The Salient Issue
One method of grappling with what are the most vital issues America must resolve is to first eliminate those issues that blur our thought process. Five years of partisan ill will have sapped our nation’s psyche. Our health and our economy have suffered as we have found it more entertaining to castigate those who disagree with our political views than to make the hard choices required to battle COVID-19 and its devastation of our society. The events of January 06, 2021 and our reactions to them will either continue us on our downward spiral, or perhaps, America can remember and apply the healing lessons from our history.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and Gerald Ford (1918-2006) would address the January 06, 2021 attack on our Capitol Building differently. Kant, the great German legal philosopher, would hold it immoral to not require retribution against President Trump for the death and destruction that occurred after Trump’s call for a march on Congress even though President Trump had only fourteen days left to serve when the riot took place. Kant’s position on the legal duty to punish is set forth in the following example. If we envision an island society that decided to dissolve itself completely and leave the island at a time prisoners sentenced to be executed were awaiting their fate, it would be immoral to leave the island without first carrying out the executions. Kant’s rationale for this seemingly needless act was that the blood guilt of the prisoners would attach to the general society if justice was not administered. An eye for an eye would be called for according to Kant.
In contrast, President Ford invoked the wisdom and healing of Jesus when Ford issued a pardon to disgraced ex-President Richard Nixon (1913-1994) for Nixon’s role in covering up the burglary of Democratic National Committee Headquarters. Ford issued the pardon in September only one month after Nixon resigned in August 1974 to avoid impeachment. Instead of retribution, Ford chose mercy, but not just for Nixon; America needed relief too.
Of course, neither revenge nor mercy can, by definition, be perfect justice. However, when it comes to crimes against the State there are larger issues than justice for individuals. The greater good may require a more involved response. Fortunately, we have the wisdom of our Founders and the courage of such leaders as President Ford to aid us in our decision-making process.
Separation of Powers
Our Founders built our Constitution on the general theory of three equal branches of government. The events since the election on November 03, 2020 give evidence of the abiding legacy left for us in 1789. After the election the Judicial Branch rendered numerous decisions that upheld the Rule of Law. Vice President Pence in the Executive Branch has refused to use the 25th Amendment for political purposes, and the Legislative Branch has resisted attempts to usurp the will of the electorate to de-certify the Electoral College results. Our governmental framework has been stretched but has accommodated pressures from many angles.
All three branches are working together to identify and prosecute those individuals who violated our seat of government with physical destruction and death. With the cooperation of numerous law enforcement agencies and the courts, along with the laws previously enacted by our federal and state legislatures, those who brought nooses, pipe bombs and twist-ties to their pre-meditated crimes are being identified; and if probable cause to commit crimes is shown, and guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is proven using due process of law, just punishment should result. Gentle Reader, next week, if you are available, we can consider the differing treatments of individuals and the issue surrounding the legal concepts of attenuation of culpability. As to President or ex-President Trump, I respectfully submit that continuing to have our country divided about half and half concerning Donald Trump is akin to President Lincoln’s prescient declaration that a house divided against itself will not stand.
With that in mind I submit for your consideration a Gavel Gamut article I wrote right after President Ford died in which it was suggested Ford sacrificed his political career for his country in 1974. I have slightly modified the original article:
Pardon Me, President Ford
(First published 08 January 2007)
President Gerald Ford died December 26, 2006. In a life filled with public service, he will always be best known for his pardon of President Nixon in 1974. President Nixon had personally chosen Gerald Ford to replace the disgraced Vice President Spiro Agnew who resigned in 1973 amid disclosures of bribery while Agnew was Governor of Maryland. Vice President Ford served under President Nixon until Nixon resigned in August of 1974. One month after Nixon resigned, President Ford issued him a full pardon for any crimes Nixon may have committed while president.
At the time, many Americans, including me, were calling for a complete investigation of the Watergate debacle and especially Nixon’s involvement in it. It was a time of a media feeding frenzy and blood in the water. President Ford took the unprecedented step of going personally before Congress and flatly stating that President Nixon and then Vice President Ford had no deal to pardon Nixon if Nixon would resign.
I recall how dubious I was when President Ford stated that he issued the pardon only to help our country to start healing from the loss of confidence caused by Watergate. Yet, after a few months I began to have second thoughts about my initial reaction to the pardon. I realized how much courage it took for President Ford to go straight into the anti-Nixon firestorm sweeping the United States. As a country, we were almost paralyzed by the partisan fighting at home and the War in Vietnam. [Insert 4 years of partisan bickering during the Trump presidency and include at least 1 year of COVID-19.] We needed a new direction and a renewed spirit in 1974 just as we do today. Surely President Ford with his twenty-two (22) years in Congress knew he was committing political suicide by not giving us our pound of flesh. Still, he put his country first. Of course, the country rewarded his sacrifice by booting him from office and electing President Jimmy Carter to replace him.
But during the campaign of 1976, when President Ford came to Evansville, Indiana on April the 23rd, I took our son, Jim, out of school and we went to the Downtown Walkway to see the man who put country above self. For while William Shakespeare almost always got his character analysis right, when it comes to President Ford, “The good he did lives after him.” Julius Caesar, Act III, sc. ii.
Even President Carter, one of America’s most courageous and best former presidents said of his erstwhile political opponent President Ford: “President Ford was one of the most admirable public servants I have ever known.” And when it came to the pardon of President Nixon, Senator Ted Kennedy, while admitting that he had severely criticized the pardon in 1974, said that he had later come to realize that:
“The pardon was an extraordinary act of courage that historians recognize was
truly in the national interest.”
There was a time when the largest class of immigrants to the United States came from Great Britain. A large number of those erstwhile Englishmen and their descendants fought two wars with their one-time homeland. In spite of the British going so far as to burn down part of Washington D.C. during one of those wars, we still cleave to Great Britain as our closest ally. Neither we nor the British held grudges.
Then about one hundred years after the War of 1812 against our British cousins we joined with them in WWI against Germany. At the end of WWI, even though there were a great many citizens of the United States who traced their lineage to Germany, we signed on to the mean-spirited Treaty of Versailles in an effort to punish the Germans. Of course, as with many such badly intentioned actions, we also ended up punishing ourselves; WWII resulted. But thanks to such charitable American actions as the Marshall Plan, we made great allies out of modern Germany, Italy and some other WWII adversaries at the end of that conflict.
While Reconstruction and the aftermath of the American Civil War could have been handled much better, it also could have been much worse. Thanks to such attitudes as expressed by President Lincoln and others in both the Union and Confederacy, malice was held down and charity was exhibited. Even with hundreds of thousands of deaths and carnage throughout our country we managed to pull together and build what would become a living monument to ideals that had once been only dreams. America needs much more work to become that more perfect union but nowhere else have humans got so near the brass ring and a generous volksgeist has made that possible.
The spirit of openness, generosity and optimism that pervaded much of America after WWII might be helpful today. While such vital interests as equal rights and due process still require much work by all of us, a cooperative attitude and an impulse to be helpful might assuage our current social and political disagreements. What is less likely to be productive is the placement of unnecessary distance between United States citizens and their governments at all levels: federal; state; county; local and areas generally under government regulation such as transportation.
After 9/11 some governments and industries reacted out of fear and concern. Whereas citizens had normally seen their governments as there to serve them, with the restrictions of 9/11, governments appeared to fear those whom they were instituted to serve and who paid their wages. We began to develop a culture where many in and outside of government and the industries regulated by government felt we lived in an “us versus them” environment.
This might have caused just ennui and nostalgia had COVID-19 not arrived. But with the absolute necessity of all-out governmental and societal warfare against COVID-19, the distances between citizens and their governments have become almost complete. We must have some governmental services and we cannot expect people to perform those tasks if we do not provide for their protection. And we are still months away from a return to normality. But we may want to guard against a possible permanent condition of a bifurcated country with the citizens on one side and their governments generally inaccessible on the other.
With that in mind our current imbroglio involving our national government might be placed among these other lessons from our past. What is not called for is more distance between citizens and their elected and appointed representatives. Perhaps instead of a mean-spirited partisanship a mutual sense of charity tempered with common sense might be more in our country’s long-term best interest.
How was that for a New Year’s Eve? On the other hand, just about anybody who chose to could attend a masked ball in 2020-2021 where many of the loud, inebriated strangers eschewed the masks. But one could still engage in or be subjected to rude behavior and wake up at noon thinking “Oh, no!”. ’Ole 19 may have changed our social interactions but human nature does not metamorphosize so quickly; we are still capable of making poor decisions to which we have given hardly a thought. After all, if we have no regrets have we really lived? With memories of such moments in mind, Peg and I spent New Year’s Eve in front of the fireplace, just we two and a bottle of medium-priced red wine. We gratefully rang out 2020 and truly welcomed 2021 as we reprised some of what the Lone Ranger might refer to as “Those thrilling days of yesteryear!”
In December 1999-January 2000 we decided to ring in the new millennium with a ski trip to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. We skied all day on December 31st then partied at a live music gala to usher in 2000. There were no masks and no temperature checks; where did that world go? Regardless, Peg and I replayed that New Year’s Eve from twenty years ago as this past Saturday we sat in large rockers before the fire and compared 2000 to 2020.
Instead of skiing during the day on New Year’s Eve this year we attended a physical therapy session to help us deal with the aches and pains brought on by the broken bones we each incurred on ski trips after 2000. Then, instead of dancing and drinking as in days of old we returned to our cabin and found a skunk in the live trap I had set. The skunk was not in a festive or forgiving mood. No live music was in the offing. Surely Peg and I have not changed that much in a mere twenty years but I confess I felt no call to celebrate Auld Lang Syne after enduring body manipulation and skunk odorification. Things called out to be dealt with.
There was a time I enjoyed hunting then I lost interest in it. Somehow getting up at o’dark thirty and immersing my body in the vicissitudes of weather for the possibility I might shoot some creature that I would then need to eviscerate and skin before cooking lost out to packaged, store-bought meats. Therefore, for several years about the only wild animal I have communed with has been the occasional hapless house mouse. Then Peg and I bought this cabin in the woods. It came fully furnished with an abundance of spiders and scorpions inside and a plethora of raccoons, armadillos, opossums and skunks outside. My hunting years are now being revisited.
In the two years we have lived in our cabin we have seen our yard extensively cultivated by digging animals and fertilized by scads of their scat. And with the skunks there has often been an accompanying aroma. It may say more about my character than it does about our furry frequenters but I keep watching Bill Murray’s slide into groundhog insanity while I cheer for Murray to take the nuclear option in Caddyshack. At least Murray only had to deal with one invasive specie on that golf course. My war with Mother Nature has been fought on several fronts.
The casualty count so far has been 8 raccoons, 10 opossums, 6 armadillos and 9 skunks. The most recent skunk was the one that joined us on New Year’s Eve. I found it in one of my “humane” live traps near the foundation to the cabin. The skunk was at least as upset as I was; he exuded his displeasure in the manner you might expect.
Now I know some people trap such critters, drive out to the countryside and then release them with a self-righteous feeling of humanitarianism. Of course, then the pests become a problem for innocent other residents. I uncharitably expect such misguided miscreants are the same type of people who throw their trash out on the public right-of-ways without a thought of who must endure their boorish behavior and put up with their scat. How about just putting the refuse in a trash bin and not imposing their nuisances on others? The only satisfaction I find as Peg and I pick up the trash along our county road is that most of the trash I see is beer and soft drink cans and empty fried food containers. I content myself with the thought that the slobs who defile our environment may end up with health problems and indigestion. As for their release of varmints instead of properly disposing of them, I can only hope some other thoughtless soul is doing the same thing to them.
In that regard, I suggest two New Year’s Resolutions for general consideration: (1) properly dispose of trash, and (2) do not impose pests on others. And, by the way, Happy New Year! Let’s hear it for the passing of 2020 which was pretty well filled with plenty of scat of its own.
Peg and I like living in the country. Our nearest neighbor’s residence is within sight but not sound. Even the occasional gunshot is but a faint report. No one just walks over as they used to when we lived in town. Of course, with ’Ole 19 raging no one would do so in town either. So town living resembles country living for now. Perhaps a few million vaccinations will reprise neighborliness. Although I find myself gradually becoming acclimated to the solitude. I do not believe I am as yet completely misanthropic but I can sense the progression toward it. Even the occasional arrival of a UPS or FedEx driver now causes an initially negative reaction. There was a time such an event brought forth excitement. Now not so much. My current reaction is more like someone whose emersion in a good book is interrupted by his or her spouse’s request for attention to some task in need of immediate attention. Really, is there anything going on in our COVID-19 world that cannot wait? After all, if Congress and the president do not deem matters essential, why does Peg?
Anyway, life on the prairie in winter, especially during the pandemic, has a baleful bucolia about it. One is aware of the potential for evil in the outside world but the solitude insulates the senses from it. One begins to gradually retreat from the angst brought on by the cacophonous environment that assaults us every time we interact with our complex culture. On the prairie such things as politics and boorish behavior recede from one’s daily consciousness. If a person can detach him or herself from television, self-delusion can seep through the veil of awareness. Maybe 2020 was a bad dream and merely the detour we have had to take to get to the future.
But the sirens of prairie reverie can lull us into hopes that if we ignore the world it will leave us alone and, more importantly, that all will be well. It is similar to our hopes that by eating only chocolate we can lose weight or that more wine is the answer to depression. When the chocolate and wine are gone our clothes still will not fit and our problems remain. As we learned from Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), simple living and a desire to eschew government do not result in solutions to complicated societal problems. The hard work of day-to-day living and operating a country cannot be accomplished by wishing it so from the prairie. Somebody has to turn on the lights.
I may find myself drifting toward a desire for a reclusive Elysian prairie existence, but I expect hard scrabble involvement will be called for, at least by millions of other citizens, if I want to continue to enjoy my detachment.
It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Last night about 7:00 p.m. Peg excitedly called for me to join her outside as the dark gray sky gave way to a sliver of moon accompanied by Jupiter and Saturn nearing a point of conjunction, the same phenomenon that occurred about 2,000 years ago. It feels good to anticipate the completion of the astronomical wonder that will occur on December 21, the winter solstice. Perhaps we can consider the return of the “Christmas Star” as a harbinger of a better year to come as this painful year of 2020 begins to recede.
That is the traditional interpretation of the Christmas Story, overcoming current adversity and hoping for a brighter future. But many people are not just looking to the stars and dreaming about deliverance. There has been a world-wide effort to achieve effective treatments and prevention of COVID-19. The marvel of the creation of several efficacious vaccines in less than one year is unprecedented. It is a true Christmas type story brought about by the hard work of countless scientists, governmental leaders, workers and volunteers in several countries. When one thinks that the first reported case of polio was before the beginning of the 20th century and that it took over half of that century to develop a polio vaccine, we can appreciate what has been accomplished with the Corona Virus in less than one year.
And it is not just those people who have been directly affected by COVID-19 and those who have been directly involved in the battle to defeat it that have exhibited strength of character during 2020. Life has gone on. People have continued to do their jobs and care for others in the face of fear and restrictions. It is truly heroic that as we have endured over 300,000 deaths from COVID-19, groceries get delivered, utilities remain on, governmental services continue, trash gets picked up, etc., etc., etc. The Christmas spirit triumphs. Thank you to all who have refused to succumb to despair and who have put self-sacrifice over fear to provide for others.
Other signs of the season and the spirit of goodwill among people are the celebrations that have occurred all over America. Some of these celebrations are connected to various religious faiths. In the United States Amendment I to our Constitution protects such practices. But we also have many secular celebrations emphasizing hope, peace, reconciliation and our shared cultural histories. While I have enjoyed many such events in numerous places over the years, I was particularly struck by the Christmas Parade in Pawhuska, Osage County, Oklahoma this past week. Its theme evoked all that is good about community pride and gave evidence of confidence that 2021 will erase the angst of 2020.
The Christmas parade of December 5, 2020 was sponsored by the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce and was led by its Executive Director Joni Nash on horseback. The parade celebrated the rich history of the Osage Nation as well as the service of military veterans. The live-streamed event featured Osage Princess Fiona Armede Red Eagle and four Osage Chiefs as Parade Marshals: James Roan Gray, Scott Bighorse, John D. Red Eagle and Geoffrey Standing Bear. As each Chief was introduced various accomplishments of the Chief and the Osage Tribe were entertainingly and informatively described by volunteer announcers Debbie and Ron Reed. It was an impressive and extensive list of achievements. And it felt right to have those accomplishments included as proof that the Chiefs’ visions for the tribe and the whole Osage County community were firmly embedded in a rich history with plans for a bright future. I did note that Debbie appeared to be attempting to distance herself from Ron’s Clark Griswold type tie.
Regardless, if you would like to view the parade, type the following address in your Internet browser:
Such celebrations of the American spirit whenever and wherever they take place are welcome and interesting. But particularly this year, while the planets align as we are exiting the dark side of 2020, it helps to look back at good times in the past and to plan confidently for better times in the future.
Peg bought me a telescope for my birthday. With the assigned birthday of Jesus rapidly approaching Peg and I are eagerly anticipating a view of the Christmas Star on 2020’s Winter Solstice, December the twenty-first at 4:02 a.m. Although we plan to take what the military might call a “gentleman’s” approach and start our search about 6:00 p.m. that day. We see no need to get up at the crack of dawn to “discover” the conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in the southwest sky. After all, the Milky Way galaxy has been around almost from the beginning of the universe, that is 13.7 billion years, so billions of other humans have already seen the “Star in the east”.
According to the Gospel of Matthew wise men from the east, probably Babylonia or Persia, while looking to the west toward Bethlehem observed the astonishingly bright “star”. Some scholars posit they may have related it to the messianic prophecies contained in the Old Testament book of Malachi, “Unto you shall the sun of righteousness arise and healing is in his wings”. A clue as to the birth of this promised messenger was the term “sun”. As the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, marked the return of all the good things brought by sunlight, many philosophers and theologians have attached the birth of Jesus to the time of that event on the celestial calendar. And, since nine months before December’s Winter Solstice is the Vernal or Spring Equinox, many have postulated that the Immaculate Conception was in March of that same year. Of course, these concepts are part of the Christian tradition. In the United States, Article I of our Constitution guarantees each of us the right to worship or not worship as we see fit. I am neither qualified nor inclined to give ecclesiastical advice. I am referring to the astronomical phenomenon of what may have been taken as a sign by heavenly observers during eight months of 7 B.C. when Jupiter and Saturn appeared in conjunction to give the appearance of an extremely bright star.
And my only qualifications to give opinions on star gazing are that I have seen the Broadway musical Hair, have surfed the Internet for historical information and have been given a telescope. On the other hand, I offer the observation that that is not unlike the so-called authority of cable news anchors on many other subjects.
Anyway, when it comes to Jesus’ birthdate no one really knows. But we do know that Pope Julius I in 336 A.D. wanted to counteract the pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice when he decreed December 25th to be the date of Jesus’ birth. The pope was using the Roman calendar not the Gregorian calendar ergo the actual date of the Winter Solstice varied from the 25th. Regardless, by first setting Jesus’ birthdate in December scholars could then subtract nine months and set His conception in March at the Vernal Equinox.
Behind our cabin at JPeg Osage Ranch is a high hill we call Peg’s Peak or Mogul Margaret’s Mountain. When the galaxy gets all aligned on December 21st Peg and I plan to go to the top of our promontory and gaze upon the Christmas Star that has not been seen in this configuration for 800 years. We are trying to convince ourselves that we will again be atop our observatory the next time the Christmas Star appears which will be March 2080. On the other hand, it might be prudent for us to celebrate now. Merry Christmas!