Grandpa taught me that reputation is everything.
Where I grew up, the land of cowboys and Indians, is also the land of second chances. Maybe third chances or more. Before instant communication, it was easy to pull up stakes in Nebraska and recreate yourself in Arizona. Wyatt Earp could be the law here and an outlaw there. A buffalo hunter could be celebrated for his marksmanship now and reviled for extinguishing the iconic beasts later.
Still, Grandpa warned, you never know when the music is going to stop. At that moment, your words are what they are and so are your deeds. Your life can teach, but teach whom and teach them what?
Can rich people be patriotic or will they always be known for the sharp elbows that made them rich? Wealth certainly expands the options — for those who have it — to do good or evil.
One kid was lucky to be born with a father wealthy enough to buy the most coveted ambassadorship in the U.S. State Department, representing this country in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, the year was 1938 and the father was an anti-Semite who admired Hitler and considered the German dictator a solution to the rise of Communism and “the Jewish problem.”
The father was, of course, Joe Kennedy. He lost his diplomatic gig with statements like,
Democracy is finished in England. It may be here.
and acts like fleeing to hide in the English countryside during German bombing attacks on London when British government ministers, the entire diplomatic corps, and even the royal family pointedly stayed put and shared the risk with the English population.
Kennedy opposed Lend-Lease or any other military aid to Britain while FDR was trying to maximize U.S. military aid to Britain in the face of substantial opposition.
While Kennedy stayed on his pro-Hitler path until he got sacked, his eldest son became a pilot and lost his life in a combat mission.
His second son, John F. Kennedy, could not pass the military physical. So the rich kid used his money and his connections to buy a medical opinion that got him past the physical and led to a commission in the U.S. Navy.
While the Kennedy sons could not rehabilitate their father’s personal reputation, they did wonders for their family’s pages in the history books.
A generation later, another rich kid was in good enough shape to play football and tennis on the college level. Vietnam was not the national crusade WWII was, but Donald J. Trump was in favor of the war. Like JFK, he used his money and his connections to buy a medical opinion, but, unlike JFK, his purpose was to avoid going to war.
JFK was elected POTUS, and placed all his investments in a blind trust to avoid even the appearance of conflicts between his private interests and the public interest.
Mr. Trump was elected POTUS and he turned over management of The Trump Organization to his kids while he personally maximized the time government officials and foreign diplomats and even military officers stayed at Trump properties.
As history has judged JFK, so it will at some point judge Mr. Trump. History will also judge every U.S. senator who added the following to their oath of office that binds them to preservation of the U.S. Constitution. That oath of office stands and is joined by this sworn codicil:
I solemnly swear (or affirm) that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, President of the United States, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: so help me God.
I’m just a country boy, but out here in flyover country, we consider “appertaining to the trial” to include hearing witnesses.
Still, this impeachment stands out from Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton in that there’s no serious dispute about whether the POTUS did the acts for which he is being impeached. Or maybe not.
I did not live through the Andrew Johnson impeachment, but as to the others… I know that Richard Nixon finally came clean about some of what he had done but still maintained that it’s not wrong if the president does it. Bill Clinton not only came clean, he apologized — but he was impeached for having lied in the first place.
In Mr. Trump’s case, there is no question that he asked the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation into Joe Biden. And he does not deny delaying military aid when Ukraine had troops on the battlefield.
The question is the Nixonian one: Can it be wrong if the president does it? During the “trial” in the Senate, Mr. Trump’s defense did not really deny the facts and so it did come down to the claim that every act for which Mr. Trump was impeached was within the lawful authority of a POTUS. In the words of defense attorney Alan Dershowitz:
If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.
In response to the uproar over that novel legal theory, Dershowitz clarified it when he said:
[A] president seeking re-election cannot do anything he wants. He is not above the law. He cannot commit crimes.
I am uncertain about the new clarity, since my understanding is that solicitation of aid in an American election from a foreign country is a felony. I’ve been unable to generate an alternative reading of this part of Title 52 of the United States Code:
§30121. Contributions and donations by foreign nationals
It shall be unlawful for-
(1) a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make-
(A) a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election;
(B) a contribution or donation to a committee of a political party; or
© an expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication (within the meaning of section 30104(f)(3) of this title); or
(2) a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation described in subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (1) from a foreign national.
(b) “Foreign national” defined
As used in this section, the term “foreign national” means-
(1) a foreign principal, as such term is defined by section 611(b) of title 22, except that the term “foreign national” shall not include any individual who is a citizen of the United States; or
(2) an individual who is not a citizen of the United States or a national of the United States (as defined in section 1101(a)(22) of title 8) and who is not lawfully admitted for permanent residence, as defined by section 1101(a)(20) of title 8.
There is nothing wrong with putting forward a novel legal theory, but I have questions about the theory. These questions are asked in good faith, since I was educated before the Trump addenda to the Constitution and so it’s not clear to me where the changes end.
The first question should have a simple answer:
If the President’s belief that his reelection is in the national interest changes the character of actions he takes to that end, what about senators who believe their reelection is in the national interest?
The second question requires more verbiage, because I am asking for a response to this statement of the apparent implications:
To sustain that defense works a fundamental change in the relationship between the legislative and executive branches of government. There can no longer be “oversight” by Congressional committees because if the POTUS does it and the objective is to help his reelection then his act is, ipso facto, in the national interest. And even if there were theoretical oversight, the executive is no longer required to heed Congressional subpoenas like Mr. Nixon did and Mr. Clinton did when they produced incriminating material.
A “not guilty” vote in the Trump impeachment can be defended, no question. It just was defended on live TV.
Defending it, however, might be damaging to how history sorts out the senator’s reputation depending, as my grandpa used to say, on when the music stops.
Let’s look at the two men who had the most to defend to their voters. For them, what they must defend is a guilty vote.
Doug Jones is a Democrat representing the Republican state of Alabama. He was only elected in the first place by the skin of his teeth and some crackpottery in the Republican Primary.
His reputation coming into the impeachment vote is for hanging on to a criminal case like a rabid bulldog.
Four KKK members bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham on September 15, 1963, injuring 22 and killing four little girls whose names should always be listed when discussing the incident:
Addie Mae Collins, 14
Cynthia Wesley, 14
Carole Robertson, 14
Carol Denise McNair, 11
May they rest in peace.
Investigators focused on the perpetrators right away, but in state court they got a $100 fine and a 180 day suspended sentence for illegal possession of dynamite.
In 1968, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover shut down the federal investigation into the bombing without charges and directed that state prosecutors not be given access to the FBI files.
When William Baxley was elected Alabama Attorney General in 1971, he re-opened the state investigation the same year. In spite of never gaining access to all of the federal files, he was able to get a conviction against Klansman Robert Chambliss for murder.
The FBI finally reopened its investigation in 1995.
Doug Jones, appointed by Bill Clinton U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, found himself in front of a jury arguing for conviction of Klansman Thomas Edwin Blanton 38 years after the bombing. Blanton was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
A year later, Klansman Bobby Frank Cherry was convicted. He died in prison in 2004.
A fourth suspect, Klansman Herman Frank Cash, died in 1994 and was never charged.
In 2016, Jones, although no longer a federal prosecutor, testified against Blanton at his first parole hearing. Parole was denied.
Whether Doug Jones needed his reputation improved depends on which side you take in his anti-KKK crusade. The only argument I’ve heard against what he did was that the perpetrators were elderly and it was time to let go of the bad feelings from the time.
By voting to convict President Trump, Doug Jones probably bought himself a ticket back to his private law practice. His chances of reelection were not that great in the first place, but they’ve sunk even farther.
Mitt Romney of Utah need not worry about his senate seat, but within 24 hours of his vote to convict, Mr. Trump was on Twitter advocating that Romney be expelled from the Republican Party. It’s fair to say that Romney’s legislative agenda just went way up in degree of difficulty. Few of his colleagues will dare help him, for fear of Trump’s wrath.
Nobody who saw the video of Romney’s announcement could doubt his belief in Trump’s guilt or his fealty to the oath he had taken.
Mitt Romney, I suggest, has improved his standing in the judgment of history.
The words that come to my mind associated with his name were:
Corporations are people, my friend.
Since he was not elected POTUS, his words and deeds remain tethered to his campaign. Scaring his pet dog by transporting it at high speed on the roof of his car was before his run for POTUS, but probably would not have become public knowledge without his campaign.
So much of his reputation was not about being evil; it was about being so rich he was out of touch with the world where most of us live.
There was the house with an elevator for his cars.
I was offended by his willingness to spend more money educating Refalca — Ann Romney’s horse — -than he would to educate the children of the people whose land created the wealth of the United States or the children of the slaves whose sweat fell on that land to bring forth the wealth. But that’s just me.
Now, Willard “Mitt” Romney has become the first U.S. senator in history to vote for conviction of a POTUS elected by his political party. I don’t claim he’s a modern Sydney Carton and I don’t even know if this vote is a far, far better thing than he has ever done before. But he deserves props and may need public defense from those of us in the chattering class.
Mr. Trump will make Sen. Romney suffer in the short run because Trump never forgives or forgets. But in the history books, this vote makes him stand out when before he would have been just another rich guy grasping for more power. By simply taking his oath as binding, he will stand out in a good way.