What the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. might say today to the Senators who have pledged to “do impartial justice” as jurors of the Senate’s impeachment trial requires no imagination.
Behind every Moses is an Aaron. Behind the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was John Lewis. If Dr. King was the primary face and voice of the civil rights movement, John Lewis was, and still is, its soul.
News of Congressman John Lewis’s Stage IV pancreatic cancer was a sad day that shocked the heart of America’s better self. On the eve of the Senate impeachment trial, John Lewis’s voice echoes those of his Moses and his late Congressional friend and colleague, the Honorable Elijah Cummings who chaired the House Oversight Committee.
John Lewis knows now what he learned in the years after he was beaten on the Pettus Bridge: some cancers metastasize and change into new forms and symptoms that defy treatment. America’s “original sin” of white racism — the presumption of white supremacy and the rights of white privilege — continues to re-create itself in the American psyche. John Lewis knew that the original sin would not be destroyed by passage of the Voter Rights Act. He knows how quickly a victory for justice can be overturned by Congress, the Courts, and a President. He knew how quickly the cancer of white supremacy turns Black Lives Matter to dust and ashes. Like Elijah Cummings and Martin Luther King, Jr,, he will leave this world shaking his head, refusing to hate, and praying for the nation’s repentance, healing, and redemption on the other side of America’s original sin.
“TODAY IS NOT A DAY OF JOY”
The House Articles of Impeachment sent to the Senate for trial were framed in no small part as the result of the work of Elijah Cummings, the integrity of whose oath of office gained respect on both sides of the political aisle. Like Elijah and Martin, John Lewis will continue to bear the authentic witness to “the right side of history” until his last breath and far beyond in the annals of American history.
Gordon C. Stewart, author, “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness” (Wipf and Stock, 2017), Chaska, MN, January 22, 2020.
“Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates. He doesn’t give you questions, he doesn’t give you orders, he speaks in a code. And I understand the code, because I’ve been around him for a decade.”
— Michael Cohn, Feb. 27, 2019 testimony before Congress.
SPEAKING IN CODE
Although Michael Cohen knew of his boss’s business dealings in Russia, Mr. Trump often said in Michael’s presence that he had no business ties in Russia. Michael, his lawyer-fixer for 10 years, understood what he meant. It wasn’t a statement of fact. It was code for an order: Deny any connection with Russia.
“They’ve got him — credible witnesses, documents, and who knows what else. In all my years as a prosecutor, I’ve never seen such an open-and-shut case.” — U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson’s announcement to President Nixon of the results of the federal investigation of bribery. The case was resolved with a quid pro quo: Quid: Vice President Agnew would resign with a plea “no contest”; Quo: the Vice President would not go to prison.
Last Friday was not the Ides of March, but it may have been the day the soothsayer warned Julius Caesar of the consequences of overstepping the Roman Republic’s limits to executive power.
According to Plutarch, on his way to the fateful meeting of the Roman Senate on the Ides of March, Caesar passed the seer, mocking his fortune-telling with a confident sneer: “The Ides of March are come.”
“Aye, Caesar,” said the seer, “but not gone.”
That same day in 44 BCE the soothsayer’s warning was confirmed. As many as 60 senators ended the threat to turn the Roman Republic into an eternal dictatorship.
THE DAY OF THE SOOTHSAYER
Events last Friday echo the soothsayer’s warning:
Maria Yovanovich, the nonpartisan diplomat of impeccable character summarily recalled from her duties in Ukraine with no explanation, honored the House Intelligence Committee’s subpoena to appear for testimony at the Committee’s impeachment inquiry hearing;
The president who had suddenly dismissed Ms. Yovanovich just as suddenly smeared her reputation with a tweet while she was testifying before the Committee;
Roger Stone, the career dirty-trickster and long-term friend and mentor of Donald Trump, architect of the 2016 “Make America Great Again” campaign strategy and tactics, was convicted by a jury on all seven counts of making false statements, obstruction, and witness tampering;
President Trump tweeted:
“So they now convict Roger Stone of lying and want to jail him for many years to come. Well, what about Crooked Hillary, Comey, Strzok, Page, McCabe, Brennan, Clapper, Shifty Schiff, Ohr & Nellie, Steele & all of the others, including even Mueller himself? Didn’t they lie?”
Donald J. Trump tweet during Maria Yovanovich testimony, November 15, 2019.
ROGER STONE’S RULES
Roy Cohn and Roger Stone are the the political dirty-trickster mentors who who trained Donald Trump in the Machiavellian rules for how to succeed in business and politics.
The following are a few of “Stone’s Rules” as he shared them in the documentary film Get Me Roger Stone:
“Hate is stronger than love”
“Unless you can fake sincerity, you’ll get nowhere in this business”
“Politics isn’t theater. It’s performance art. Sometimes, for its own sake”
“White shirt + tan face = confidence”
“Hit it from every angle. Open multiple fronts on your enemy. He must be confused, and feel besieged on every side.
“Never turn down the opportunity to have sex or be on TV.” (attributed to Gore Vidal)
“Nothing is on the level”
“It’s better to be infamous than never famous at all.”
Presidential historian Jon Meacham spoke within hours of the president’ latest tweety. “My sense,” he said, “is that we have a president who is congenitally incapable of seeing beyond his own self-interest. And what these witnesses have done is proven that while he wants to build a wall at the border, he has no interest in building a wall around our elections.” (The Beat, Friday, Nov. 15.)
ARE THE BOYS (THE KING’S MEN) STILL THERE?
“A political leader must keep looking over his shoulder all the time to see if the boys are still there. If they’re not, he’s no longer a political leader.” (NYT obituary for Bernard Baruch, June 21, 1965.)
Bernard Baruch Obituary, New York Times, June 21, 1964
The impeachment inquiry is about much more than a sitting president’s continuance or removal from office. It’s about the survival of the Constitution of the American Republic in an era when an entire political party has substituted the habits of Stone’s Rules for the sworn duty of every elected member of Congress “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.”
“Admit nothing. Deny everything. Launch counterattacks. Attack, attack, attack. Never defend. Distract, distract, distract!” is a heinous violation of the Oath Office.
Is it too much to hope that soothsayer’s warning will result in coming to our senses? If not, we may be left to hope John Arburthnot was right that “political parties die at last of swallowing their own lies.”
Why a memory bubbles up in a particular moment often is a mystery. Other times an explanation does not require a Freudian or Jungian analyst.
I’m having breakfast at the Hyatt in downtown Minneapolis with former U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson. Just the two of us. We are meeting to get acquainted before the noon Westminster Town Hall Forumwhen I will introduce him to a packed house and the radio audience of Minnesota Public Radio (MPR).
“VOICES OF CONSCIENCE: KEY ISSUES IN ETHICAL PERSPECTIVE”
A singular moment of American history qualifies Elliot Richardson for the public forum that features “Voices of Conscience: Key Issues in Ethical Perspective.” Elliot Richardson was the United States Attorney General in the Nixon Administration, a lifelong Republican remembered for refusing President Richard Nixon’s order to fire Archibald Cox, the Special Prosecutor of the Watergate affair. The memory of Elliot Richardson’s act of courage is still fresh in the hearts and minds of those who respect the courage of conscience in American public life. Elliot Richardson refused to sell his soul to the White House.
“WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?”
The turmoil of 2019 seems explanation enough for the reappearance of the memory from twenty-two years ago.
Bill Barr became the Trump Administration Attorney General after Jeff Session angered the president for refusing to recuse himself from overseeing the Department of Justice investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. That was after FBI Director James Comey had been fired after a one-on-one private dinner at the White House when the president asked for Comey’s pledge of personal loyalty.
In the midst of failed attempts to secure personal loyalty, and nostalgic for the fealty of his former lawyer, whom Alan Derschowitz described as “the quintessential fixer,” the president’s is reported by the New York Times to have cried in a moment of exasperation, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?”
ROY COHN AND THE TACTICS OF JOSEPH MCCARTHY
Roy Cohn had been front and center stage on national television as Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Committee hearings hunting for Communists and Communist sympathizers allegedly hidden in the U.S. military, government agencies, and the entertainment industry.
Edward R. Murrow‘s televised commentary featuring Army defense lawyer Joseph Welsh’s rebuke of McCarthy and his tactics brought McCarthy to a screeching halt:
“You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
Joseph Welsh, Esq. statement to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, 1954.
THE LONG ARM OF ROY COHN
In the wake of Murrow’s broadcast and the turning of public opinion against McCarthy’s character assassinations of America’s political left as unpatriotic, Roy Cohn left McCarthy’s side to go into private practice. During the 30 years that followed, his clients were a rare assortment of the famous (the Archdiocese of New York, the New York Yankees and the team’s owner, George Steinbrenner; Aristotle Onassis) and the infamous (mob bosses “Fat Tony” Salerno, Carmine “the Cigar” Galante, extortionist “Teflon Don” John Gotti, and the owners of Studio 54 convicted of tax evasion, among others.
Roy Cohn became Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, mentor, and fixer, the master teacher who taught his disciple how to succeed in public life: require absolute loyalty, strike fear in anyone who dare oppose you, manipulate the media, attack harder when attacked, and demonize your opponents as public enemies. In the end, the disciple did to Cohn what Cohn had taught him to do. After the New York Supreme Court disbarred Roy Cohn and Cohn was dying from complications reportedly related to AIDS, the lawyer-fixer-mentor’s friend was no longer useful. The mentee dropped his loyal “friend” like a rock.
ELLIOT RICHARDSON and THE ARC OF THE MORAL UNIVERSE
Roy Cohn and Elliot Richardson had three things in common. They were lawyers. They had their moments in the national spotlight. They worked closely Republican Presidents. But they stand on opposite sides of history.
But, if “the arc of the moral universeis long, but … bends toward justice” (Martin Luther King, Jr., quoting Theodore Parker), the shadow of Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn is short and fleeting, and the memory of a courageous Republican who refused to sell his soul to the White House may yet awaken the party he would not recognize to surrender the question “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” for a different question: