion of justice would of necessity have to confine himself to the private sphere and ignore politics. (31e) ‘I have not entered politics. I have not even ever claimed to be an educator of anyone in the ways of justice,’ Socrates continued. I merely engage in raising questions and engaging in conversations. I cannot be guilty of corrupting anyone if I never set myself up as anyone’s teacher. I do not teach or assert that I impart teachings.

Then came the nub of his defence. Don’t appeal to any fear of dying for that is to be a sentimental woman. Never ask for acquittal by an appeal to mercy, but simply inform the jury of facts and arguments and permit the jury to make a rational judgment. (35e) Otherwise, ‘I would indeed be disreputable and immoral. As well as impious in not obeying God’s command to me. I teach only that practical self interest should not be the basis for any judgement, but only your own moral and mental well-being. Further, I refuse to cop a plea and accept imprisonment; such an acceptance would totally undercut that which God has commended me to do. The same is true of accepting a fine. If found guilty of the charges leveled against me, then the only proper conclusion according to the law is a sentence of death. I will not stoop to servility.’

For what is at stake is not my life but the life of questing for truth. Further, I prophecy that “as soon as I am dead, vengeance shall fall upon you with a punishment far more painful than your killing of me. The result will be just the opposite [of submitting to your criticism]. You will have more critics whom up till now I have restrained without your knowing it, and, being younger, they will be harsher to you and will cause you more annoyance,” (39 c-d). In other words, rather than teaching youth a lesson, you will stir up a backlash. In Xenophon’s Apology of Socrates to the Jury based on the philosopher Hermogenes’ notes, he offered an additional defence that is only hinted at in Plato’s account, namely that, if found guilty and sentenced to death, that would be an actual favour since Socrates would not have to face senility. Socrates’ evident motive was not just his commitment to God’s command.

This gives the store away. I.F. Stone in his offered a revisionist account that tried to clear up the puzzles both about the trial and about fifth-century Athens. Stone’s motive was to gain insight into the high value placed on free speech in Athens and then their total betrayal of that value in sentencing Socrates to death. As I.F. Stone put it, “Free speech – what the Greeks called parrhasia – was as much taken for granted as breathing.” Why, after allowing Socrates to teach as he did his whole life, did the aristocrats level charges against him when he was 70-years-old and why did they end up sentencing him to death? Stone wanted to challenge Plato’s attempt to put Athenian democracy on trial and demonstrate that “the common people were too ignorant, benighted and fickle to entrust with political power.” Socrates became the sacred martyr of the antipathy to intellectual aristocracy, the parallel to the oligarchy that challenged Athenian democratic propensities.

I.F. Stone makes the very bold claim that “the case against Socrates was political and that the charge of corrupting the youth was based on a belief – and considerable evidence – that he was undermining their faith in Athenian democracy.” In other words, democracy itself was on trial in a polity that had become an oligarchy and where philosophers like Plato had become de facto apologists for oligarchy. Each version of Socrates’ defence on the basis of rationality alone was intended to hide why Socrates was found guilty by a democratically selected jury. Why? Because Socrates had educated Critias and Critias turned into the worst and most tyrannical ruler in Athens. His successors, the Thirty Tyrants, engaged in ideological cleansing, forcing one-tenth of the population into exile.

In his account, Socrates points to the reference in both Plato and Xenophon to his, Socrates’, personal role and disobedience of direct orders, not through protest or confrontation, but by going AWOL. In other words, Socrates turned political irresponsibility into a virtue. Xenophon revealed Socrates’ anti-democratic propensities because ‘none wrought so many evils’ to the city of Athens as Critias and Alcibiades, the two most famous pupils of Socrates. The accuser said that in the terrible days of the Thirty Tyrants, Critias ‘bore the palm for greed and violence,’ while Alcibiades ‘exceeded all in licentiousness and insolence.”

Further, Xenephon, in quoting Homer to support and reinforce his portrait of Socrates, in his anti-democratic teaching, left out Homer’s praise of the ordinary man in the street’s voice and opposition to the monarchy and the divine right of kings. Xenophon also omitted any reference to the assembly called by King Agamemnon or the interventions of Thasrites, the vulgar upstart or “the Brash One.” Plato and Xenophon had provided cover for Socrates when the Democrats regained power and the extremist mobs under Critias and the Thirty Tyrants had brough so much disrepute to Athens. The goal, then, of Plato and Xenophon was to use Socrates in defence of an intellectual and political aristocracy in opposition to the demos on the one hand and tyrants on the other. The jury convicted Socrates because of both his arrogance and the suspicion that his teachings would undermine democracy once again.

The point of a show trial s to shape public opinion and to shape history. The responsibility is then laid not only at the conduct of the trial itself, but on those who shape the narrative afterwards. That is what is most important and not whether Clinton or Socrates of The Donald was or was not found guilty.

The Torah Injunction Against Incitement to Insurrection

Parasha Mishpatim: Exodus: 20

What is the first commandment? The forerunners of both the first and second commandments were offered in immediate succession in Chapter 19 of Exodus, verses 5 & 6.


ה  וְעַתָּה, אִם-שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם, אֶת-בְּרִיתִי–וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל-הָעַמִּים, כִּי-לִי כָּל-הָאָרֶץ.
5 Now therefore, if ye will hearken unto My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be Mine own treasure from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine;
ו  וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ-לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים, וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ:  אֵלֶּה, הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר תְּדַבֵּר, אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.6 and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.’

The precursor, which I wrote about last week concerning how God bore the Israelites “on eagle’s wings” to Him, meant that the Israelites were now God’s children. To remain God’s children, they had to keep God’s covenant, the God who is the
Canceluniversal ruler of all of humanity and of nature itself. The result: Israelites will become a holy nation, a kingdom of priests where every person, not just an elite few, can commune with God.  

The preliminary version of the first commandment instructs the Israelites to keep God’s covenant. Uphold the constitution of the people. Not just because it is the people’s constitution of their nation. Why? Because I am your God who brought you out of Egypt, who delivered you the people from bondage, who made you into an independent and free people who could rule themselves and not be ruled by a despot or a tyrant.

That demand to keep the covenant is translated into the first commandment in verse 2 of this week’s portion..

ב  אָנֹכִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים:  לֹא-יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים, עַל-פָּנָי.2 I am the LORD thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. (my bold)

Why must the Hebrews have only one God whereas, as the protagonist in The White Tiger asks, Christians have three and Hindus have six million? Because there can be only one truth, not many. That there are many perspectives does not mean there are many truths. There can, in the end, be only one fundamental reference point. That is the necessary a priori condition of being a free people, God’s people, a people only in bondage to God and to no human.

Hence the second commandment.

יט  לֹא תַעֲשׂוּן, אִתִּי:  אֱלֹהֵי כֶסֶף וֵאלֹהֵי זָהָב, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם.19 Ye shall not make with Me–gods of silver, or gods of gold, ye shall not make unto you.
  

The corollary of commandment one is its negative side – not to have idols of gold or silver.

The preamble of the American constitution reads:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Americans have taken full responsibility for the foundations of their covenant and laws. “We the people.” Why? Not because they were slaves in Egypt from which status they were freed (unlike Black Americans), but because they were born free and wanted to evolve “into a more perfect union.” Note the experience of being made free but of being born free. Not to become a nation of priests but to forge a more perfect union.

What does a more perfect union do? There are five basic functions.

  • Establishes justice;
  • Insures domestic tranquility;
  • Provides for common defence;
  • Promotes the general welfare;
  • Secures the blessings of liberty for the people and for posterity.

Those are the basic purposes of the Constitution. Article I of that Constitution vests legislative power in Congress. “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” The additional sections then spell out how that august body, consisting of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, is to be constituted. And what powers are to be assigned to it.

The next nine sections and 42 clauses set forth the manner of their selection, the powers and functions vested in each, and how the make-up can be changed over time. It is not until Article II that we are told about a president, who is eligible for the office and his or her functions and manner of selection. “Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:– I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” There are only three other sections and a total of only 13 clauses. The final one reads: “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.”

Insurrection against Congress is treason. Incitement to insurrection is treason. There is no greater crime that a president of the United States can commit. There is no greater crime that a citizen of the United States can commit. There were a plethora of individuals charged and most were convicted before during and after World War II for being traitors on behalf of Japan (Iva Togun D’Aquino or “Tokyo Rose” and Tomoya Kawakita) and Nazi Germany – Jane Anderson, Herbert John Burgman. Robert Henry Best, Douglas Chandler, Edward Leo Delaney, Walter Otto Froehling, Mildred Gillers, Hans Max Haupt, Friedrich Wilheim Kallenbach, Max Otto Koischwitz, Martin James Monti, Max Stephen and Kate Martha Wergin. There were more traitors charged with sedition with respect to betrayal to Nazi Germany than the total of those charged heretofore in the whole history of the United States. Some have speculated that this provided a glimpse into the underbelly of America and its proneness to be attracted to fascism.

John Michell and Philip Vigol were pardoned by George Washington, John Fries of the Fries rebellion was pardoned by John Adams. Aaron Burr was perhaps the most famous traitor in American history. Or perhaps the abolitionists, John Brown and Aaron Dwight Stevens, were. Then Mary Surratt was hung for being part of the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. During the turmoil of trade union formation in the United States, Walter Allen was convicted for participating in a miners’ strike. In other words, until the Nazi era, there had only been a handful of traitors and, of these, they were almost all pardoned or unjustly convicted of trying to make America a more perfect union. And during that whole history, not one was an occupant of high office, let alone a president.

In the excellent prosecution conducted by the Managers from the House of Representatives of Donald Trump’s impeachment, it is hard to imagine a better case for conviction. Yet conviction, requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate. It was unlikely to be attained in spite of the overwhelming evidence supporting conviction. The prosecution went back to the big lie that Trump began propagating before the election actually took place – namely, that he could only lose if there was fraud committed by the Democrats. The Big Lie simply got bigger and bigger. The prosecutors had to be economical in the evidence they offered so they could not go back into history to document that Donald Trump was a serial liar of gigantic proportions. They could not go into the ground of America, in the strain of fascism that runs through American history. Nor could they or did they document why, a very high percentage, though clearly a minority, bought into the lie.

Some were those who identified with violence as the means to select the “true and only” leader. These included the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters, all part of a militia anti-government network who had adopted Donald Trump as their hero and savior. Who are the Proud Boys whom Donald Trump asked to “stand back and by”?  Formed in 2016 when Trump was elected, they generally did stand back and stand by until Donald Trump in a written record of tweets called them to assemble in Washington before the White House on 6 January and then instructed them to march down Pennsylvania Avenue and prevent Congress for authorizing the votes of the Electoral College, the last step necessary for the peaceful transfer of power. As they had repeatedly threatened, they promised that they “would assassinate you,” that is, those who opposed Donald Trump as their leader. The leader who pledged allegiance to Trump was Gavin McInnes, a well-known militant anti-Semite, who was one of the leaders of the assault on Congress and has now been indicted.

The Oath Keepers declared that the Capitol riot was “a false flag,” and declared that the impeachment trial was designed to destroy the constitution. The election was a fraud and signaled the theft of America that Trump had described. The Oath Keepers were explicitly committed to using armed force in the assault on the Capitol and to follow the directions of Donald Trump. The FBI describes them as a “paramilitary organization,” a “large but loosely organized collection of militias.” The members believe that the federal government has been coopted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights.” Members of the group were indicted for their part in the violent attack on the Capitol.

The Three Percenters are organized in Canada as well as the United States. Like the other members of the alt-right radical network, they are also part of the militia movement, an anti-government group that believes in the use of force to reclaim “their” government.

But these and others are but a small part – the militant and extremist part – of the supporters of Donald Trump who assaulted the Capitol. There may have been three thousand or so involved in the attack, the majority of whom never entered the building. But there were many thousands more at the rally protesting along Pennsylvania Avenue against the election “that was stolen.” They were not part of the insurrection. Though were incited to protest, not engage in an insurrection, by an enormous lie. The issue for the prosecution was to prove that Donald Trump not only commanded the loyalty of the majority of peaceful demonstrators who bought into the conspiracy theory of an election fraud, but to link Donald Trump to the militant insurrectionists. In tracing Trump’s choice of words, his instructions, his response and inaction in the face of the insurrection, the connection was made clear and the evidence was overwhelming.

However, the more serious threat is not the militant relatively small minority, but the great majority of the protesters who were not militant and, behind them, the millions of Americans who bought into Trump’s lies about the election being stolen.

Of the non-violent supporters of Donald Trump, begin with the Evangelical Republican Alliance that, along with the libertarians who formed the backbone of the right of the Republican Party in partnership with old style economic and political conservatives.. All those groups were wedded to anti-government positions. Of these four groups, only the Evangelical Republican Alliance had a geographic regional base that ensured Republican control of red states. Donald Trump’s lies, his breach of conventions, his largely wayward foreign policy have all helped to alienate traditional conservative elites. Now, however, the resort to violence and an attempted insurrection has sewn doubts and even a split in the Evangelical Republican Alliance.

Regular white evangelical church-goers have been strong and loyal supporters of Trump, but the resort to violence to prevent a peaceful transition in power, even if the election had been a fraud, went beyond their limits of tolerance, at least for three-quarters of them. They conducted prayer protests along Pennsylvania Avenue and did not support the attack on the Capitol and the insurrection. Serious schisms have now been driven much deeper into this group’s unstinting support for Trump. It is this group towards whom the trial is directed. For more than Trump, it is the Republican Party that is on trial. It is the enablers who do not stand up to challenge the lies lest “the base” desert them. But the base is deserting because those Senators are being shown as coddlers of violence, as willing to engage in a cover-up on spurious interpretations of the constitution.

A show trial is not simply one that tries to convict innocent people. Show trials also target the guilty. The big difference is that the target audience is the public. An example was the Eichmann trial. A show trial is an educational tool. Second, that target includes former idolators who bought into a bill of goods of a false prophet and even made that false prophet into an idol. The ultimate point of the Trump second impeachment is not to convict Trump, but to shatter the evangelical alliance which supports the Trumpists, the majority of whom oppose the use of violence to determine the make-up of a government.

That is the fundamental flaw of the Constitution. The people may sell themselves out to idolatry and surrender to the leadership of a false prophet. A false promise speaks only for himself and claims to represent the people. A false prophet is driven by his personal ambitions not the security and well-being of the polity. (Jeremiah 134:13-15) The resort to violence crossed the line of their tolerance, at least, for most of them. Many will actually take the step of renouncing not only the resort to violence, but the enablers who refuse to convict Donald Trump on the most spurious of grounds.

Brad Christenson and Richard Flory in their 2017 book, The Rise of Network Christianity identified the independent network of charismatic Christians who seek a wholesale revolution of society. They have had ties to Donald Trump and instead of alt-right militia leaders, they are led by apostles. They provided the large number of peaceful protesters supporting Trump’s Great Lie and provide a religious Christian underpinning to what took place on 6 January. Some could be spotted in the mob carrying Christian signs – “Jesus Saves” and “In God [Trump] We Trust.” Some who breached the Senate floor kneeled and prayed. The group Jericho March largely just marched around the Capitol, but some joined the alt-right militants rooted in a militia rather than a Christian culture. The more the latter were detached from institutional Christianity and regular church attendance, the more prone they were to surrendering their commitment to prayer as the means of change in exchange for violent protest.

Why were orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews who were strong and committed supporters of Trump almost entirely absent from the Trump rally and the attack on the Capitol? I have no definitive answer. But I believe that, although they will remain eternally grateful for what Trump did for Israel, their education about false prophets who ask the people to hearken only to them and the call to make the people his, is a form of idolatry. Their regular attendance at weekly services, provided the ground for the withdrawal of their open support.

They wlll be followed by a large number of evangelical white Christians who will wake up after the violence to heed the warming of the Gospel of Matthew: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are hungry wolves.” (7:15). The objective of the prosecution of Donald Trump in the Senate is to convince the public that Donald Trump is a hungry wolf.

I: Reflections on the Show Trial of Donald Trump

Yesterday, I missed the first several hours of the Senate trial of Donald J. Trump for “incitement to insurrection.” I was in surgery in the afternoon. The dentist extracted a tooth and built up the bone in my jaw so that, in three months, I could have a tooth implant. I could not have chosen a better time. For when the freezing was starting to recede and I could feel the pain of the operation, when I got home and could eventually taste the foul remnants of bleeding and stitching (five in total), what better distraction than the most important show trial of the twenty-first century thus far, including Trump’s first impeachment trial.

I call it a show trial, not simply because the outcome has almost certainly been predetermined – he is unlikely to be convicted in spite of the powerful case being made to support the change, but because the intent is not to find Trump guilty or innocent as charged, but to present and argue for the truth of the accusation rather than finding Trump guilty and punishing him. I will defend my position that this is a show trial in a subsequent blog. But first I need to recapitulate the evidence and strategy of the prosecution focused on exposing to the public what took place and how what took case proved that Trump incited insurrection.

I had witnessed the first stage of the trial on Tuesday that hinged on whether Donald Trump could be tried by the Senate at all since he no longer held the position of president. The core issue in debate was not in contention, though more clarification might have helped. The U.S. penal code (§ 2383) provides that, “Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”

I assume that the House of Representatives did not charge Trump with setting foot on the path of insurrection because, though he promised to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue with his followers, he did no such thing. They could have explored his cowardice, or his lack of integrity in his lying directly to his followers, or his fall-back prudence and self-protection, but the prosecutors chose not to. They were very matter-of-fact. very pointed and very succinct in making their case and did not want to deflect from their main argument.

This is not a criminal trial. It is a political trial carried out by a political body against an individual with respect to that individual’s duties as a government official. The law is relevant in describing the offence, but not with respect to the penalty. There is no danger that Trump will serve time in jail, at least not as a result of the trial in the Senate. The absence of such an outcome, presumably, might have made it easier to get a conviction, but all the evidence heard thus far of responses by Republicans to the powerful case being made is that, for the vast majority of Republicans, they will not change their prior intent of acquitting Donald Trump, thereby depriving the Senate of the two-thirds majority needed to arrive at a conviction.                                                                                                                                                                

Trump is not being charged with assisting or engaging in rebellion or insurrection, but for inciting such activity against the authority of the United States, in particular, against the authority of the legislative branch of government to authorize the Electoral College vote for the President of the United States, a position he still held at the time of the insurrection. The climax of that incitement took place on 6 January 2021, the day on which the vote was being formally counted to designate his opponent as the next president and to finalize the conclusion that Trump had clearly and unequivocally lost that election.

The one article of impeachment read: “In his [Donald John Trump] conduct while President of the United States—and in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to 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—Donald John Trump engaged in high Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States, in that: on January 6, 2021, pursuant to the 12th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the Vice-President of the United States, the House of Representatives, and the Senate met at the United States Capitol for a Joint Session of Congress to count the votes of the Electoral College. In the months preceding the Joint Session, President Trump repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the Presidential election results were the product of widespread fraud and should not be accepted by the American people or certified by State or Federal officials. Shortly before the Joint Session commenced, President Trump addressed a crowd at the Ellipse in Washington, DC. There, he reiterated false claims that ‘we won this election, and we won it by a landslide.’ He also willfully made statements that, in context, encouraged—and foreseeably resulted in—lawless action at the Capitol, such as: ‘if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.’ Thus, incited by President Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed, in an attempt to, among other objectives, interfere with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed 20 law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts. President Trump’s conduct on January 6, 2021, followed his prior efforts to subvert and obstruct the certification of the results of the 2020 Presidential election. Those prior efforts included a phone call on January 2, 2021, during which President Trump urged the secretary of state of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, to ‘find’ enough votes to overturn the Georgia Presidential election results and threatened Secretary Raffensperger if he failed to do so. In all this, President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government. He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government. He thereby betrayed his trust as President, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States. Wherefore, Donald John Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law. Donald John Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United 23 States.”

One has to read the full article of impeachment to understand why the managers of the prosecution appointed by the House of Representatives repeated and repeated the following:

·        Trump violated his oath of office to protect the Constitution.

·        He incited violence against the government.

·        In doing so, he disrupted and endangered the ability of Congress to fulfill its duties under the Constitution.

·        The incitement did not just take place after the election, but before and during the election in promoting the lie that the election would be and was fraudulent.

·        The incitement included efforts to get officials to change the voting results.

·        The incitement climaxed with his speech to a rally that he called where he urged his supporters to march down Pennsylvania Avenue on Congress.

·        That march and the invasion of Congress deliberately interfered with and disrupted the ability of Congress to fulfill its sworn duty.

·        The Capitol was breached and vandalized.

·        Law officers were injured and three died.

·        Congressmen and women were menaced.

 

To repeat, Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government. He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government. He thereby betrayed his trust as President, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

 

None of the above was in contention except whether Trump incited the events that took place. The overwhelming case tried to establish that, as these events unfolded, Donald Trump encouraged them, never tried to instruct his followers to desist, never acted to call out the National Guard to protect Congress, and, when all the destruction and intimidation had taken place, never reprimanded his followers for their actions nor repudiated those actions. Further, he failed to do so contrary to the urging of his staff and advisers, representatives in his party and even family members. He reiterated that the “protesters” had behaved peacefully, contrary to what we and the members of Congress had witnessed, and members of Congress had also experienced. He praised his followers and finally instructed them to go home “in peace.”

 

In re-reading the indictment, the surprise is that, in  the first part of the trial when the question was whether the trial itself was constitutional since President Trump was no longer in office and observers declared unanimously, including Trump, that has attorneys totally botched the job in providing a defence against the prosecution’s claims, that those attorneys had not tried to argue that the whole point of the trial, according to the actual words of the impeachment, demonstrated that, “Donald John Trump “will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office.” The defence, one might surmise, should not have been that the Senate could not have tried an official who had left office when the overwhelming preponderance of legal and political precedent and scholarship clearly stated that he could be tried, but that Trump was being tried for continuing to be a threat as long as he “remained in office.” However, since he was no longer in office, he could not remain a threat. Thus, the whole point of the indictment seemed moot.  

 

Perhaps, Trump’s legal defence team will mount such an argument today or tomorrow. But given the briefs filed in defence and the arguments put forth thus far, there is no indication at the present time that they will argue that since Trump had not remained in office, he cannot be a threat, and, if the point of the trial is to remove the threat, it is pointless since one cannot remove what is no longer there. The whole point is moot, except to deny Trump the opportunity to present himself to the people for election at another time. And if that is the point, then the whole trial has nothing to do with whether Trump did or did not incite insurrection, but is simply an attempt by his opponents, both in the opposition Democrats and, for the few, in his own party (the RINOs), to deny the right of American voters to determine who should lead them.

 

If the official original intention was removal, the whole point of the trial is absurd. If the point is to establish that Trump remains a threat, as long as he remains in office, the voters have already made their judgment and determined that he cannot remain in office. In other words, even if the defence manages to prove that Trump’s words and actions and inactions may have amounted to incitement, at the very least as interpreted by the mob, it would not matter given the intent of the indictment.

 

To Be Continued: I: Reflections on Donald Trump’s Trial as a Show