The Impeachment of Henry II

December 1170: Henry II of England, furious over the resistance of the Archbishop of Canterbury, cries, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”1

While there is some question as to exactly what Henry said, there is no question that his words were incendiary, and no doubt about the result: four of his knights, considering themselves commissioned by their king, went to Canterbury Cathedral and hacked the “meddlesome priest”2 Thomas à Becket to death.

So was Henry just blowing off steam, or exercising his free-speech rights? Or was he, consciously or not, ordering the martyrdom of Thomas à Becket?3 Both Europe at the time, and the verdict of history, put Becket’s blood on Henry. In order to save his soul (and put himself and his kingdom back in good terms with the Church), Henry performed a rather spectacular public penance.

Washington, February 2021: As I understand it, one of the defenses made by apologists for Trump’s inciting his followers up to and including the January 6 Capitol insurrection is that he didn’t really mean what happened to happen. He was just exercising his First Amendment rights.

In a criminal proceeding, that defense might work. But an impeachment trial is not a criminal proceeding. The President has access to the biggest bully pulpit in the world, and should be held to account for the consequences of his words.

Rome, all Europe, and history impeached4 Henry II. The House has done the same with Trump. Conviction in the Senate won’t bring back the victims of the Capitol insurrection, but it might be a minimum appropriate penance for America’s most irresponsible President.

Notes:

  1. In one version of the story, anyway. In another, “meddlesome” is replaced by “turbulent.” According to another, what he said was, “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and promoted in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born clerk!”
  2. Or “turbulent priest,” “low-born clerk.”
  3. On the plus side, Canterbury’s status as a shrine provided the opportunity for Geoffrey Chaucer to relate the wonderful Canterbury Tales as a frame story set on a pilgrimage there.
  4. “Impeach” isn’t simply an American political term. See https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/impeach.

MLK Day 2021

Martin Luther King Jr. Day feels different in 2021. Following a tumultuous year and coming just two days before the inauguration of a new administration, this year’s MLK Day reminds us that freedom is never guaranteed and must always be defended.

Events of the past year have forced us to confront our nation’s complicated racial record, which has been filled with both great and sordid things. It seems that every step toward freedom has been followed by a setback.

  • The Founders created the freest society in history, with a durable system of governance; but to make it happen, they permitted the institution of slavery to be written into its Constitution.
  • A civil war split the nation, primarily over the issue of slavery. The nation abolished slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment, guaranteed equal protection under the law to all races in the Fourteenth and suffrage to all races with the Fifteenth. Then that same nation permitted those rights to be denied during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era.
  • In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education desegregated the nation’s public schools, only to give rise to segregation academies, which continue to be enabled by today’s voucher programs and charter schools.
  • A series of legislation including the Fair Housing Act of 1968 desegregated housing, and white flight re-segregated communities.
  • In 2008 voters elected our first African-American President. Eight years later they elected a blatant white supremacist who did his best to reverse the policies of his predecessor. And then in November the largest popular vote turnout in American history elected a ticket which included the first black woman Vice President.

In two days, we will witness an unusual Presidential inauguration, celebrating the peaceful transfer of power in a city locked down following the first armed occupation of the Capitol building in over two centuries. State capitals across the country will resemble occupied cities.

Our nation’s seal proclaims e pluribus unum: from many, one. The testing of that ideal doesn’t mean it should be abandoned. One of our greatest challenges as a nation is to permit our diversity to be a source of strength and not division. We need to find our way to each other.

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, let us all pray for our country and commit ourselves to work for a future of justice, equality, and peace.

Election Workers

August 2016: Lynn and I at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, dropping off my candidacy petitions for State Board of Education.

At a time when people are waiting–patiently or not–for election returns from a few key states, this seems a good time to mention election workers.

For several years, our mother was a Republican election judge. Each party had to have three (I think) judges at the polling place. Since this was in Chicago, the Democrats had the only party apparatus in our area, and the task of recruiting the Republican judges fell to Tally Giaccone, the Democratic precinct captain.1 It wasn’t until later, when I began to have my own experiences with elections workers, that I really began to appreciate the work that they do, and how important our bipartisan election system is.

Beyond the people staffing their polling places, few voters ever interact with our elections apparatus and the people who make it work. I’ve had the opportunity, and it has been pretty inspiring.

As near as I can remember, I’ve been on the ballot six times.2 Four of those races were in Democratic primaries, and two were for public office. For all of them, I needed to visit the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. For one of them, I needed to work with the Secretary of State’s office, which, as the name implies, serves as the main election office for the state.

Back when I was working for NEOEA, I frequently contacted our eleven county boards of elections and the Secretary of State’s office to research school levies, political boundaries, and electoral schedules.

In every case, I have found these folks to be dedicated public servants. They don’t seem to care what party I belong to, and it doesn’t seem to matter what administration is in power: they have been as helpful as could be.

These folks make it their mission to make the system work for all of us. Candidates (most, anyway) are patriots.3 Running for office is hard, and these folks try to make it as positive as it can be. Even when you’re running for a relatively minor position, they give you professional attention and make you feel like your race is the most important one they have to deal with.

In this election year, these folks have gotten a lot of attention; and in some states, they are getting a lot of pressure. They are the unsung heroes of American democracy. Eventually we will get past the present electoral suspense, and one reason will be the dedication of local and state election workers.

Notes:

  1. Some years later I served as his Republican counterpart–Tally was still there. You can imagine the surprise at the few Republican households when a high school junior wearing a flag lapel pin knocked on their doors and introduced himself as their new Republic precinct captain!
  2. I haven’t been notably successful: I’ve won three elections and lost three.
  3. I know, politicians are supposed to be rapacious cretins. But the system starts at the bottom, with people running for city council, or school board, or party central committee. If you want to improve the system, stop whining and run for something.