Anecdotes Accumulate, Narrative Accelerates

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Posted in 2020 elections, US politics Tagged with: , , ,

In November, in Narrative and Anecdote, I argued that the Democrats were right to bring impeachment charges against President Donald Trump.

Still, it doesn’t seem sufficient reason to remove the president from office at a time when an election is at hand, especially since a significant minority of voters seem not to think the president did anything out of the ordinary. Impeachment forces Republicans candidates to clarify their views – and to go on clarifying them for years to come.

Anecdotes have continue to accumulate. Now the Senate’s trial has come and for all intents and purposes gone.  Acquittal is expected Wednesday, along party lines. The concise webline on a wrap-up story in The Washington Post put it this way: The fight over president’s actions likely to continue with U.S. voters as jury.

Except for a long drive, I skipped the Senate arguments, interesting as they were.  I spent my spare time reading The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare, and watching a quite good film version. I was thinking of what are probably the Shakespeare play’s most famous lines (not counting “et tu, Brute?”). They are those in which Cassius declares the unending and universal problem of defeating tyranny.

I am a firm believer that the Republican Party’s captivity to Donald Trump is temporary, and that, in due course, it will end. I was trying to gauge just how long “due course” might take. Julius Caesar seemed as helpful a way to think about it as any.

You remember the way Shakespeare spins the story that he took from a then-recent translation of Plutarch’s The Parallel Lives. Caesar has returned to Rome, having vanquished his military rival, Pompey. Crowds of commoners are celebrating Caesar’s victory. Two tribunes walk amongst them, castigating them as deplorables: “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things.”

Before a crowd in the Coliseum, Caesar signals his desire to become emperor while disingenuously declining the crown. Led by Cassius, a group of leaders conspire to bring him down as a threat to the Republic. A reluctant Brutus is enlisted through a trick. During a session in the Forum, the conspirators take turns stabbing Caesar. He collapses and dies before the pedestal on which a bust of Pompey rests

Cassius urges his associates to forthrightly take responsibility for what they have done, coating their arms with Caesar’s blood, “and, waving our red weapons o’er our heads/ Let’s all cry ‘Peace, freedom and liberty!’”

How many ages hence

Shall this our lofty scene be acted over

In states unborn and accents yet unknown!

Brutus replies,

How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport…,

That now on Pompey’s basis lies along

No worthier than the dust!

Cassius rejoins:

So oft as that shall be,

So often shall the knot of us be call’d

The men that gave their country liberty.

Whereupon the conspirators confront the crowd gathered in the marketplace outside the forum.

Brutus pleads for calm, successfully at first.  But Caesar’s favorite general, Mark Antony, artfully turns the mob against the plotters, who are forced to flee with their loyal troops. Antony forms a triumvirate with Octavius (Caesar’s adopted son), and Lepidus (another general), and civil wars resume.  After a climactic defeat two years later at Philippi, in Macedonia, Cassius persuades a servant to kill him, while Brutus runs upon his sword.

Antony pronounces Brutus “the noblest Roman of them all,” since he took action despite recognizing the complexity of the issues.

His life was gentle, and the elements

 So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up

 And say to all the world “This was a man!”

The play is about perverse consequences. As some say, it is a play without a villain.  Antony goes to Egypt, and becomes grist for Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Octavius eventuallytaking the honorific Caesar Augustus as the first emperor of Rome. The conspirators believed they were saving the Roman republic. It turned out they destroyed it. The arguments in Julius Caesar are profound.

I thought of Brutus in particular as Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) explained his decision  to oppose the Democrats’ attempts to call former National Scurity Adviser John Bolton as a witness before the Senate trial.  Alexander, 79, is not running for re-election, and was therefore, in principle, free to vote as narrowly or broadly as he wished.  He chose broad.

“The Senate reflects the country, and the country is as divided as it has been for a long time,” Sen. Alexander told Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Carl Hulse, of The New York Times, during an interview in his Capitol office. He continued,

I think that [the president did something that was clearly inappropriate,” Alexander said. “I think it is inappropriate for the president to ask the leader of a foreign nation to investigate a leading political rival, which the president says he did. I think it is inappropriate at least in part to withhold aid to encourage that investigation.

For the Senate to tear up the ballots in this election and say President Trump couldn’t be on it, the country probably wouldn’t accept that. It would just pour gasoline on cultural fires that are burning out there.

Roman leaders assassinated their tyrant. American will put theirs to a vote. When will Republican senators dump Trump? As soon as he loses an election. Then, one by one, they will simply walk away. The narrative commences tomorrow, in earnest, in Iowa.