The Senate “Trial”


Prior post on this topic, here.

This is written as a rough draft, and will be published as such.

Quite often at this space I have written about events I considered important before they actually occurred – trying to put my own “spin” in the mix before, rather than during or after their occurrence.

Such is an upcoming event which begins procedurally this afternoon: the trial of Donald J. Trump in the U.S. Senate.  I know as much or as little as anyone about what will actually happen.  If I was able to be the fly on the wall anywhere, it would be at a civil gathering of uninvolved lawyers, expressing their opinions with each other about this crisis….

I struggle with how to describe this national conflict in which we find ourselves, and the best I can come up with is comparison with a family unit – any family unit.  (The one I’m thinking of is our own, which these days comprises 15 adults.  There are infinite varieties of families in our society and in all society.)   These days it is usual to characterize our country as polarized into two conflicting sides.  Any family can be similarly polarized to one degree or another.  Say one ‘side’ gets control of the other; and say further that a new father enters the scene and sides with the dominant group.  What happens to the family unit?  I would submit it is very unhealthy, and tensions increase.  Dysfunction increases.  This is what we seem to be within in this country.  Add to this power, and all, and we have very serious problems as a society, short and long term.  The dominant one will not remain dominant.


Saturday, January 18, was the 20th anniversary of my retirement from a career representing public school teachers.  From this time of year in 1972, till January 18, 2000, my daily job was in the scrum of relationships relating to employees and employers.  My job happened to begin coincident with the first salute authorized collectively bargained teacher contracts in Minnesota school districts, including the first grievance procedures ending with binding arbitration.  Like most of my colleagues, and management administrators and school board members, we were in the ‘Wild West’ – learning new rules and roles as we went along.

I did this for 27 years, so in the passage of time learned a few things.

What is about to transpire in the U.S. Senate, at first glance, is puzzling to say the very least.  Possibly there will be pleasant surprises in a few hours or days, but at the moment it doesn’t seem so.

It is a spectacle quite possibly about to be played out by tweet and second-hand information about only a single side of the story – both sides.

It will be compared to but completely unlike, at least it now appears, the Johnson, Nixon and Clinton impeachments of previous years.

My personal bottom-line, at this point, late morning Tue. Jan. 21, 2020, is that every effort will be made to suppress illumination of the issues to the public at large; and that the public who supports Trump won’t care.  Even from my small perch in labor relations, over many years, things like evidence and testimony were important before judgement was rendered by a neutral outsider, an arbitrator.

In the current case, there appear to be no neutrals (the Senators one side or the other) and from the partisan side the dominant party supports the man accused for no good reason whatsoever.  Mostly, they made a terrible decision to embrace Trump in his run for President; they are threatened with things like being subjected to primary contests, if they act independently.  On and on.

I decided to keep the newspapers from the Impeachment Trial period. This is only the second time I’ve done this. The first was during the period of the 2000 Presidential election. I still have those papers.

POSTNOTE: January 31, 2020, before the debate in the Senate:

Not a word has been spoken in the Senate today.  My prediction, after watching large swatches of the assorted presentations, including the “q&a”: the President will not be impeached; people can watch the Super Bowl unimpeded; there will be a triumphal State of the Union….

There is not a whole lot that needs to be said, especially to ‘mixed company’.  Just some brief observations:

Much ado was made of the fact that 63,000,000 voted for Trump in 2016; I recall no mention at all of 66,000,000, including myself, who voted for Hillary Clinton.  And about 40% of Americans voted for neither, which is shameful, however, most Americans did not vote for Trump.

Secondly, I got to thinking the other day about the spectacle of it all, basically, a lawyer dominated institution (especially the Senate), to a nation where lawyers are, while not a novelty, a distinct minority.  Here’s a good article about lawyers and Congress;  statistics about lawyers in the United States.   Succinctly, 49% of Senators apparently are “lawyers”; about one-half of one percent of adult Americans are lawyers.  In my own family of origin, I know of no one who is a practicing lawyer….

Of course, it makes sense that lawmakers have a strong sense of the law, and being a lawyer is a useful skill in being in Congress, generally.

But this statistic amplifies the absurdity of a so-called “public trial” by television to a public who has at best a television program view of the law.  I don’t need to give examples.

At one point, when I was watching the argument, I thought back to two of the first legal hearings in my career representing school teachers.

The first was very early in my career as a teacher union staff person attempting to administrate a grievance procedure which ended in binding arbitration.  This would have been in 1972.  I hardly knew what arbitration was, much less how to do it.  My client was a teacher, newly minted law school graduate, who was testing his new knowledge of the law with a grievance.  He knew much more about the law than I.  Long story short: we lost.  It was my first experience with things like evidence and witnesses, as well as the fact that advocates have different points of view.  The arbitrator, George Jacobs, knowing what faced him, was very gentle with us, helping us navigate those completely uncharted waters.  I’m ever grateful.

The second recollection was even more memorable:  One of my members was being fired for alleged abuse of unruly fourth grade boys.  The school districts counsel, a prominent lawyer in Minnesota, was summing up with a flourish for his clients, the local school board.  The teacher, he thundered, threw a student three feet across the room.  I’ll never forget it. We all can imagine what three feet is;  the oration suggesting putting an innocent fourth grade boy almost into orbit.

Arguments by respective counsels over, the school board voted 6-o to reinstate the teacher, who had been suspended for the entire year.

The teacher never returned to teaching, anywhere.  That was my first acquaintance with the practice of law.

Of course, I don’t know what will happen today.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be correct.

We Americans will live with the consequences of todays political decision.

Personally, I am grateful that the House voted impeachment and that this “trial” was held.  Everything is now part of the permanent record of this country, and at some point, if we manage to survive as a country of law, future students will be able to read the actual record.

Final comment, Friday evening: The Senate adjourned for the weekend; the decision is essentially sealed.  I watched the proceedings.  This is a sad day, with more to come.


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.