Fear Itself

In a word, I was too cowardly to do what I knew to be right, as I had been too cowardly to avoid doing what I knew to be wrong.”- Charles Dickens ( Great Expectations)

To see the right and not to do it is cowardice.- Confucius.

Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fear has its use, but cowardice has none-Mahatma Gandhi

Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now- Bob Dylan (My Back Pages)

The sixth amendment of the US Constitution guarantees the right to trial by a jury of one’s peers. There is no requirement for service enumerated in the document but in order for due process to be administered, laws have been enacted with narrow exceptions regarding such service. Most of us dread the inevitable subpoena in our mailbox and may closely examine those narrow exceptions in search of an escape hatch. But most of us, when inevitably placed in a position to survive voir dire (jury selection), take the responsibility seriously. We consider the evidence, we listen carefully to the judge’s instructions. When charged we discuss, sometimes very heatedly, the evidence. When possible, which is most of the time, we render a verdict. In a criminal trial that verdict revolves around guilt or the absence of a finding of guilt. It is important to point out here that a not guilty verdict is not a finding of innocence (as some former presidents would have you believe) but rather a finding that the jury could not find within the evidence enough to deliver a guilty verdict “beyond a reasonable doubt”. In our system the burden of proof is on the accuser (the prosecution) and the presumption of innocence stays with the accused until a verdict is delivered. Civil trials are different. Penalties generally revolve around material satisfaction (money), and juries make findings upon a “preponderance” of evidence, not the reasonable doubt standard for criminal cases. Jury size is generally smaller and often a unanimous  verdict is not necessary. A criminal verdict must be the unanimous opinion of 12 jurors. That is unless the parties agree to what is called a bench trial, which means there is no jury and the judge is the determiner of guilt or responsibility.

Political trials such as impeachments bring no financial or criminal penalties. The punishment is removal from office and often denial of further pursuit of elected service. The jurors, at least according to some legal scholars may also participate as witnesses. Still, it is reasonable for most of us to assume that the other standards of jury participation commonly accepted might apply here too. Burden of proof on the prosecution, presumption of innocence, open minds until the consideration of evidence and the courage to commit to a just decision based on such evidence.

This laborious introduction was to point up the seeming pointlessness of a  “supposed” trial recently in the United States Senate of the impeachment variety of a supposed “person” whose name I have made it a point not to spell out (with the exception of one piece from a few years ago) for it causes me to release odious forms of gas. I live alone but I do have neighbors. After four dangerous years I am sure you all know of whom I speak. I personally am still in the process of wiping down all my screens from too many years of being subjected to his image. There seems not to be enough alcohol. Perhaps I’ll try moonshine, there may be some leftover from that period when there wasn’t enough hand sanitizer because his administration was so well prepared for this pandemic thing. And yes, that was the sour smell of sarcasm you may have detected. But not the odious gas. Anyway I digress.

There was a trial, and as previously mentioned, no matter how dissatisfied we the people find the prospect of service, we listen, try to keep an open mind, and make our collective decisions during  deliberations based on the available evidence. But it has occurred to me how foolish this whole process is. After all, our leaders, who we elect to actually create the laws we all must live by, many of whom are attorneys themselves, have a much better and quicker method. Tell everybody exactly how you are going to vote before you even hear the evidence, attack the process, feel free to doodle and by all means protect your job security. Make sure the criminal gets away with it and create a soft-landing path of precedent for yourself and any other nogoodniks to safely alight on in the future. Blame anybody but the accused, especially if they are in the opposite political party and especially if their skin tone is shades darker than your own. By doing this there is the assurance of not having to face any of those Henry Fonda angry men scenarios where you might have to put in a little more time to consider the evidence or your own reflection in a mirror as you recall the reason you are there in the first place, an assault on the Capitol and constitution you have sworn to protect as well as a side order of your own possible attempted murders. There is a name for this method, previously frowned upon by most but now apparently embraced in certain political circles. Cowardice is very in. It’s right up there with hypocrisy.

Mitch McConnell made a lot of fine noise, along with retiring Sen. Rob Portman about assigning blame to the former “resident” and the possible penalties awaiting him but it should be noted that when it came time for him to actually pass judgement he passed on his responsibility and left the hard work to future panels, of well, common citizens like the rest of us. It was a first for me, I had never before witnessed a turtle like creature metamorphosize into a weasel. I was also quite surprised at how quickly weasels reproduce. Forty-three of them appeared out of thin air. Amazing.

Harry Truman,  regarding the virus that was Sen. Joe McCarthy once said, “Now that’s where the real danger comes; it isn’t only the demagogues. It’s the ones who encourage them, who’ll do anything in the world to win an election. They’re just as bad”.

But in the end McCarthyism died. Bullies fail eventually. I served on a jury once where the evidence was overwhelming.  All through the trial the accused coldly stared down the jury as well as any witnesses against him. He also had a faithful following of supporters, many of whom were striking the same poses. The voir dire process had ensured that the makeup of the panel was of a decidedly and potentially sympathetic bent. We did  not rush the process despite the extensiveness of the evidence, we considered it carefully, even arguing about the meaning and acquisition of some of it. It was the kind of case where we could have easily returned a verdict within half an hour, but we didn’t, even if some kvetched about it. Ultimately it took about four hours. I’ll never forget the way the defendant and his followers stared us all down as we entered the jury box to hand in our verdict. It was designed to scare us; it is safe to say it worked. But we handed over the guilty verdict, nonetheless. We were all shaken, by the prospects for own safety and by the fact that we were responsible for possibly imprisoning a man for a long time. No matter how justified our verdict was (and it was) there are not many people I know who relish that responsibility.  But having the courage to do ones’ duty is always and has always been the foundation of a free society.

Some legislators from the “other side of the aisle” put their country first and showed us all how effective a little bit of courage can be . It might take a while, and I am sure there will be more pain to follow, but the future is brighter than it was before Jan. 20th at noon. We now have an adult in the White House surrounded by competent people. Press conferences are no longer pure propagandist theatre but performed for the benefit of a nation and not an audience of one. A vaccine is rolling out, infection numbers and deaths are shrinking, spring training is starting. And on the same day that radio’s chief instigator of divisiveness shed his mortal coil, an Atlantic City casino bearing the name of our last political infection came crashing down on televisions all across the nation. The fever is breaking. Play ball America.  

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