If right doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how good the Constitution is.
It doesn’t matter how brilliant the Framers were.
It doesn’t matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is.
It doesn’t matter how well written the oath of impartiality is.
If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost.
If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost.
The Framers couldn’t protect us from ourselves if right and truth don’t matter.
And you know that what he did was not right. That’s what they do in the old country, that Col. Vindman’s father came from. Or the old country that my great-grandfather came from. Or the old countries that your ancestors came from, or maybe you came from. But, here, right is supposed to matter. It’s what’s made us the greatest nation on earth.
No Constitution can protect us if right doesn’t matter anymore.
And you know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now. He’s done it before. He’ll do it for the next several months. He’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to. This is why, if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed.
Because right matters. Right matters. And the truth matters.
Otherwise we are lost.
So ended Impeachment manager Adam Schiff’s closing argument yesterday in the Senate trial of Donald Trump. Within minutes, #RightMatters was trending on Twitter.
Schiff (D-CA) leads a group of Democratic House managers who are shining in this moment as they weave televised testimony before the House, available documents, and public television interviews into a coherent narrative despite the Senate’s current refusal to admit testimony or documents.
On Wednesday, New York’s Hakeem Jeffries’s (D-NY) encapsulation of “why we are here” was a masterful synopsis of the case against Donald Trump; yesterday, it fell to Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) to weave the recently released messages between Lev Parnas and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani into a timeline that utterly debunked the idea that any American involved in the Ukraine Scandal cared about corruption, showing that Trump’s concern over the Bidens was that Joe Biden was the frontrunner for the 2020 election. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) took the lead as he explained the legal basis for impeachment, and while his speaking style was more subdued and mechanical than Schiff’s, he was clear and convincing. Taken together, the Democrats’ case has been overwhelming. Even Andrew Napolitano, the Fox News Channel senior judicial analyst, said the evidence was “ample and uncontradicted.”
But all I could think of was Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. In it, lawyer Atticus Finch conducts a masterful defense of the moral, kind, hardworking African American man Tom Robinson, whom everyone in Macomb knew had not committed the rape poor white girl Mayella Ewell had accused him of. Finch proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mayella’s own no-good father Bob had raped her, and that she had flirted with Tom out of a desperate need for affection, then accused Tom to save herself from her father’s violent wrath. Atticus hammered the facts home, proving that Tom, with his withered arm, could not possibly have assaulted Mayella, and that she and Bob were lying. But in the end, nothing mattered but power. Not facts, not truth, not right. An all-white jury, wedded to white supremacy, pretended to believe the white Bob Ewell, and convicted Tom of the crime.
Last night, as if on cue, CBS reported that a confidante of the president told one of their reporters that GOP senators were warned: “vote against the president & your head will be on a pike.” Republican senators, who have previously suggested they would entertain the idea of witnesses—a proxy for the idea they might actually listen to evidence—began to coalesce around the idea that they cannot subpoena witnesses because Trump is threatening to invoke executive privilege, the right of the president to keep certain communications private. (For all the chatter about executive privilege, the President’s legal team has not invoked it yet; his people have simply said they would not answer certain questions in case it might intrude on his future invocation of the privilege.) That, they say, would drag out the trial unnecessarily. And so, it looks as if the hope that a few of the Republican senators would break ranks will not play out.
By the way — if you haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird, the jury convicted Tom Robinson.
“Schiff and Co are off the charts brilliant,” I wrote to a colleague last nigiht, “and it doesn’t matter.”
“Yes it does matter,” the answer came back. “Not necessarily to whether Trump will be convicted but to the social, cultural, and political meaning of this public ritual and to the ripples and waves it makes in the river of history.”
Another friend made the point in a more round-about way: “Have you been to the African American History and Culture Museum in DC?” she asked. “It is designed to be experienced in a particular way. You go down, down, down in an elevator, through time, to 1465 or something. Earlier than I expected, definitely 15th century. Three floors of history: Europe and Africa colliding into America. Trade. Capitalism. New World. Opportunity. Slavery.
Three floors. It would take days to see it properly. So many artifacts. Even an amazing story about a Tuskegee airman. You end with video and still images of American from 9-11 through Obama. I found that part really emotional. Then you eat. Big cafeteria, with regional food. I had the kind of food that my grandmother cooked. She was raised eating soul food, and that is what she always cooked. Fried chicken. Corn bread. Collard greens. But she was a better cook than a cafeteria. Banana pudding with vanilla wafers. In a glass bowl.
After you eat, you keep going up. Three floors above the entry level. Floor 2 is the research center floor, and the escalators generally direct you past that. Floor 3 is all about building and maintaining community. Education. Churches. Publications. Clubs and civil groups. Civil rights organizing. The top floor is sublime, in a way. All about expressions of the spirit. Culture. Athletes. Dance. Theater. TV. Movies. And MUSIC. Popular American music. Poetry and literature. Pure joy and expression and life.”
And then she made her point: “White people who believe in justice and democracy may have to learn resilience and patience.”
No matter what happens, Schiff nailed it. “Right matters. And the truth matters. Otherwise we are lost.”
Heather Cox Richardson is Professor of History, Boston College. This was originally published in her Substack newsletter on January 17 2020. Subscribe for free here.