FH#55 Is Presidential impeachment actually worse than the Salem Witch trials?

 

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Late last year a penitent Donald Trump wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi taking full responsibility for his actions in the Ukraine scandal and admitting to a whole host of impeachable offences.

Now, if you’ll excuse me for a second or two we just need to switch the dial and journey back from that parallel universe. Because, of course, President Trump did precisely the opposite. The bit about the letter is true though, you may remember it. It was six pages long, only the numbers at the bottom of each page made much sense, and the President, who is, of course, an acknowledged expert in 17th century US history, observed that …

I have been denied the most fundamental rights under the constitution … more            due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch trials.

Far be it from me to challenge the authority of a man who has obviously spent hours poring over dusty and obscure documents from the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, when he should have been reading his daily CIA briefing, but his controversial utterance does seem to invite some rigorous analysis. So, let’s examine the validity of the suggestion that the impeachment process is odious in comparison with the procedures employed in the prosecution for witchcraft of a large number of women, and a much smaller number of men, in the rural community of Salem village, Massachusetts, in 1692.

Perhaps we should start with the response of the current Mayor of Salem, Kim Driscoll, to the President’s thesis.

‘Oy vey…again. Learn some history’ she tweeted,  ‘Salem 1692 = absence of evidence + powerless, innocent victims were hanged or pressed to death. #Ukraniegate 2019 = ample evidence + admissions of wrongdoing + perpetrators are among the most powerful and privileged.’

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Straightaway we need to enter a caveat here. Because Kim Driscoll is a lazy ‘do-nothing’ Democrat, and is also the Mayor of Salem Town, not Salem village where, in 1692, the uproar actually took place. Back in the 17th century the two entities were deadly rivals, Salem town being much wealthier than the adjoining village of the same name. The patent lack of objectivity in the Mayor’s tweet, as well as her gender, suggests that Kim Driscoll may indeed be a witch herself.

The Salem witch trials were symptomatic of suspicion of one’s neighbour and the fear of outsiders, a phenomenon that, happily, has no place in President Trump’s America.  Were Arthur Miller alive today he would undoubtedly focus on the agony of Presidential impeachment rather than the Salem witch trials for his allegorical play about McCarthyism, The Crucible.

The Salem commotion arose when two young children began to have fits and accused a number of local women of bewitching them. The resulting witchcraft trials led to the hanging of nineteen women and the formal crushing to death of the single male victim, Giles Corey, husband of one of the alleged witches.  Much of the testimony at the trials was so-called ‘spectral evidence’ where the witnesses recounted incriminating dreams rather than offering factual accounts of their experiences. As the record of the House of Representatives will show, spectral evidence, though encouraged by the Republican minority, was not accepted during the impeachment process. Neither is it likely that President Trump will ever be pressed to death under a pile of stones (the fate of Giles Corey).

One other major point of contrast is that in 1711 a shamefaced Massachusetts legislature retrospectively exonerated the condemned witches and offered financial restitution to their families. Impeachment, however, is not subject to retroactive pardons (unless the President opts to pardon himself) and it is unlikely that Ivanka, Eric, Donald Jr. or any other Trump dependent will be getting a cheque in the past anytime soon from a chastened House of Representatives.

So, is the impeachment process actually worse than the Salem witch trials? Given that no one has ever been executed for high crimes and misdemeanours committed as US President, thus far at any rate, that’s probably fake news. Sorry, I obviously meant fake history.

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Subterranean Barack Blues or Hey Mister Tangerine Man

 

 

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Ten years ago, I found myself living for six months in Berkeley, California. A recently announced candidate for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination was due to hold a rally in nearby Oakland, on St. Patrick’s Day. Like most people living in the USA in 2007 I was intrigued by this young, gifted and black politician (actually, as half-white and half-black he could just as easily be described as ‘white’). Of course, he hadn’t a hope against the Clintonafia but he was definitely one for the future.

 

It was a toss-up. The San Francisco St. Patrick’s Day Parade, or Barack Obama. Curiosity won out. I put my ‘Kiss Me I’m Irish’ tee-shirt back in the drawer, and took the BART to Oakland. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

 

There is no need to describe how electrifying he was. Everybody knows the man is a rhetorician non pareil. He stood on a dais projected into the crowd, and introduced himself. He spoke for about twenty minutes without notes. Afterwards he shook hands with anyone who wanted to press his flesh. There were green tee-shirts on sale bearing the legend ‘🍀’Bama for President—St. Patrick’s Day, 2007, Oakland, California.’ I’m a sucker for commemorative tee-shirts, so I bought one. I still have it, though I was a bit surprised when the young vendor insisted on getting my email address before she sold it to me. Since that day I’ve had a decade of personal emails from the man himself. Where does he get the time?

 

He inherited a nightmare dreamed up by neo-liberals and deficit Republicans. He leaves with approval ratings touching sixty-percent (George W. Bush was at thirty-nine). His finger has been in the dike for eight years. When he withdraws it—forced into doing so by the twenty-second amendment—his successor’s fist will gleefully smash through the hole Obama has been protecting.

 

Granted, he campaigned in dizzying poetry and often governed in leaden prose. He has disappointed his progressive constituency. He acted as judge and jury on a number of Middle Eastern radicals, left the vultures of Wall St alone or strengthened, kept Guantanamo open, disregarded the misery of Aleppo.

 

Perhaps his greatest achievement—aside from the now-imperilled Affordable Care Act—was incumbency. While he was in the White House, albeit gelded by a resentful Congress, he was a bulwark against the regressive forces that have now been released.

 

If we apply the Monty Python test—‘What has Obama ever done for us’—he has bled, read, healed, smiled, cried, soothed, embraced, turned the other cheek repeatedly (perhaps too often) and exercised a level of adult self-control unfamiliar in once and future presidents. His grace, example, open-mindedness, charm, articulacy, folksiness, intelligence, humour and calmness were provocations to those affronted by the sight of a black man in the White House.

 

And what about that jump shot?

 

On 9 November 2016 anyone with even vague pretensions to progressivism or leftism experienced the pain felt by Breitbart-man on 2 November 2008.  We can only hope that four years from now (please let it not be eight) the right will be as disappointed with the actual results of a Trump presidency as the left is with Obama’s. They certainly won’t be disappointed by Trump’s style. I wonder. Is this the first time an incoming President has read fewer books than his predecessor has written?

 

As usual Shakespeare has it covered. Act 3 Scene Four of Hamlet. The Prince of Denmark is closeted with his mother. He presents her with a picture of the late King, her husband. Simply substitute the word ‘President’ for ‘husband’ and away we go.

 

Look here, upon this picture, and on this,
The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.
See, what a grace was seated on this brow;
Hyperion’s curls; the front of Jove himself;
An eye like Mars, to threaten and command;
A station like the herald Mercury
New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill;
A combination and a form indeed,
Where every god did seem to set his seal,
To give the world assurance of a man:
This was your husband. Look you now, what follows:
Here is your husband; like a mildew’d ear …

 

Let’s hope for some 2020 vision. Best case scenario, four years from now Barack Obama returns to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as consort of the first woman President.

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