As former president Trump’s legal team and his party begin to argue that it is unconstitutional to impeach a president once his party has run out the constitutional clock on an impeachment trial, and that anything the president might have said that made certain irrational people act violently against elected officials, even if seemingly in response to his exhortations, was within his protected First Amendment right to free speech, I have a personal anecdote that is directly on point. I’ll try to set it out in a flash for you.
When I was thirty my younger sister got married. I was the best man. There is a photo of me in my rented tuxedo making my ironic, prophetic toast welcoming my brother-in-law to the family. Behind me in the photo the caterer, also in a tuxedo, if I recall correctly, is glaring at me. Not a fan of irony, perhaps, I don’t know. A short time later the caterer was pounding me with his fists, trying to bash my face in.
Afterwards my parents took the caterer’s side in this dispute. My disrespect toward the caterer had, understandably in their view, justified the caterer in his strong conviction that I needed to be punched in my smart fucking mouth a few times. This fight, clearly, took place long before I began trying to practice a form of ahimsa, consciously refraining from harmful actions as much as I can.
In my own defense, I had no idea the caterer was an off-duty cop. Had I known perhaps I’d have chosen a less inflammatory way of telling him to buzz off than the one I used. In hindsight, I see how disrespectful it was of me to tell the officer to suck my dick. I’m still, more than thirty years later, not certain it gave him the right to physically assault me, but that’s not our concern here.
A few days after the wedding (the party was amazingly not interrupted by my loud fist fight with the cop, the band drowned us out) my parents were still in a rage because, in their view, I had deliberately tried to ruin my sister’s wedding. I was angry too. It seemed to me too evident to dispute that the caterer, at the moment he began trying to bash my face in, was at least as culpable as I was in the ugly confrontation. My parents disagreed. It had been 100% my fault, no question. The caterer was a lovely man, I was a violent, enragingly provocative thug, as they told me several times. After a few days of a sickening stand-off I went to confront my parents about this, to try to set the record straight.
They were defensive, sticking to their guns. I was a provocative, irrationally angry, violent-tongued person. I had no right, in any universe, to tell the nice man to suck my dick. My explanation, whatever it was, was beside the point. Once I said that to him he was within his rights to charge me, get me up on his hip and begin throwing punches into my face as hard as he could.
My explanations bounced off my parents like Jewish space lasers off a kryptonite force field. Like the caterer’s punches to my smart face, which landed on my forearms as I continued to provocatively curse at him like the pugnacious potty mouthed asshole I’d always been.
Nothing I said could make them see any part of the unfortunate confrontation any differently. My father was mostly quiet, letting my mother do most of the heavy lifting. When he finally spoke, it was to calmly deliver the death blow to my arguments.
“You’re leaving out the most important part of the whole thing,” my father said confidently, holding the trump card that would cancel out all of my arguments. I walked into his trap.
“You had no right to be in the kitchen, so whatever happened after that, was completely your fault,” said my father with icy calm.
Talk about narrow framing.
I had permission to be in the kitchen, from the caterer himself, earlier in the evening, when he told me to just go into the kitchen to get something I’d asked him for.
No matter. You had no right to be in the kitchen.
There is nothing like a stubbornly narrow frame to frustrate an adversary. Frame any issue in a narrow enough legal strait jacket, and hold fast to that framing, and you can eliminate any discussion of the facts, the merits, drama, nuance, culpability, incitement, escalation, etc. from any story.
Did the president stoke escalating anger by constantly lying about a stolen, fraudulent election for months, invite his followers to a wild rally to #Stop the Steal on the day the election was going to be officially certified, exhort them to go down to the Capitol to STOP the STEAL, to TAKE THEIR STOLEN COUNTRY BACK? Did he watch the riot on TV for hours, refusing to take panicked calls from the locked down Capitol, before reluctantly allowing the National Guard in to restore order? Did he finally tell his rampaging followers to go home now, that they were right to be angry about the stolen election, that he loved them?
All irrelevant, you see. Our position is that it is clearly unconstitutional to hold a trial for a president who has already left office. Y’all know that. Y’all know that! Even if you somehow twist it and get a 51-50 vote that the constitution allows this outrage, you’re punishing free speech in an insane, partisan political stunt motivated by irrational hatred for an innocent man whose only “crime” was making America great again!
After my father pulled his Bill Barr-like parlor trick with the flimsy trump card that he claimed foreclosed all further discussion, I grew more frustrated. I laid hands on my father with violent intent for the only time in my life. Actually, I laid one finger on him, smartly across his nose, to demonstrate the difference between verbal assault and a physical one.
The cop caterer was perhaps within his rights to tell me to eat shit and die, or to go fuck myself, or that I should suck his dick, but not to start grunting and trying to punch me in the face over and over. My father was unconvinced by my demonstration, though he was now outraged too, began bellowing threats from his couch, and as my mother screamed “suck my dick! suck my dick!” over and over I took my leave of my unreasonable, angry parents.
This pathetic scene is basically what is going to be playing out in the Senate the next few days, by all appearances.