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Impeachment: A Night at the Movies

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The US House of Representatives soberly fulfills its constitutional obligation to investigate alleged wrongdoing by a sitting president, steadily building its case for that president's impeachment.

The Deep State schemes to remove a sitting president, trumping up (pun intended) supposed "high crimes and misdemeanors" and gaming a faux-constitutional "impeachment probe" to deny that president due process to which he's entitled.

Both of the previous paragraphs describe the same set of events. We're living through them right now, and we're in the grip of a second-level "Rashomon effect."

Per Wikipedia, that effect (named for a movie in which four witnesses offer contradictory descriptions of a murder) "describes a situation in which an event is given contradictory interpretations or descriptions by the individuals involved."

Extended to the audience, the effect plays out as two people watching the same film, each seeing it so differently from the other that for all intents and purposes they're "watching two different movies."

Both viewers are quite sure that their interpretations are correct, and it's highly unlikely that they'll come to any agreement as to what they both just objectively saw.

There's one thing that both viewers probably know, though:

The House is going to vote to impeach, because the President Donald J. Trump impeachment version of Rashomon is directed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a student of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov.

"If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall," wrote Chekhov, "in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."

When Pelosi announced the House impeachment inquiry on September 24, she was figuratively hanging a gun on the wall of the House chamber, after 2 1/2 years of resisting impeachment talk and suppressing impeachment efforts in the House.

Why? In addition to her theatrical acumen, Pelosi also knows basic arithmetic. She saw the votes were there to impeach.

SOMEONE was going to hang the gun on the wall.

SOMEONE was going to fire the gun.

Pelosi could direct the play, or she could settle for a bit part (and probably lose her position as Speaker).

If Pelosi's the director of Rashomon: The House Impeaches Trump, Trump himself is both producer and leading man. He's been begging for this role since before his inauguration. He commissioned the script, donated the props, and spent 2 1/2 years trying to get Pelosi to take the bait. He loves drama above all else and expects, based on experience, to profit politically from this production.

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Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


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4 people are discussing this page, with 9 comments  Post Comment


Rob Kall

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Comment by Rob Kall:

The stuff about a coup is nonsense. I've written about it here.

Time to Stop Your Trump Wants to Fight the System Fantasy


Submitted on Friday, Nov 8, 2019 at 6:49:20 PM

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Fred W

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Reply to Rob Kall:   New Content

Here's what you wrote there re. "coup": "I'm not sure that removing him is the best thing for two reasons. One, it will fuel those who claim that impeachment is coup. It is not. He has violated the constitution, breaking laws." That Trump has broken laws doesn't sound like much of an argument against impeachment being a coup, to me, especially given that the movement to impeach him began before he even took office. I guess that supports the author's thesis: that two people can look at the same facts and interpret them differently.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 9, 2019 at 4:14:34 AM

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shad williams

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Reply to Fred W:   New Content

Then all impeachments are coups?

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 9, 2019 at 9:09:14 AM

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Fred W

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Reply to shad williams:   New Content

Consider Lula's situation in Brazil. Although I am not in any way suggesting that there is any moral equivalence between him and Trump, I can imagine that there may have been some evidence of graft or whatever it is he was accused of, although I don't know much about his case. But suppose there was -- perhaps some minor infringement. Was it a legitimate use of the legal process to put him in prison?

Suppose there was some quid pro quo in Trump's dealings with Ukraine. We know that there have been many shady quid pro quo deals in US foreign policy history; for example, it's highly likely that the US bribed and/or threatened Ecuador to let Assange be handed over to the British. Is that legal or moral? That sort of thing happens so often under every administration that we hardly notice it anymore.

On the other hand, the Justice Department is currently investigating the origins of the allegations that led up to the Mueller investigation. Why is it improper (under current standards, anyway) for the government to put some pressure on a foreign government to help that investigation?

When you consider that there has been an effort to reverse the results of the election from the day after the election, largely based on the completely unsubstantiated notion that Trump colluded with Russia, the word coup seems to me appropriate, as several journalists I respect, such as Matt Taibbi, have pointed out.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 10, 2019 at 5:16:19 AM

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Thomas Knapp

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Reply to Fred W:   New Content

The word "coup" is quickly becoming a catch-all for anything and everything that might thwart Trump's tiniest desire.


The early machinations against him did at least have the flavor of a coup. That is, highly placed persons in the state's security apparatus began trying to come up with a way, some way, any way to get him out of office. Not just the "Russiagate" scam. They were apparently already talking about trying to suborn Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment before Trump had even had a chance to show any "incapacity" that would have justified it, and so forth.


But the definition of "coup" has to do with mechanism, not motive. To the extent that the Russiagate scam was part of a "coup attempt," the special counsel probe and its interactions with Congress thwarted rather than advanced that attempt.


In the current situation, there's nothing I see that justifies the "coup" whining.


An allegation was made, and who made it isn't any more relevant than whether the 911 caller is reporting a bank robbery because he's a good citizen or because he doesn't like one of the robbers -- the allegation is either true or it isn't.


Trump almost immediately publicly confessed to the essential elements of that allegation, which constitute at least three "high crimes" (specifically, violations of the US treaty with Ukraine on assistance in investigations) regardless of motive or quid pro quo, then provided official documentation corroborating his confession.


The House is now investigating the allegations, will eventually vote to impeach or not impeach, and will pass or not pass the matter on to the Senate for trial.


A "coup" is an extra-constitutional process; what's happening here is a textbook constitutional process.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 9, 2019 at 12:36:22 PM

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Fred W

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Reply to Thomas Knapp:   New Content

If you agree that the trial and imprisonment of Lula was not a coup either, then I suppose there is a technical precision in saying it's not a coup against Trump.

You posit "violations of the US treaty with Ukraine on assistance in investigations". (I'm actually ignorant of what those violations were and would enjoy learning more about that.) But consider what to me was a much bigger deal, the overthrow of the Ukraine government under Obama. How does that fit into an ideal of legality? It had a ruinous effect on our relations with Russia and brings us a bit closer to nuclear Armageddon. Why were those responsible not impeached for an obvious violation of a nation's sovereignty, a basic right under the UN charter? We could probably prosecute them now legally: it certainly acted against the interests of the United States as well as the rest of humanity.

"Legality" is often massaged to fit the desires of those who espouse it. In my own case, I think the "Trump derangement syndrome" of the Democrats plays toward the re-election of Trump, besides leaving a bad taste in my mouth for the hypocrisy I perceive in it, and I would rather cut Trump some slack for minor infringements, just as I do for those politicians I approve of. We'll see how it all works out over the next 360 days, but I would much rather see him defeated by Bernie Sanders than impeached on flimsy and biased charges.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 10, 2019 at 5:44:26 AM

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Thomas Knapp

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Reply to Fred W:   New Content

I haven't closely studied Lula's trial and imprisonment, but there's one obvious difference here:


If the House impeaches Trump and the Senate convicts him, the worst that happens as a direct result is that he returns to private life. He doesn't get marched out back and shot, he doesn't go to prison, he doesn't get exiled, he just gets fired.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 10, 2019 at 12:10:51 PM

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Reply to Thomas Knapp:   New Content

Neither have I studied Lula's trial and imprisonment in detail, and probably Dilma Rouseff's impeachment and removal from office would be even more analagous. But the point I am trying to make is that, in both cases, although the actual offenses may have been technically correct (who knows? not me), the actions were highly political in nature -- completely partisan and minor in nature in that the same "offenses" have been committed thousands of times in the past, are no doubt occurring on a daily basis, and will continue to happen in the future. For that reason, we tend to think that those cases were bogus and should not have occurred.

I should have answered at the top of my reply to Shad, that I was not saying in my original comment that "all impeachments are shams", but was saying that the point of your article seemed to be that there are two highly polarized ways of looking at the same set of facts, that you just used the word "coup" to describe one of those ways, and that, in any case, Rob had not really made any argument at all in the article he referenced, but just made an assertion. Of couse I'm always glad for the opportunity to air my views on what seems to me to be a sham impeachment, for the same reasons many people would call the Lula and Rouseff trials "sham".

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 10, 2019 at 8:34:14 PM

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Wow! Who knew you were so humorous? Of course AChristie would surely disagree about the rifle hanging on the wall. In her case hanging a red herring sign underneath every prop would lead right away to a solution, unless the culprit is introduced in the last scene.

What a mess.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 9, 2019 at 8:48:03 AM

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