The Hanging of an American President
You would think that the story would start like this: It was a drab and rainy day. These stories always seem to start while it was raining. But today was actually partly sunny. It was warm enough to be with a light jacket in Washington. People milled about town wondering where to grab a bite or a coffee. It seems that most shops are closed down today. Weird.
But there is a solemness in air. The last year was exhausting. From the impeachment to the trial to the sentencing. It always seemed that the possibility of a pardon from President Pence would solve the problems and sweep them all under the rug. But he was pissed and denied the request. And so seems most of the rest of the people in the United States.
Treason. The word conjures up images of Benedict Arnold or the Rosenbergs. Sure, the political class like to throw the charge around to tarnish foes on both sides. But to actually find that the President of the United States worked actively to undermine the foundations of the country shocked us to our core. It did something that seemed impossible: It brought red and blue together.
It is the last year of the Pence presidency. He has refused to run again. The GOP is in disarray, most supporters refuse to even admit that they voted for that last guy. They have declined to field a candidate for this election. The party has probably folded up for good. The Democrats are in shock, skipping a primary contest and selecting a unity ticket as their option. This is really the only option for voters. And little dissent seems to be held about this either….we all seem ready to move on.
The slight wind in the swaying trees bays at us like swooning teenagers, disturbing the quiet on the streets. Few cars. More people than usual, but little conversation. Some brought their kids, their pets, but not much protest either. I can see one or two signs, but nowhere near the number that were here a few months ago. You couldn’t move downtown on the mall. It was shut down. The vain attempts of the Capitol Police to herd people into “protest areas” completely failed. Millions were here. Right up to the fence on the White House lawn. Loud. Boisterous. Angry.
The whole election of 2016 and the blue-red divide, the urban-rural, the forgotten-elite seems so far away. No one has been talking about that much anymore. A few jabs here and there at what-we-should-have-known. Dribble. Noise. Rose-colored glasses. 20–20 hindsight. It doesn’t really matter anymore.
The structure was set up in the shadow of the Capitol building, between Constitution and First NE. The grass was covered to protect it. The area was cordoned off but the sight line of the scaffold was not blocked. It was deemed to be a public right to see this.
It was shocking to hear the verdict in the first place. The trial was extraordinary in that it was the Supreme Court itself that held the trial, since the issues at hand were far above the normal discourses that drove through the lower courts. Agreeing to take the case, few believed that the political leaning of the members wouldn’t influence their decisions. But in a 9–0 decision, finding him guilty of high treason, and then sentencing him to death by a public hanging, the court affirmed the primacy of the Constitution and our system of government. No person is above the law. Not even the President of the United States.
The condemned was brought by armored truck to the plaza. He is alone, his family having long since fled the country in disgrace. Shackled, wearing a rumpled white shit, half untucked, shuffling along in a resistant gait. The trademark blond hair is gone; in its place the natural white gray of a 70 plus year old man. He looks gaunt, definitely has lost weight, deep dark circles under his eyes. The silence is deafening.
13 steps. Somehow that was decided to be the amount of rise to the platform. The superstructure designed to hold the bar with the rope slung over; the trapdoor marked with a faint x where the condemned was to stand; the noose pre-tied. This was going to be a short event. No speeches, no official attendees, no celebration. Just an ending.
Some noise from the prisoner. Protests. Denials. A gag is placed around his mouth to shut him up. All the neverending stories are done. We don’t need to hear anymore of it. Roughly moved up the stairs, the noose placed over his head, the hood. Still squirming. A tenseness overcomes those watching this spectacle. A few are crying softly, a few are in shock, mouths partially agape, still silence pervades the area. A quick check of the time, a few seconds that seem like eternity…tick…tick…tick. Finally a nod from someone, who knows who, and the signal is given. A lever is pulled and the trapdoor opens….