A Yankee Notebook, Columns

Mostly, Though, They’ve Just Stewed

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by Willem Lange

EAST MONTPELIER – “They’re a pretty sorry lot.” – Barbara Bush

Mrs. Bush was talking in 2000 about the Democratic contenders for the presidential nomination. But her appraisal would fit the 19 alleged miscreants who’ve been showing up this week for booking at the Fulton County Jail.

From the former president to his chief of staff to the poor schlub who was caught on camera trying to sabotage voting machines, they all received what the sheriff termed “equal treatment.” All were photographed for their mug shots (only one of them published his photo on social media: a snarling face glowering defiance at the camera, calculated to convey that he was not giving up without a fight).

The media announcers, posted around the courthouse with their videographers, have almost climbed upon one another to get “live footage” of various purported evildoers arriving for processing. Mostly, though, they’ve just stewed and yakked aimlessly.

All 19 defendants have pled innocent, and some, including their putative leader, have styled themselves the victims of left-wing conspiracies and weaponized law enforcement institutions. Each has his own legal representation, and it’s hard to tell at this point what each is being advised to do in subsequent proceedings.

It’s also hard to tell what all these trials and hearings will cost the taxpayers – all because, as one Facebook poster has observed, one grown man can’t stand the thought of coming in second.

The American people are about to be almost constantly entertained by what will seem an endless succession of arguments – for a change of venue, for example; or delays while all the piles of paperwork are perused by the defense; or contempt-of-court citations for violating judicial constraints on public pronouncements. It’s going to be interesting to see how some of the lawyers will manage to keep their clients’ traps shut in front of the ubiquitous TV cameras. Duct tape might work.

Just as American news-watchers have gotten geography lessons from the current war in Ukraine – Kyiv, Dombas, Crimea, Belarus, for example – they’re about to get a protracted lesson in legal procedures. Every one of the defendants is presumed innocent until and unless a contrary judgment is issued by a jury of his or her peers. And then, of course, there’s the appeal process. One of my fears is that I may not live long enough to see the final result of any of the trials.

The Constitution guarantees each of us legal representation in the event of indictment, but for all its high-flying rhetoric, it hardly guarantees us equal representation. As George Orwell observed some time ago, some animals are more equal than others. You get the representation you can pay for. This bodes ill for some of the minor characters in this cast of almost two dozen.

Still, the drawn-out cases will no doubt prove frustrating for many viewers who’ve already found them guilty. There’s something distasteful about the sight of otherwise responsible grownups twisting on the horns of an indictment and claiming whatever redeeming factors will be claimed in – of not the pursuit of innocence – the avoidance of penalties. A second-grader can lie with just as much aplomb as these folks.

The first skirmish in the long battle to come: Mark Meadows, the former chief of staff, wants his trial shifted to federal court. As a federal employee, he was just following orders (where have we heard that defense before?) when he joined in the effort to change the results of the Georgia election. At least, unlike some of his co-defendants, he’s not claiming he sincerely believed the 2020 election was stolen. He can’t; he’s on record advising the president otherwise. But who knows? He may try, if so advised.

Meanwhile, the lawyers swarm around the courthouse like ants around a sugar bowl in summer. Every defendant seems to need several. They appear in dark suits, usually in teams of two, walking firmly and soberly toward the cameras. And they’ll be appearing, in front of the same cameras, for several months to come, at the end of each day’s hearing to predict victory for their clients. It’ll be enough to drive us to distraction – we who jibed at Bill Clinton’s parsing of the word, “is.”

So brace yourself and buckle up. It’s going to be a long and very boring ride (except for the principals), enlivened now and then, perhaps, by a defection from the ranks or death threats. To quote Hadassah Lieberman, “Is this a great country, or what?”

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