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State of American History, Civics, and Politics

Gladiator Senate versus American Senate: We Are on Fifth Avenue Now

Derek Jacobi as a Roman Senator in Gladiator

The movie Gladiator was an action-packed blockbuster back in the time when human beings still could be heroes. Physical action leapt from the screen in some high paced rock-em-sock-em scenes. Many of them abounded in high energy in the tradition of Spartacus and Braveheart.

One of the subthemes in the movie was the role of the Roman Senate. Supposedly, the Roman Senate would provide a check and balance on the unhinged emperor. It would return Rome to being a Republic and end the excesses of personal rule by people who thought they were gods or at least above everyone else.

Although the movie dabbled in actual history, it did not create an alternate reality. There was no resurgence of the Roman Republic. Rome continued on its imperial way until it couldn’t and then the Roman Empire was no more.

Senate has a special ring to it. It sounds more august than being the member of the House, an Assembly, or a Legislature. The stature of the Senate has endured in the centuries since the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire.

Certainly the Founding Fathers of the United States had high respect and great hope for this body. It wasn’t elected by the mob. It was supposed to be a place of one betters (just as the Electoral College was). Once the era of the Virginia Presidential Dynasty ceased, the Senate did achieve the heights once anticipated by the Founding Fathers. Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and Daniel Webster were giants who dominated national politics for decades regardless of what one thinks of any individual policies. Truly they were larger than life figures in American history. There even came a time when Daniel Webster could go face-to-face with Scratch, the Devil himself, and win despite a rigged jury.

George Bailey Triumphs in the Senate

Around the same time, the future George Bailey went to Washington and showed that a John Doe or Smith could prevail in the Senate with the truth on his side even against the corrupt.

The Senate today bears no resemblance to that Senate or the vision of the Founding Fathers. Quite the contrary. It has become a very small chamber devoid of any sense of the grandeur that the very word “Senate” once connoted.

Consider the words of Jeff Flake and Rick Wilson. According to the latter, the Republicans in Congress can be divided into three groups: Trumpican loyalists, Trumpican opportunists, and intimidated Republicans. Flake estimates that 35 out of 53 Republican Senators would vote to remove Little Donnee Waney if there were a secret ballot. These people know what world leaders know: the American President is an impulsive, immature, ignorant child who should be laughed at except for the power he commands. Supposedly, however, they would never vote in public to remove the Impeached One because of the hell there would be to pay from the infamous Trumpican base once their lord and savior, the chosen one, blessed be his name, unleashed them against the disloyal traitors.

True, there is no secret ballot for removal, but there are secret caucuses. Senators do meet in private. In theory, such meetings provide the opportunity for Trumpicans-in-name-only (TINOs) to voice their opinions. Presumably the TINOs know that not only should there be witnesses but that the Impeached One really did attempt to extort the Ukraine for personal gain, did attempt to cover it up, and has not told the truth. In numbers there is strength so the 35 TINOs should pack a powerful punch in the caucus. As best I can tell without being privy to “sources,” the TINOs have done no such thing. They have been cowed into submission. There are no profiles in courage. John McCain is dead.

The search for a few good men and women continues. Attention has been focused on Lamar Alexander. This senior senator is about to retire so there is nothing the Impeached One can do him. And in the roll call, he comes at the beginning. Couldn’t he get the ball rolling with a courageous vote?

Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men

It’s sad watching the desperate search for someone to be Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men, someone who through strength of character and firm resolve will resolutely lead the jurors to a just verdict. In the example of the movie it was to exonerate the innocent; in real life it is to convict the guilty.

Dream on! Consider Alexander’s fellow Tennessean Senator, Marsha Blackburn, who replaced Bob Corker. She is a far cry from Howard Baker.

American Hero and Trumpican Senator

When she attacked the patriotism and loyalty of Alexander Vindman who was living the American Dream and dared to tell the truth under oath, she unleashed the standard invective of the Impeached One. Truly she is a worthy recipient for the Nasty Trumpican of the week. She is more typical of the Trumpican Senators than the cowed TINOs.

Consider for example the actions of Mike Pompeo. He already has launched his candidacy to succeed the Impeached One in 2024. He has chosen loyalty over fighting for the people in his department. He has chosen loyalty over telling the truth about his role in the attempted extortion and coverup. He has chosen loyalty in attacking the press, especially a female reporter, in classic Trump style. And he has chosen loyalty by being stupid by choice: when the President said he would bomb cultural sites he did not really say he would bomb cultural sites. Once someone has publicaly become a stupid-by-choice Trumpican there is no turning back.

By contrast, Secretary of Defense Mike Esper has told the truth. But then again, he has no political ambitions so the Impeached One has limited leverage over him. What would he do? Fire him so he could write a book!

Speaking of which, let’s compare two bombshells: Bolton and Iran both telling the truth. As one would expect, Iran naturally trumped (lied) when the Ukrainian airplane was shot down. Then there came of moment of truth when they could live the lie no longer.

Mr. Rouhani briefed a few senior members of his government. They were rattled.

Mr. Rabei, the government spokesperson who had issued a denial that morning, broke down…. Mr. Rabei was crying. ”Everything is a lie,” Mr. Rabei said, according to Mr. Abdi [a prominent critic of Iran’s clerical establishment]. “The whole thing is a lie. What should I do? My honor is gone.”

Mr. Rabei said the government’s actions had gone “far beyond” just a lie. “There was a systematic cover-up at the highest levels that makes it impossible to get out of this crisis, he said. (“Iran’s 72-Hour Lie, From Jet Crash to Confession,” NYT January 26, 2020, print)

Compare that reaction to the White House that has been sitting on the Bolton bombshell for weeks. They lived the lie and encouraged the Trumpicans to do so while knowing full well that sooner or later the truth would come out.

The state propaganda apparatus also was having a moment of truth.

Fallout over how the plane crash was handled also spread to the official news media…with several prominent state television and radio hosts quitting their jobs, saying they could no longer lie for the government…..”Forgive me for believing it too late. I apologize for lying to you on TV for 13 years.

The journalists’ union…also issued a public apology for helping spread the government‘s misinformation about the cause of the crash. “We are currently holding a funeral service for public trust,” the statement said. “The first coffins are for state broadcast company and all media and websites.” The union called on all Iranian journalists to no longer “amplify the coverups of officials” and to conduct their reporting with skepticism and independent investigations. (In Iran, Growing Indignation and a Push for Accountability,” NYT January 14, 2020, print)

Now compare these reactions to those of the Trumpican Senators (and Fox). You have seen the clips. The eagerness of Trumpican Senators to be stupid-by-choice on behalf of the Impeached One will define them for history. In an article about the last impeachment, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz who had testified on behalf of that Impeached One, recalled a line from Congressman John Lewis about his work in the 1960s: “history just tracked me down. History tracked me down.” (“Bill Clinton’s Impeachment: The Inside Story,” by David Graham and Cullen Murphy, The Atlantic [December 2018]). Now the TINO’s face the same judgment of history. Will they be stupid-by-choice for this Impeached One? Is that how they want to be remembered?

The same article quotes James Rogan, one of the House Judiciary Committee members chosen as a manager for the Senate trial:

Trent Lott did handsprings trying to make it go away…”We don’t care if you have photographs of Clinton standing over a dead woman with s smoking gun in his hand. I have 55 Republican senators, seven of whom are up for reelection next year in very tough races. You [Republican] guys in the House just jumped off a cliff. We’re not following you off that cliff.”

Sound familiar?

Even Saturday Night Live makes an appearance in the article with Darrell Hammond who appeared as a triumphant Clinton saying:

[He was] sort of a scallywag, but only on about a Daffy Duck level. He was the kid who’d been sent to the principal’s office but now was back, and he’s okay. He didn’t get a paddling, he didn’t get a suspension, eh didn’t get after-school suspension. He was sprung free.

And once that happened, the first thing we did on the show was have him walk out there and say, “I am bulletproof.”

Sound familiar?

Here we may also observe why our immature child president was so attracted to Slick Willie as someone he could be like before he later became submissive to alpha male Vladimir Putin.

Pelosi’s gamble has paid off contrary to the wishful thinking of Scott Jennings. Time has permitted additional evidence to be exposed. That exposure may lead to witnesses being called, but in the end the TINOs will be stupid-by-choice because fear trumps integrity even in the Senate.