10/14/20: A Rick Blog Collection — Poetry and Other Writing About the Law #poetry #law #writing
The Rick Blog has several beats. This is a collection of my poetry and other writing about the law presented in chronological order, and annotated occasionally.
This was the second piece that I posted on the blog, published on February 3, 2015. It looks in retrospect like a combination of poetry, marketing, personal journalling and basic teaching of simple values to my students. I no longer market or teach. The poetry remains, and the personal journalling has grown into the writing of personal essays. My writing on any topic is a developing story — transformations of my writing ability, my personal understanding, the application of my thoughts and feelings as an individual to universal concerns, and the integration of my personality.
I am a writer who worked as a lawyer, not a lawyer who writes about the law.
This piece is the first tentative chisel marks into the marble slab of my soul, when viewed through the prism of my experience in the law. Regular readers know that the law is only one of several prisms that I consider, and it is not even one of the most prevalent ones. I am not a lawyer in my soul. The law was something that my soul asked me to do, for the soul’s own reasons. I learned a lot about writing as a lawyer, and, of course, by extension — thinking. The entirety of one’s experience makes one a writer. The law when joined to my experience as an improvisational actor were very powerful in providing me a way of writing — a method. My entire life gives me something to process and write about — and the law and improvisation are applied substantively as well.
I mention all of this as a way of saying that none of this writing is punditry or opinion. It is certainly not legal writing. It is art — personal and an attempt to understand the nature of things on a more general level. It is the expression of my personal truth, as a means of participating fully and consciously in all of creation.
I experienced the law as a human being, not as a career. My area of expertise is not the law, it is my own humanity and what that humanity has to share with humanity in general.
For optimum benefit when reading this writing, try to do so on more than face value. Hear a voice. See its progress. Listen to a person. Get beyond argument. See the narrator, me, grow. Use my words as vibrations of your own heart and mind. Make reading my words part of the experience of your life.
Writing is an assertion of equality. We get to answer the world. The sphere of the law, with all of its power, is a great arena to answer with the individual soul.
I rejected winning arguments in court. Poetry achieves the eternal. Art is the most powerful force in the world. It is fitting that artists are the among the least powerful. In 2015, I was still sorting that all out.
The law is only a tool of the soul. Our fates, individual and collective, are settled in our souls, not courtrooms.
But the law is part of the passing tangible concrete stuff of life, that flows chronologically in the stream of existence upon which poetry and other art alights to inform us of who we are and what we are called to do.
From February 3, 2015:
I made a connection yesterday that I am sure that many of you made long ago. In the 1960’s and 1970’s the National League dominated the American League in the All-Star Game. It was always reported as a mystery as I remember.
I have always cared about fairness….it is my nature as much as a political stance. I couldn’t change if I tried. (And wouldn’t want to…) But I have never realized how bad racism and inequity in the workplace has been (and still is) in this country. And I was fairly well-educated and knew it was really, really bad.
There was a good reason for the NL win streak—one that many sports commentators must’ve known and rarely discussed. I never read on the sports pages of my youth the following glaring fact. The American League hired far fewer African-American ballplayers (and other people of color) than the National League. The Yankees didn’t sign an African-American until Elston Howard in the late 50’s—10 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line. The owner of the Yankees said he signed Howard because he was a gentleman. Since when did a ballplayer have to be a gentleman?
People of color had to first break in (to far fewer positions that were set aside for them), then be better than everyone they competed with and finally behave with greater decorum than anyone else. (African-Americans had to be stars in order to get jobs—hence the great All-Star teams. There were no utility infielders of color.)
They also in large strokes a la Martin Luther King and smaller ones a la Curt Flood (whose legal case ended baseball’s unjust reserve clause) fought and won moral battles that asserted that it shouldn’t be that way. Their acts of courage and generosity made things better for everyone—not just their own race. (White players benefited from the end of the reserve clause as much as blacks did.) They taught a lot of people including me how one can live with values of professional and moral excellence AND dignity, equality and integrity. We can do what we know we can do, try what we think we can do and know that no one is essentially better (or worse) than we are. We can live with a firm awareness of our human rights and a pride in the creative energy of our individual work and talents and our common humanity.
Condescension is injustice. Everyone deserves an equal shot at excellence and should be treated with respect always and particularly while working toward their dreams.
I know all of this is no great insight or anything new, but I think it can’t be said enough. I’m a lawyer who teaches at UIC and makes theater. These lessons that African-Americans have taught me have been a big part of all that I do—and I just realized it. Thank you for everything.
Posted by Richard Thomas
As a full-time faculty member of the UIC Business College, Richard Thomas teaches in and provides service for professional development, managerial studies, assessment, communication and ethics’ initiatives. He also independently provides teaching, writing, consulting, training, performance and coaching services for legal, business, non-profit, government, academic, theater, arts and other professionals.
Richard is an attorney. He has a degree in Communication Arts from Notre Dame and is an alumnus of the main stage of Chicago’s Second City Theater. Check out his LinkedIn Profile for more detail regarding his work and experience.
This next two pieces suffer from my co-dependent need, at the time, to entertain. Entertainment is a co-dependent endeavor; but writing was happening here too. Writing leads one to independence and positions oneself to participate in interdependence when the opportunity presents itself. Re-writing, and constantly writing, changes a person, or more precisely brings a person closer to understanding who he, or she, is so disposed.
From February 6, 2015:
Things are going well for me. I love my wife, my friends, my extended family—it has Jews and gay people in it! What a treat! I make theater and teach and love both activities dearly as well.
But at times I am still as crotchety as I was when I was seething half-naked on a couch that the Salvation Army refused when I wanted to get rid of it. I still have pools of bitterness inside me for all the years that I was trapped rebelling against the mentality of the bourgeoisie. I didn’t know I could ignore them. Simplest thing. I thought you had to fight them, argue with and try to reform them—for the good of the world. I hadn’t learned that you just smile at them and talk to them when necessary as if you are dealing with mental patients. (That last comment isn’t fair to mental patients—at least they are getting treatment.)
I wrote the piece below a few years ago. It hasn’t been published or performed until now so it’s new to you.
It is about the mentality that elected our Fearless Leader—Ayn Rand’s bastard child, Bruce Rauner. Well that mentality plus the fecklessness and duplicity of the Democratic Party ( You worked at the DMV for 35 years—-in a clinically depressed state wishing someone would invent the concept of windows—doing it for a pension so you won’t be poor when you are old…shucks! We don’t have the cash. I guess we stole your youth and now you retire poor. Signed, the party of Franklin Roosevelt)…
I saw a student of mine reading a book by Ayn Rand…something with Capitalism in the title, so it must have been something she laughingly referred to as non-fiction. I grabbed it out of his hand and tossed it in a waste basket. No I didn’t because as I said earlier I love my wife, Jewish-Gay Family and my job(s).
Unfortunately and blessedly I am a member of the booboise that I skewer my satiric arrows upon like so many kabobs. (I bet Phillip Roth would’ve cut that line.)
Bruce Rauner got elected because we—all of us—I am looking at you Mother Theresa—are selfish, corrupt and stupid.
Confessional out of the way, I project my bile upon the unsuspecting burghers of Buffalo Grove.
By the way…I am speaking in the voice of character. It is art. So don’t bring this up at a job interview or court as being what I truly feel. I am a proud middle class schmuck. I smirk at intellectual losers who alienate everybody and go to the prom alone. (wink, wink).
A few years ago, the citizen-dictators of Buffalo Grove notified police that a man was engaged in a disturbing activity on Deerfield Road. He was engaged in a mime performance. You know, mime, the oft (unfairly) mocked art of silent dip shittery. (I’ve seen some great mime. I followed this guy Moni Yakim in New York. He directed some great mime. But the median on Deerfield Road ain’t exactly playing the palace. [Neither is this blog, nice as it is. We can assume for sake of the story, the point as it were, that this mime in the road was a dipshit. Rick sings. God bless the beasts and the dipshits. In no way is it a fair assumption. Charlie Chaplin toiled in obscurity in the beginning. Van Gogh was never known in his lifetime. Digression re: fame) This dipshit or unrecognized genius was threatened with incarceration if he did not cease and desist immediately. Today mime tomorrow sex with minors—the dark side of the Hallmark card carrying male or child-like artist or 35 year-old man recently fired from his job working in a day care center. What’s next in the fear queue, after mimes, clowns, aging young men lacking financial ambition, intellectuals and talk-a-lot dreamers…angry/romantic/sentimental poets? Hey, Keats…shut the fuck up!
This show will not be produced in Buffalo Grove. We have fears too. We fear the Cossacks of that township. No! In spite of that fear, we must shine the light on the Buffalo Grove oppressors. Occupy Deerfield Road! Metaphorically! Occupy the dim, food on the table buy a pair of shoes at Old Orchard, air conditioned, BMWed prison of the bureaucratic let me speak to your supervisor spiritual food desert, Buffalo Grove the vast expanse of America. Buffalo Grove go fuck yourself with your atom bomb. Occupy! We will not merely be walking against the wind.
In Buffalo Grove, by town ordinance, you can only talk about the weather, the Cubs, how hard you are working, and a recent meal that you ate. The legislative history of the law reveals its intent. Transcripts of the town council meeting in which the measure was proposed and passed included this speech by Town Committeeman Ned Bothered who passionately opined, “To talk or communicate in any other way about anything other than the allowed topics robs the good citizen-dictators of our sterile village their freedom to obsess about money and dismiss every bullying, immoral action that they undertake to procure that money without distraction.” The word “the” has been outlawed in Buffalo Grove. As Ned stated, “Never is a thing more itself and less what we force it to be than when we particularize it in our minds. Say these or those or keep your mouth shut.”
I don’t mean to embarass anyone in the audience from Buffalo Grove. I know that some of them would be mime-sympathisizers if given half a chance. Jesus said, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” And so do I. Mighty white of me.
Christ suffered for the sins of other people. So I guess that is what a Christian does. That mime is the Jesus of Deerfield Road. Rick sings, PREEEEE—–PARE YE THE WAY OF THE LORD…
Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas
More from February 6, 2015:
This photo is not a picture of me before I lost 100 pounds. Although I envy this guy. He eats whatever he wants all the time and doesn’t wear pants. If I go to heaven I will look like him and have a cigar in my mouth.
Apparently my man suffers greatly however to inspire my my grrrr, aaaaah tummy-rub affection.
A famous 78 year old conservative Georgia lawyer (he was a prominent figure in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) breeds the English bulldogs who serve as mascots for the University of Georgia football team. (Let me unpack this sentence. It is filled with red flag words that inspire my ire: conservative (boooooo!!!!!!hiss!!!!!!!!), Georgia (what’s with the Confederate Flag, ladies and gentlemen…I’m a proud Italian-American but I don’t have pictures of Mussolini and the Mafia in my house), rich lawyer (oh right, this guy made millions screwing widows and orphans out of their insurance money) and the University of Georgia football team (I’m a football fan, God forgive me…I’m willing to watch young men risk traumatic brain injury so that I am not bored when nothing is going on on a Sunday afternoon and I am a Notre Dame alum. I like seeing my buddies at football games and talking about the team. But these rabid semi-retired success stories who have no interests besides the national championship and their golf games and think culture is a discussion of an old Louie Armstrong record and a bottle of wine their grandkids’ nanny introduced to them…oh God!!!!!! Shut up!)
The Georgia lawyer’s bulldogs apparently die very young. The University of Georgia replaces bulldogs more often than they replace running backs. One Georgia bulldog died at age four of heart disease. The next died at age two of cancer.
When challenged as to whether he looks out for the welfare of his dogs, the Georgia lawyer says they have great lives. He opposes changing the breeding practices of the English bulldog to give dogs of the breed generally healthier lives with less suffering.
They aren’t unique for their breed either. Many dogsperts report that many, maybe even most bulldogs are inbred to an unhealthy and disturbing degree. The inbreeding has made the English bulldog the Tennessee hillbilly of the dog world. Both inbreeds are stubborn, although the bulldog is more mellow and less dangerous. The Second Amendment has not been extended to bulldogs probably because they can’t sign up for militias. (Urban sophisticates should beware too…one wonders what will happen with some of these designer babies I hear about on commercials for “The View”. I know nothing about designer babies. I just saw the commercials. I also have little or no curiosity about the matter of designer babies. I am not the person to write or talk about designer babies. But I have observed that a lot of people don’t do a good job in many professions in our epoch—Ignoramus Americana. The incompetence has to extend to genetic bartenders since it has a strong presence in every other walk of life. Some of these offspring are bound to arrive with too much gin and not enough vermouth. These kids will come out shaken but not stirred. Vanity is a motherfucker—I’m not talking about altering a fetus to sidestep an hereditary disease; I’m talking about breeding for Taylor Swift’s cheekbones. We urbane urbanites have caught up with the hill people. Our answer to their incest is our narcissism. Is it incestuous to fuck the pleasant images in one’s mind? Remember everybody I am artist and this is a character. The real me thinks there is no red America and blue America and in the blue America we worship an awesome God…yadda, yadda, yadda)
A too short snout makes it very difficult for the dog to breathe. English bulldogs have a hard time panting…the way that dogs perspire, and should be kept in air conditioning in warm weather. English bulldogs can’t have sex when left to their own devices and breeders must midwife conception. (I don’t think they do it that way in Tennessee.) English bulldogs must give birth by Caesarian section because the pups’ heads are too big to emerge naturally. Well, nature has a limited role in the creation of bulldogs. People love their cute flat faces. They look like us. They are endearing especially to the conservative in all of us. They look cartoon tough but they are cowards, kind of like Dick Cheney who couldn’t enlist in the Viet Nam era because he had better things to do. Winston Churchill famously had a bulldog. Now Churchill had balls. I don’t know if his bulldog did. He was a prick but he was our prick, goddammit. We needed a son of a bitch like him to beat Hitler. So what if he created Iraq (in a bloodbath) from three disparate clans. Great innovation.
Last bulldog fun fact: English bulldogs are the champion farters of the dog world which is of course lovable.
We are all the Georgia lawyer scumbag because as I always say we are all selfish stupid and corrupt. We are all the bulldog because in the end we get what we deserve as we stupidly accept the unacceptable for a little entertainment and praise and affection from a bully.
Go Irish! Get to the National Title Game! And pass that tray of rigatoni!
Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas
The next piece shows good progress on my project of integrating my personality.
From February 7, 2015:
I’m a lot like Thomas Jefferson and Leonardo Da Vinci. I am a Renaissance
Man Person. Does that make me a genius? Don’t make me blush. What was genius during the Renaissance is a standard professional career in a lot of places today and most everywhere tomorrow. The world needs generalists, polymaths, hybrids and hyphenated pros of all stripes (and checks).
Thomas Jefferson was a scholar, inventor, naturalist, architect, archaeologist, founder of the University of Virginia and the entity that became the Library of Congress, writer (of the Declaration of Independence among other things) and of course a politician who rose to the American Presidency.
Leonardo Da Vinci was a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. I am sure that I am leaving a lot out.
I am a professor, writer, actor, theater director, lawyer and marketer (this last of my many hats listed here is by necessity and reality. We all have to reach out and bring our wares to market.) I may not come up with the Declaration of Independence or the Mona Lisa, but I get my licks in.
I teach a class in presentation, critical thinking, ethics and strategic management skills to MBA students at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Many of my students are engineers—who see the wisdom in studying the skills of actors and lawyers.
I take the ideals of these Renaissance
Men Persons as my own. The main characteristics of a Renaissance Person are curiosity and imagination. Curiosity leads to knowledge; imagination leads to innovation.
The 85-year-old active actor (Renaissance persons have no time for ageism. Of course we start new things and take on new assignments all the time and need all the years of our lives to do everything we want to do. It is interesting to me that the most popular pictures of Da Vinci portray him as an old man.), Robert Duvall, said recently, “Someone once told me, ‘Don’t just be a farmer. Be a man on a farm. You’re a human being first.’ The point is that what you do is [merely] your profession. It is only enhancing who you are as a human being. So, I’m a human being first. Actor second.” The best answers to all questions of job searching, soul searching and career development can be found in our individual and common humanity. My varied career choices are expressions of my transforming spirit. There is a unity and consistency within the variety of career activities that I engage in because there is a unity and consistency within me. What came first, the human or the egg (job)? The human! The tasks that we choose to undertake are expressions of who we are, as is the way that we do them.
It is well-documented that the average American changes his or her career several times in a lifetime. Many of us walk on a high-tension wire drawn tightly on the poles of a yearning for constancy, familiarity and security and a desire for growth and transformation. The world, or market if you will, is always asking for new applications of our knowledge and skill. This situation has caused stress for even the most accomplished people. Benjamin Franklin said, “It’s hard work to live–getting a job is too much to add.” In spite of that trepidation, Franklin found things to do, including the roles of politician, writer, musician, diplomat, printer, scientist and inventor.
The idea of the Renaissance Man/Woman, which Franklin and other founding fathers exemplified, embraced the values of reason, learning and variety-of-interests. John F. Kennedy, the President of the New Frontier, famously praised a group of lawyers, politicians, businessmen, artists, scientists and intellectuals as the greatest assemblage the White House had ever seen, save when, “…Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
Old labor economy attitudes favored specialization. It used to be considered preferable to work in one field for an extended period of time. A person who did so gave his clients and employers a secure sense that they were dealing with an authoritative colleague who knew how to get the job done. Kennedy recognized a valid alternative. He understood that the ability to learn many disparate disciplines, and make connections between those disciplines could be more valuable than the tunnel vision of extensive knowledge of one area without understanding the context in which the area existed. He understood that those abilities often came from pursuing many interests and performing many seemingly unrelated but actually related tasks. Those pursuits can occur on one career path or on several—it really doesn’t matter. What is important is the broad perspective. Today the world spins much faster than it did in Kennedy’s time. Our technology, law, economy, culture, and society sprint towards changes that Kennedy’s 1960’s tentatively walked towards. The modern worker is often called to be a generalist who can quickly adapt to changing circumstances and make connections. For example, Steve Jobs understood technology (science) and how people desired to use that technology (art and culture). The ability to adapt and connect is a hallmark of the best and the brightest.
Much of today’s legal industry labor market is still guided by the values of the old labor economy. Associate Wanted, 3-5 years experience in the area of Family Law. What experience is this typical ad asking for? Is it the experience of working with the controlling statutes, judicial decisions, courts and agencies that a family law practice routinely deals with? Is it skill in counseling clients and advocating and negotiating for them? Could a lawyer with experience outside of the area of family law and an understanding or deep interest in family law issues within a broader social context be able to do the job well and perhaps invigorate the practice with new ideas and approaches? Could a lawyer who worked exclusively in the area of family law do the same? Yes and yes, and all depends on the lawyer’s perspective.
The values of the old labor economy when applied to the Illinois legal labor market are not consistent with the spirit of Illinois law. The Illinois Supreme Court does not allow attorneys to hold themselves out as specialists except in a few practice areas such as patent law. Lawyers are licensed by the Court to be generalists—renaissance men and women. The Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct say a lawyer is required to make him or herself competent to handle a specific client’s matter. What does the lawyer need to be competent to handle each situation that he or she faces? Knowledge, of course, and other equally important attributes. Knowledge is an ever changing commodity and must be constantly refreshed. Justice Antonin Scalia said that he did not learn the law in law school, because the law changes far too rapidly to be captured in a snapshot of time. He said that he learned from his professors modalities of thinking about the law, and that learning helped him to engage the new laws and societal changes that he encountered as a lawyer and a judge. Judgment, character, sense of context, an understanding of practical reality and the creative ability to apply that knowledge are harder to come by. Those modalities can be learned or acquired in many places and through many experiences within the law, within specific practice areas within the law, and outside of the law in different pursuits entirely. Scalia acknowledges that his Catholic faith and certain social and political philosophers influence his work as a judge. We cannot separate who we are, in all of our diversity, from what we do.
Most of us often (several times a lifetime) ask ourselves what we should do. The answer is in who we and others are. The fictional hero and lawyer Atticus Finch knew the law. He knew the type of world he wished for his children. And he knew empathy, how to imagine what it was to walk around in another’s shoes. Atticus Finch (who was based on a real person, the author Harper Lee’s father) was a human being first. Lawyer second. His extraordinary competency in the first role led him to great competency in the second.
Who should the writer of our typical ad be looking to hire? Who should apply? True work is found in interdependent connections with people and in places where we can express the fullness of our varied and independent humanity. Walt Whitman wrote, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Aren’t we all?
When we deny the diversity and complexity of our inner and outer worlds and work as functionaries in dead approaches that ignore the realities of ourselves and others, what do we actually accomplish?
When Benjamin Franklin helped shepherd the Declaration of Independence in 1776, he surely drew on his experience as a businessman, printer and the writer of Poor Richard’s Almanac. But more importantly he drew on the experience of being Benjamin Franklin, a specific human being born with paradoxical but not contradictory practical and esoteric predilections. There is often a false dichotomy made between dreamy theoreticians in ivory towers and hard men and women of action who shape the “real” world. But we all dream, whether we remember those dreams or not. And we all eat, wear clothing and seek shelter—the stuff of life. We are the stuff that dreams are made of…
The machinery of finding work and working can seem cold—a mean Darwinian death machine where only the fit survive. But happy results in working and seeking work mirror happy results in love. The way to a lover’s heart is through their stomach. Passion and eating aren’t mutually exclusive. The right job looks less like glass and steel industrial parks and more like flesh and blood humanity. Finding the appropriate work situation can be a lot like dating. It’s usually exhausting. (A fortunate few are love-at-first-sight-lucky.) First you decide you want to go out. Then you become self aware as to what you present to the world as a first impression. Next, the education begins. You kiss frogs that don’t turn into young royalty. You wonder, what’s wrong with them. You wonder, what’s wrong with me. You learn about the world in general, about specific people and places, and about yourself. It’s an arduous journey that most people embark upon several times in their lives. Once found, the right work is a lot like marriage. It changes you. It makes you, as Jack Nicholson’s character says in the movie As Good As It Gets, want to be a better person.
I worked as an actor and learned that acting, real acting, is not about make-believe dress up and telling stories. Acting, like all art, is about exploring and learning the possibilities of being human. See Robert Duvall above.
I worked in marketing for legal-related businesses and learned that marketing is not about getting everyone to use your goods or services, but rather is about informing those who can really use what you have to offer that it is available.
I worked as a lawyer and I learned that the law is ultimately about peace and democracy. As aggressive as advocates are, and should be, we work in system that in most cases settles our differences non-violently with the intention of equal access for all. This is a simple, homely reality that is easy to forget. The greats don’t forget. Benjamin Franklin related the soaring language of the First Continental Congress to the print shop and the inventor’s studio.
The Renaissance Person’s pursuits of reason, learning, and variety-of-interests bring joy, growth and passion to that person’s life, and mysteriously transform into the highest value of all, service.
Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas
My misbegotten attempt to teach theater to lawyers was more successful in the work of integrating my personality.
From February 10. 2015:
Presentation Planning What We Can Learn from the Theater
The following was written at the request of the Illinois State Bar Association, but is targeted for all professionals, not only lawyers. It also has applications for actors who work in commercial projects. Skill in creating theatrical art has many applications for those who create marketing and entertainment.
Copyright 2014 Richard Thomas and the Illinois State Bar Association
The World’s a Stage
The world’s a stage. Shakespeare examined the parallel and congruent planes of reality of the theater and present human events in Hamlet, a play with Kings and a Player King. A Czech playwright Vaclav Havel used creative principles he developed in the theater to lead his nation’s revolution against Communism and become its first post-Iron Curtain President. Pope John Paul II was a former actor who played a famously formidable part on the world stage. President Ronald Reagan was an actor who led as “the Great Communicator.” President Abraham Lincoln was a devoted theater goer. He loved the McVicker’s Theater in Chicago, and tragically, Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. Flamboyant generals like George S. Patton, Douglas MacArthur and Norman Schwarzkopf used costume-like uniforms and dramatic speeches to inspire their troops and the public from their respective theaters of war.
Theater is not only useful to kings, presidents, popes and generals. We all have our own revolutions to inspire, communities to lead, groups to share our message with, truths that we can only learn through communicating with our peers and colleagues, and battles to fight. An old theatrical truism advises that there are no small parts, just small actors. We watch Henry V, for example, to learn how to assume personal adult responsibility not the British throne. We are all the kings and queens of our own lives. Theater teaches us how to act, in more ways than one.
Progressive Educators Use Theater as a Pedagogical Approach to Teach Substantive Knowledge and Skills
Medical doctors at Northwestern Medical School study Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night to gain insights about treating addiction. The Professional Development Program at the Business College of the University of Illinois at Chicago (“UIC”) uses improvisational acting training as its primary pedagogy for teaching social and so-called “soft” business skills. There are many examples of other applications of theater training to professional education. What impresses about the Northwestern and UIC initiatives is the seriousness with which the colleges treat the subject, and in the case of UIC, the commitment of time and resources to theatrical studies that the school rightfully considers vital and essential in a professional academic setting.
Knowledge of “High” Theater is Needed By Serious Professionals—And the Necessity of Distinguishing “High” from “Low”
Any time an audience is present to observe the words and/or actions of a person or persons — theater of varying levels of quality occurs. Great theater is not the vain pursuit of applause and popularity. Vanity and the lust for approval for profit and pleasure are show business, marketing and advertising—the lowest forms of theater. Low theater tries to tell people what they want to hear in an attempt to manipulate them; it pretends and persuades. Good theater is an authentic search for truth and transformation. Serious people such as educators, attorneys, accountants, business leaders, doctors and all other professionals who work with meaningful ideas and need to comply with standards of ethical and social responsibility must be able to distinguish real theater art from mere entertainment and sales when looking for exemplars.
Theatrical Literacy is a Requirement of Professional Competence and Advancement
The classroom, the court room, the board room, the professional conference, and the webcast, the TV and radio studio are theaters. Theatrical literacy is as important to an educated person as the literacy of the written word. A lack of theatrical literacy severely hampers a professional’s effectiveness. A managing partner of a large law firm once complained of a brilliant senior associate who lacked presentation skills. The lawyer was exceptional in all ways but one. He was a theatrical illiterate. What are we going to do with this guy? the partner pleaded. We can’t make him a partner when he can’t go to court or make presentations and market for new business. This brilliant man’s ignorance of theater art, if unaddressed, would limit him to a career of writing excellent briefs for other lawyers in a back office. If the ignorance were addressed and eliminated, the man would be positioned to be groomed as a future leader of the firm. Theater can teach professionals the essential skills of communication and presence which are needed to excel and lead in their chosen fields.
Theater is the Means With Which We Share Our Minds’ Beautiful Interior Abstractions With Our Communities In Our Beautiful Concrete Exterior World
Imagine a car manufacturer that produces a terrific car but has developed no means of delivering the car to its affiliated dealers. The manufacturer is not going to sell many cars. Theatrical skills are the means with which a professional delivers his or her information, analysis and insight. The greatest content is useless if it is not shared and interactive with clients and colleagues.
Professional Presentations Are Theater
Anyone who teaches skills related to public speaking, teaching and presenting teaches theater whether they know it or not. The theatrical formula: X people in Y space at Z time equals 1 applies any time a person or persons appear before and interact with a group. People in a certain place engaged in a common activity create a specific moment of shared experience. That moment—the present who, what, where, what, when and sometimes why is the creative medium of the art of theater. Making that moment a work of art is the essence of theater. A PowerPoint presentation faces the exact same challenges and opportunities related to facilitating group experience as a Broadway opening.
Professionals Already Know That They Work In, and Learn From, the Theater
Why do so many lawyers and judges quote Shakespeare in court, teachers search for role-playing activities to engage their students, and sales managers hire comedians and musical acts for their annual meetings? They know, at the very least intuitively, that the presentation skills that they employ in their respective professions were invented and developed originally in the theater and that theater itself is an aspect of what they do. No one knows how to relate to an audience better than an accomplished person of the theater.
Participation in theatrical production should be required study at every level of education. Since it isn’t, sincere and ambitious professionals should seek out theater training on their own. Understanding how theater is made is as necessary as learning how to write well or participating in physical education. If you have not developed such understanding from your general experience, education and training you are lacking a necessary tool for living and working effectively.
Making Theater is a Universal and Fundamental Aspect of Our Shared Humanity—If You Need to Relate to Other People, You Need to Understand Theater
Theater is a fundamental part of human nature. Humans have shared experience in public forums as a means of affirming community and facilitating social evolution since dances and pantomimes were shared near a tribal fire in prehistoric times. The contemporary popularity of dramatic sporting events shows the desire and need we naturally feel for such experience.
We are all audience members at times, and at other times players on the stage. Being an attentive audience member is one way that we learn how to play. Each authentic piece of theater art directs audiences to go forth and create. Great theater liberates and leads to concrete and positive action. Great theater involves contemplation and initiation of deeper consciousness of individual and collective humanity. Even a prosaic presentation regarding compliance with company policies should have this creative dimension. When it does the necessary if mundane information is disseminated more accurately and memorably and a beneficial intangible influence on the work and lives of those present may be released.
Theater is All About Learning—In Character
Stephen Sondheim, the great writer of musical theater, makes two points relevant to our discussion here…theater is teaching; and writing is acting. Every time you present before an audience you are creating a theatrical experience—a story. Story occurs when one, some or all of the people in a space over a defined time learn something and in so doing transform in some manner. The transformation could be professional, intellectual, existential, spiritual, artistic, communal, cultural, societal and/or personal. Telling or acting out stories in real time is the way that theater teaches.
When you create and deliver your theatrical message you must inhabit a character or characters—act—as writers such as Sondheim and the actors cast in their plays do in their theaters. The presentational form requires personality not merely the dissemination of dry, purely objective information. If you are in a physical space with other people you need to be personally present or they will—at least sub-consciously and perhaps consciously—be resentful of your imposition on their time. Personal presence provides your audience with emotional, even existential or spiritual truth in addition to the intellectual insight and technical information that you have prepared. Your conscious and developed character adds a basis for personal connection to the crowd, the immediacy of relation to the moment and the possibility of story.
Developing a character for your presentations does not have to be an act of imagination. You don’t have to inhabit a multitude of characters as Stephen Sondheim does. Explore your actual persona—not analytically but through experience, by observing yourself as if viewing another person; and heighten and inhabit that person to a larger scale when appearing before an audience. More than your voice has to be amplified in order to share your story all the way to the last row.
Theater Can Be Immediate, Rough, Holy Or (Ugh!) Deadly
The theater director Peter Brook in his famous book The Empty Space described the four ways that stories are presented in the theater: immediately, roughly, in a holy way and in a deadly way. Good theatrical presentations possess one, two or all three of the first qualities and never possess the fourth.
Immediate Theater is of the moment. The actor or actors’ presence and awareness heighten a sense of the here and now. All in attendance experience present reality. Brook says that such theater leaves a trace on the mind and soul. It is learning beyond mere mastery of a skill or fact. Whenever an audience is inspired, shocked, challenged, loved, moved to action and above all changed because something unforgettable has happened to them presently and on a deep level, immediate theater has occurred.
Rough Theater makes use of what’s available. It doesn’t require elaborate lighting, stadium seating, costumes—or really any material object besides performers and audiences. Brook once took a troupe on a tour of small villages in Africa and simply had his actors perform for locals on clear patches of land. A virtue of Rough Theater is that it shows that the entire world is indeed a stage and makes acting less precious and more real. It also is a strongly focused theater. Niceties are dispensed with and messages are delivered purely and clearly without distraction.
Unsurprisingly, excellent examples of Holy Theater are religious services. Secular artists, William Blake and Albert Einstein come to mind immediately but there are many others (including Peter Brook at times), also write for and perform on a holy stage. The purpose of Holy Theater is to remove the audience from the everyday and here and now to consider unseen aspects of existence—relations to the eternal and beyond linear time. It is a specific type of theater with a specific purpose.
Unfortunately there are many examples of Deadly Theater: mirthless situation comedies on television accompanied by digitally manufactured laugh tracks, lifeless and bloated touring productions of Broadway musicals with the performance equivalent of paint-by-numbers kits instead of authentic interpretation and feeling, interminable PowerPoint presentations delivered by speakers who read in a monotone from densely worded slides and fail to make eye contact with the people before them, classes taught by teachers who barrel through material without noticing whether or not students are following what they are saying. Deadly Theater occurs whenever presenters talk at instead of to and phone-it-in instead of expending the energy to be present and connect with the individuals of the audience.
The Deadly and Annoying “Expert”—Lively Theatrical Presentation Involves Discovery, Learning in Real Time
A particularly annoying practitioner of Deadly Theater is the “expert” who thinks that actually communicating with one’s audience is a sign of frivolity and that seriousness is only possible when warmth, humor and human connection are avoided. Such professionals are trying to maintain power over their audiences. They are implicitly ordering their listeners to honor their expertise and follow their directives. These orders ultimately are unprocessed and ignored and such speakers only effectively master the power to bore. This lack of openness makes it impossible for such a presenter to effectively teach and learn from his audience and the experience of presenting. It is a terrible approach in a classroom, a boardroom, a court room—or anywhere else in a free society. Theater leads writers and actors to transform as well as audiences. Great theater and presentations are on the frontier of knowledge and experience. Kevin Spacey discovered the new during his 200th consecutive performance of Richard III. Anyone who feels that he knows everything about his topic—doesn’t. We go onstage to learn.
Making Theater Does Not Require Talent—You Make It When You Share Your Best Self With Others Who Do the Same In a Public Place
If any reader is feeling a bit overwhelmed at this point, please take a deep breath and relax. Theater is the most democratic of art forms. It does not require “talent” as, say opera or ballet do. The great teacher of improvisational acting, Viola Spolin opened her seminal book Improvisation for the Theater with the simple but loaded sentence: Anyone can improvise. Theater is not about displaying natural gifts. It is created with commitment to, and execution of words and actions in service of, values—the greatest of which are honesty, authenticity, humility, vulnerability and openness to others.
Enough talk! Theater can teach you just about anything. You just have to get up and do it. The moment will sing to you.
Being human is my job description. The one mistake below — it can’t be taught.
From March 10, 2015:
“I think the real competitive advantage now is player development—understanding that your young players are human beings. Understanding them physically, fundamentally and mentally—investing in them as people and helping them progress. And there is no stat for that.
I don’t think everything in baseball—or life—is quantifiable. Sure, if you ignore the stats, if you ignore empiricism, if you ignore objective evidence, then you are a fool. But if you invest in stats so fully that you’re blind to the fact the game is played by human beings then you are just as much a fool.”
Theo Epstein, President of the Chicago Cubs
If you are a lawyer, business person or PhD who thinks that using improvisation to teach leadership and professional presence is a boondoggle that is not related to the serious evidence-based quantitative work of your field you are making a big mistake. Improvisation provides the experience of being human in the field of action. Improvisation teaches the skills that connect your serious quantitative knowledge and skills to the world, and is therefore just as deep and serious as your quantitative knowledge and skills. Surprise—the next big thing is not a technology, but rather a humanity. Who knew? Improvisers.
Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas
Rules of the road for myself — the folly of teaching … writing is the honest approach … working things out …
From March 10, 2015:
Letter to a Young Lawyer Who Loves The Theater
Very nice meeting you, the mind wanders in the waiting room…lightly landing on whatever drifts by…
Danny Collins, a new movie starring Al Pacino may be good, but it sounds like a gimmicky concept more designed to impress studio executives than move audiences. John Lennon sends a letter of encouragement to a rock and roll musician. Lennon tells him to stay pure and true to his great talent. The musician doesn’t receive the letter for forty years. He goes on to a highly cynical and commercial career and a life of drugs and debauchery. Then he sees the letter. He tries to make artistic and personal amends. If I would’ve written the story I would have just had the musician lose his integrity and then try to retrieve it later in life. There would be no letters from John Lennon, even if such a lost letter was “inspired by a true story.”
I like my movies quiet and realistic and my theater bold and expressionistic.
I don’t think that you have to be a member of Actor’s Equity or the Screen Actor’s Guild to call yourself an actor. Billie Whitelaw quit acting. She didn’t like the job in general. She disliked the parts she was offered. She disliked the harshness of the business. Then she hooked up with a playwright and worked with him exclusively—Samuel Beckett.
You can make theater like a painter makes portraits and landscapes. You can support yourself by working with your Equity and SAG card or by teaching or by practicing law or by doing all three. You can live without being frustrated and dictated to by the powers that be in “the business.”
If you ask yourself “what should I do” you will always be anxious and up against your decision. If you commit to doing what you want to do every day—even and especially when it doesn’t make sense to other people—you will have a life and a career and you won’t be able to distinguish between the two.
When you think about what you want to do, don’t censor such thoughts as “I want to have money” and “I want to marry a smart person.”
Business people, academics and doctors are generally more creative than lawyers. They understand that work can accomplish more objectives than the obvious one of providing money and security. Their fields of endeavor involve creating new things and problem solving. Many lawyers are born creative types but they are blocked. Their necessary work is rooted in conflict; their means of assessing success is overly concerned with billable hours. The general culture of the practice of law is very conservative. Lawyers fear change. Most of them are unhappy in their work. The business model of how lawyers make money is in great flux. They are highly unpopular as a group with the public. Law schools are struggling to attempt to figure out ways to be relevant. Fewer young people want to be lawyers. Court funding is being curtailed by legislatures. The leadership of the profession pays lip service to change but responds glacially. It sees creativity as a weakness, like a general laughing at a poet. I am confident that a radical new leadership will emerge in the law to protect the profession which is so important to the preservation of our democracy.
Many lawyers are one-trick ponies. They only know how to fight. Conflict is not the only effective means of advocacy and often it is counter-productive.
Lawyers who are primarily concerned with making money are a threat to the profession. If they are not motivated to further justice and the general well-being, and serve their clients they turn the public against the judicial system. Shakespeare’s Richard III said, “Kill the lawyers.” Richard III was a violent dictator.
It is not surprising that preoccupation with money is threat to freedom. It certainly is with individuals. Worry about money is the number one reason why people don’t do what they want to do. Of course, the greed of the 1% is destroying American democracy. And as mentioned above the profession of the law is being severely weakened with its preoccupation of itself as a “good job” (doing it for the money) instead of prioritizing professionalism, service to society and the role of attorneys in our democracy. Ironically, this wrong emphasis has made the practice of law less of a “good job” than it used to be—including in terms of earnings. There is a well-positioned old guard that does quite well based on the momentum they gathered in more prosperous times, but later generations are scrambling.
Work is best when it pays the rent, serves other people and feeds the soul. Day jobs are best when they are stepping stones to real work. It is possible to make money, serve your values and enjoy yourself…three birds with one stone.
Art is best when it is independent and free.
If you work in a place where you are subjected to serial acts of disrespect—get out of Dodge.
You can practice law and be a serious artist—not a mere hobbyist. William Carlos Williams was a fine doctor and great poet. Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive and another fine poet. Tolstoy worked in the fields and wrote his novels. There is a type of artist that needs to be a full participant in the “real world,” who needs life events in order to have material for their creation.
Be kind to yourself. Observe yourself as you do the rest of the world. Be patient. Don’t expect answers to all of your questions and doubts. As Rilke wrote, “Live the questions.”
Don’t see me or any other mentor as an authority. We are only here to witness our own stories and say what we think. If I have anything to offer you it is my attitude which you are free to accept or reject. That very decision will give you some direction.
Keep in touch if you wish and good luck!
Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas
Self-justification nudging me nearer to truth, but humanity is not a professional plus, it is more important than that …
I’m becoming a Cubs’ fan. I’ve already written about team President Theo Epstein’s belief in the qualitative assessment of talent being equally as valid and necessary as the quantitative assessment. See my post Why Teaching Improvisation is So Relevant in the Arts, Business, the Professions, the Academy and Baseball:, https://richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com/2015/03/08/why-teaching-improvisation-is-so-relevant-in-the-arts-business-the-professions-the-academy-and-baseball/.
Now Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon makes another important point that has implications far beyond sport. Players of varied experience…hybrids, hyphenates and generalists…bring the most to a team. ” I hate specialization. I love cross-pollination when it comes to athletes. You get guys that did not just play baseball, meaning they’ve been around a different set of coaches and styles and way to get in shape and thought. I love that…I talk about a liberal arts education in regards to playing baseball. Making the complete athlete here is kind of interesting too.”
I make the same point in a different context and more detail in my post, The New Renaissance Professional: Professor, Writer, Actor, Theater Director, Lawyer, Marketer, https://richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com/2015/02/07/the-new-renaissance-professional-professor-writer-actor-theater-director-lawyer-marketer/. Please check it out.
I have worked in several fields. The most outstanding people that I have worked with in all of them have always recognized the value of hiring and developing people of varied experience. They understand that varied experience brings skills that are transferable to different occupations and that varied experience refreshes those occupations with new insights, approaches and ultimately innovations.
Varied experience is also the process of true individuation of a person. By pursuing all of his interests instead of following a prescribed one-size-fits-all path he discovers where his true contribution lies.
Varied experience is a mirror of the organic process of life which includes the diversity within all of our souls. The idea that a person can only excel in a field by being exclusively in that field for a long period of time is foolish.
Embrace and work with all of who you are, and work with others that see your value. Understand the value of the diversified portfolio of your human capital and get all that you and the world deserve for the totality of your hard work, experience, insight and talent. There is great unity in authentic diversity. Disparate true endeavors ultimately and always converge into, and emerge as, one unified and new thing—you and that thing you do.
Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas
The undiluted voice makes an appearance …
From March 30, 2015:
I posted this joke on Facebook…
Remember that wonderful moment from the Gene Hackman movie Hoosiers when the whole town came together and realized their love for each other when they banned gay people from attending the high school basketball games?
Pictured above…the team gives a prayer of thanks for their collective heterosexuality “just like Jesus.”
Then I wondered…was I being unfair? Shouldn’t I consider that simple and ignorant people are afraid of change? Aren’t these the fearful folks who never found a way to leave their claustrophobic small towns and the myopic anti-intellectualism of their churches? Doesn’t mocking them make it worse?
But I don’t feel bad about ridiculing the narrow-minded Hoosiers. Their sin isn’t ignorance. It is arrogance. They don’t want to admit their fear. They want to steal a power they don’t deserve. They choose to be mean. They’ve lost their decency. I’ve always believed that only the strong should be satirized—never make fun of the poor, the infirmed, the ignorant…only go after winners. Laugh at kings.
Hoosiers are kings. They feared leaving nowhereville and never admitted the lack of nerve. They built walls so they could live as they pleased. But the world they refused to go to see has come calling on them. Indiana has the internet. Anyone can tour museums and libraries online. Business has connected the entire world. Lots of traveling salesmen pass through and introduce themselves to their daughters. When offered the facts and examples of the good behavior of decent people Hoosiers said no thank you. To accept knowledge and the behavior of enlightened people as examples of good living would be to surrender power.
So I have decided that there is not even rough equivalency between my joke mocking Hoosiers and Hoosiers shaming gay people. I am not writing out of a feeling of superiority. I am superior to the homophobic Hoosiers when it comes to understanding how to respect people’s rights and how people of all different sorts of orientations can live happily and peacefully in a true community. I understand that many people in Indiana don’t agree with that horrible discriminatory law. But even those people should have less state pride this morning and recognize that something has gone seriously wrong. If you love your state, non-homophobic Hoosiers, don’t defend it right now. Don’t blame me that you live in a laughingstock. Indiana today resembles Alabama in 1962 and Nazi Germany in 1936. Charlie Chaplin did the right thing when he laughed at Hitler in The Great Dictator in 1938. I did the right thing on Facebook. A lot of people who weren’t fascists in 1938 saw Chaplin’s satire of Germany as disrespectful and impolite. Chaplin showed street scenes with shops bearing the word JEW painted on their storefronts. Chaplin didn’t make any excuses to mitigate his images of this violent exclusionary impulse in any way. Hitler’s appeal was largely to rural and small town people with chips of inferiority on their shoulders. He gave them murderous master race anti-Semitism and spectacles—huge rallies and buildings …a vision of participation in something of large importance. Indiana is using the same ugly formula…hate masquerading as greatness. Nothing is bigger than God and perverted interpretations of his will which mirror people’s most conscious prejudices and deepest fears. Grandiose delusions of superiority are so much easier than actually doing the hard work of humbly trying to develop intellectual, moral and ethical excellence.
Hah! Indiana! I am not sympathetic to your difficulty in adjusting to change. Your egoistic discomfort is nothing compared to your attempt to interfere with gay people’s right to live a free and normal life in America. If you use political power to control some future U. S. Supreme Court and the justices make some convoluted reasoning to say that you have a right to harm, shame and hate others based on your condemnation of their sexual orientation then that Court will join you as enemies of the progressing values of our nation. It won’t be the first time. Look up decisions that temporarily legitimized segregation or said that money is free speech—in other words that rich people legally have more say than people who aren’t rich in our sadly withering democracy.
I laugh at you, Hoosiers. You are wrong—morally. This conflict has nothing to do with the morality of homosexual lifestyles. It has to do with you trying to bully people that you perceive are weaker than you. I like my joke because the movie Hoosiers tells the story about how ignorant Indianans actually became a loving community because they were confronted by people who know better.
I and people like me know better and we are confronting you. Ha ha ha ha ha…
Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas
From April 1, 2015:
Here’s what the law says re: recent Indiana disgraceful legislation. The First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion. So if your church doctrine says that homosexuality is a sin and you have church policies and procedures that address that belief within your church the government cannot interfere. However, the government cannot establish a religion under civil law. For example the Catholic Church did not, and to the best of my knowledge, still in many cases does not recognize divorce. Church Canon Law says once you are married you are married for life. But the Catholic Canon Law cannot be adopted as secular civil law to deprive Catholics or any other persons their right to a civil divorce.
Any fair-minded U.S. Supreme Court would find that Hoosiers’ free exercise of religion is not being violated in any way since they are free to believe what they believe and follow any policies they want within churches they freely choose to be members of; BUT the government cannot establish their religious law as civil law. The U.S. Supreme Court recently disagreed with what I just said in the Hobby Lobby case, but they were wrong. In a 5-4 conservative decision, the Court ruled that a business could deny medical coverage for contraception to employees because the business had a religious conviction that birth control was immoral. The Supreme Court in so doing established Hobby Lobby’s religious belief as law. The women who were denied coverage had their rights violated under the Civil Rights Act and were denied the free exercise of their religious beliefs which allowed contraception. It’s OK. Don’t get upset. The Supreme Court has said in its history that African-Americans were 3/5 of a person, segregation was a kind of separate equality, and that money is speech, in other words that rich people have more say than people who aren’t rich in our supposed democracy. So much for one man or woman one vote. Courts change. Laws change. Historically, courts have glacially responded to societal change rising from the grass roots.
Sexual orientation is not a protected characteristic under current civil rights law. It should be. Indiana’s motive here is partly to test that possible expansion and kill it in its crib. They might have a good chance with the current right wing majority on the court. But that should not matter. The law is a constructive establishment of religion by the government and that is unconstitutional. Eventually, the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Civil Rights Act will be returned to the people.
Also, the argument should be made if the justices moved from the First Amendment to the Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment that the Indiana law could harm people with currently protected characteristics such as race, gender etc.
I offer this with a caveat. The real argument here is the moral one that many, including me, have put forward. The U.S. Supreme Court as I have implied here is a political body, as you know, and there is no guarantee that it will act reasonably or fairly.
As a practical matter the pressure being exerted by big business will be most effective and is actually leading this positive social change.
Rights, equality and freedom have been expanded through our country’s history from the white male landowners of the revolution, to men without real property, to freed slaves, to women, to immigrants and now to the LGBT community and undocumented aliens. Unfortunately, we have to fight for every expansion of the founding ideals of this country. But over time we win the battles. The greatest expansion is when Constitutional rights are expanded in the area of economic justice. That will cover everybody.
Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas
From April 10, 2015:
“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
Dick the Butcher in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part II.
Dick the Butcher was a follower of the rebel Jack Cade, who thought that if he disturbed law and order, he could become king. Shakespeare meant the line as a compliment to attorneys and judges who instill justice in society.
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner said recently that the Illinois Supreme Court cannot be relied upon to arrive at rational decisions regarding issues related to the state’s pension funding crisis. I recently made a similar observation about the United States Supreme Court, saying that it is a political body and cannot be relied upon to be rational or fair in the short term. I am not the executive of a co-equal branch of a constitutional government, however. And I also said that courts appointed by democratically elected executives and approved by democratically elected legislatures will eventually respond to grass roots social change in the long term. The U.S. Supreme Court’s evolution on civil rights matters from pre-Civil War days to the 1960’s shows that dynamic. The U.S. Supreme Court is compromised in its moral legitimacy because of the corruption of our electoral system for the last several years. The influence of big money has raised doubt that our executive and legislative political leaders (and by extension our appointed judges) are democratically chosen and therefore legitimate. Such untoward influence leads to travesties like the Citizens United case which reflects no grass roots democratic sentiment past or present regarding money in politics and by extension is a disgraceful claim of actual superiority of the wealthy in our society over those who are not.
So what is the difference between my and Rauner’s position? He doesn’t care about democracy and the rule of law and I do. He blames the state Supreme Court. I blame the money tainted system that ultimately selects it and all government officials. He wants to eliminate judicial power and legal regulation and direction of our affairs. The kernel of truth in Rauner’s attack on constitutional democracy is that a Supreme Court by its very nature hears the tough cases that could go either way when interpreted through the lens of established law, but he uses that kernel to perpetuate a big lie.
Jack Cade wanted to eliminate the judicial system because he was a criminal and a fraud. Libertarians want truly independent lives unfettered by restraint of law. They argue that those restraints are a tyranny that stifles their creativity and productivity. Like all ideologues, Libertarians live in a world of what-should-be instead of a world of what is. The Founding Fathers instituted a system of checks and balances so that one person or interest group would not attain all power. They did so because they knew that there was a strong impulse in many men to acquire as much power as possible and dominate others. Rauner wants to denigrate the legal system (and eventually the legislature—witness his recent executive orders of questionable constitutionality) so that all the power will reside in him—a rich man with the means to purchase the office and use it for the interests of himself and his economic class. Rauner believes he will use his power to make initiatives for the common good and wants to set himself up as the sole arbiter of the common good. Rauner does not believe in the law or democracy. He embodies the political crisis that we face as a nation. Rauner and his ilk want to radically change our way of life.
Lawyers and judges are the far from perfect officers of the far from perfect legal system which is created, maintained and is an essential component of our far from perfect representative democracy. They are our social line of defense against criminality and unfairness in our civil arrangements. The results of the legal system are often far from just or reasonable. But who should decide these matters? Libertarian so-called “free and creative” people doing as they please even if it occasionally devolves into crime, broken civil agreements and no social responsibility required for non-criminal harms to others with no fair mitigation and redress for those harms?
Two leaders of far more moral and intellectual importance in the sweep of history than Mr. Rauner, John Adams and Winston Churchill, addressed the Governor’s assault on our established values.
Adams responded to the British tyranny against the American colonies prior to our War for Independence when he asserted that Britain had “a government of laws not men.” The American Revolution was a reaction to a despotic government that denied people their established rights by ignoring and superseding its own law.
Rauner’s manipulative and dismissive comments about our state Supreme Court are partly based on legitimate criticisms of the imperfections of our legal system and the human natures of the people that run it. Winston Churchill counters Rauner’s attempt at an illegal power grab under the guise of idealism with his own idealistic and realistic words about our core values: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
In fairness, Churchill also said that “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” It is the distraction and ignorance of the population that makes the election of a bully like Bruce Rauner possible.
But since King Arthur is a myth, and there are no philosopher kings available who are trained to benevolently decide what our world looks like— who should decide? Us or Bruce Rauner? We have to take control of our own lives and set our own priorities. And we have to protect the law—our only leverage in the material world that we have against our own imperfection.
Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas
Some potentially good writing foiled by entertainment and marketing …
From October 31, 2016:
Why did FBI Director James Comey announce on Friday (10/29/16) that the Bureau discovered emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop that may be related to the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails?
A junior litigator would not say in public or in court, “I have uncovered some material that may lead to my pursuit of a cause of action on the part of my client, but I am not ready to pursue such a cause of action yet because I haven’t had a chance to investigate it. When I look into it I’ll get back to you if I find something. I have no evidence to report at all but there is a chance something might be evidence and I just wanted you to know I was looking into it. It might be something. It might be a big deal. It might be absolutely nothing. Maybe we’ll see or maybe what we find will be inconclusive or maybe nothing is there. I’ll keep you posted.” Yet this is essentially what Comey said. What?!? Of course any competent lawyer would keep his mouth shut if and until he actually determined he had some evidence.
Why was Comey so interested in letting the world know that he was keeping an open file on the Clinton email matter? Why did he want everyone to know where the Bureau was in its work process?
Comey wanted everyone to know that he was working on the matter. He wanted to be perceived as highly professional and fair. He said earlier this year that he wasn’t prosecuting Mrs. Clinton but might reopen the matter if new evidence emerged. He wanted everyone to know that he believed that no one was above the law. He is so concerned with what other people think that he let it unconsciously drive him as he decided to make last Friday’s announcement. As often happens when a person is driven by impulses that he himself is not aware of, Comey has made the opposite impression of what he wished to achieve. Comey has a reputation as being fiercely independent. Now people wonder if he is a partisan hack. Comey is seen as a brilliant lawyer. Now he is viewed as making a headscratchingly brutal rookie mistake.
Why? Because he hasn’t: read enough novels, seen enough good films, read The Rick Blog, made plans to attend my show The Rick Blog — Live on Stage at Judy’s Beat Lounge at Second City or inquired into signing up for my workshop, Finding and Exploring Your Lawyer Voice which is being offered in early 2017 by the DuPage County Bar Association.
Viola Spolin wrote in Improvisation for the Theater about the need for persons to avoid being ruled by the need for approval and/or the need for , (or more usually) the need, to avoid disapproval. Just play the scene with integrity and allow others to have their own perceptions. Comey has to learn this. Forget yourself and just do the job.
Lawyers, PhDs and other professionals are extremely intelligent and highly trained and educated obviously. They perform very complex tasks. So it is hard for them to understand that they exist only on the second rung in the hierarchy of human work. The highest human activity is art. Art is taking mystical spiritual reality and synthesizing it with the concrete material of life on earth. We are the stuff that dreams are made of. Comey didn’t deeply understand himself or other people and he made a big mistake to his own detriment and maybe to the detriment of the country.
Life really happens on the level of the human soul. Endeavors like the Law, Academia etc. are merely tools that we humans use to externally execute that which happens within and between our eternal souls in order to bring those positive and negative spiritual realities into the material world. James Comey like so many other high-functioning professionals has to learn that. They ignore art’s primary importance at their own peril.
Let me talk to Jim for a moment …
Jim, art isn’t the toy department. It’s the whole damn store. I know you are living with an anxiety — maybe not yet consciously acknowledged — about what you did last Friday. Relax. Here’s the thing about art. It doesn’t expect perfection. It aspires to perfectly perceive and connect with imperfection — in other words to love the whole mess of life. All you have to do, Jim is say that you are sorry and say why you were wrong. Get personal and say what motivated you — your own ego and narcissism — to make your great error. Then go back to being a good lawyer and a more self-aware Jim Comey. Don’t get trapped by your image of being fiercely independent and be bullied by it. Just be you. Don’t have a self-image. Forget yourself and do your job.
Make your life an art and just use your profession as a tool.
You’re welcome, Jim.
Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas
From December 14, 2016:
From left to right: Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, Robert Gates
Rule 1.7 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys states that a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest. A concurrent conflict of interest exists if (among other reasons) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by a personal interest of the lawyer.
Rule 1.8 of the Rules elaborates on the nature of such personal material interests. A lawyer may not knowingly acquire an ownership, possessory, security or other pecuniary interest adverse to a client unless the transaction and terms on which the lawyer acquires the interest are fair and reasonable to the client and are fully disclosed and transmitted in writing in a manner that can be reasonably understood by the client.
The most powerful people in America are not constrained by such rules.
Secretary of State-Designate Rex Tillerson, current CEO of ExxonMobil was endorsed by Condoleeza Rice, Stephen Hadley and Robert Gates — former Secretaries of State and Defense, and a former National Security Adviser. Oh yeah, the three also run a geopolitical consulting company, Rice Hadley Gates LLC, which works for big corporations and advises their very top execs. ExxonMobil is a big client of Rice Hadley Gates LLC. Rice, Hadley and Gates consult with Tillerson personally. Yet when Rice, Hadley and Gates made their endorsements of Tillerson they made no attempt to inform the American people in a way that they could reasonably understand that they personally profited from a relationship with Tillerson; and that their work for ExxonMobil necessarily put the interest of that corporation before the interests of all Americans. They simply represented themselves as former public servants knowledgable in the work of the State Department and the American foreign policy establishment. That representation was dishonest. The lawyer for your speeding ticket is expected to do better.
Rice, Hadley and Gates were not legally required to, and didn’t, follow the same ethical standard that an Illinois traffic (or any other type of) attorney would have to follow by force of law. By not letting Americans know that they offered their endorsement with a distinct personal bias related to their own material interests (big bucks from ExxonMobil), and speaking with the phony implied purity of former high level public servants, Rice, Hadley and Gates lied to the American people in order to cover up extreme unethical conflicts of interest.
Similarly, former Secretary of State James Baker’s endorsement of Tillerson can be placed in the same unethical, immoral and dishonest category. ExxonMobil is a major client of Baker’s law firm Baker Botts LLP. Baker has made no attempt to clearly disclose the possibility of his personal material bias — legal fees! — influencing his endorsement.
This really stinks and it is nothing new. Liars masquerade under the veneer of a manipulated image of supposedly distinguished public service and dupe the American people to feather their own nests. No law stops them. Certainly, their own consciences don’t deter them either.
Is anything related to our government not a conflict of interest? The whole government is a scam and the scam didn’t start with Trump. Don’t tell me about legitimacy. The whole deal is a fraud.
Our most respected leaders are, in the reality beyond public relations imagery, con artists. They obfuscate and lie to seize control of our government and then use it to accomplish aims that may or may not serve us, but assuredly will always serve them.
Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas
From January 31, 2017:
New Title: DONALD TRUMP IS AFRAID OF WORK
I wrote this post before breakfast (1/31/17). I read Yates’ letter to Trump again (it’s included in the post). I don’t think she is actually how the press and the Democrats are portraying her. I believe her main concern was that she felt that as Attorney General, she should consult with the President to discuss the legal validity of the substance of the Executive Order and how she could foresee how the policy would play out from a legal perspective.
Yates realizes that the Executive Order is legal on its face — meaning that it is properly drafted and would work as authority before it was challenged. But she wasn’t sure if the Order was good policy or if it would withstand all challenges. She was also uncomfortable with approving it as a personal moral and ethical matter until she had a greater understanding of what the President had in mind.
Even Democrats and at least superficially sympathetic members of the media don’t seem to understand where Yates is coming from. I didn’t either until it occurred to me now.
Yates wasn’t taking a necessarily taking a stand for free speech and morality. She was prepared to do so, but in her mind she wasn’t there yet. Trump pushed here there. Yates was simply doing her job with the high level thoroughness of an excellent attorney and legal manager. She said that as Attorney General she had to consider more than the law and look at the policy from a moral, ethical and practical perspective.
Yates was saying that she should have been consulted with by the President NOT because she is the President’s lawyer and needed to advise him and create a plan to help him with his objectives (that’s the White House counsel’s job ) but rather because she is the chief legal officer of the United States — the lawyer of the American people — and she had to confer on the development of the E.O. in order to serve their interests as she had taken an oath to do.
A competent President would have wanted to meet with her — in order to his job well. Trump talked to Rudy Giuliani who put together a committee to make sure that the E.O. was properly drafted (making sure there were no unconstitutional religious tests in the language of the order for example ) but he spoke to no one who could give the macro-level perspective that a President gets from an Attorney General. An Attorney General doesn’t necessarily give a President advice. She gives information and a picture of legal reality.
Apparently Sally Yates took her job seriously and didn’t see herself as a mere placeholder.
I, and everybody else that I heard or read, made Yates out to be a martyr in the cause of morality in public policy and dissent. But actually, she is a martyr to the cause of professionalism who was prepared to be a martyr for the other values mentioned if necessary. Trump never let her get that far because he fired her for committing the sin of doing a good job.
Donald Trump doesn’t know how to work and has spent his life avoiding it. Work scares Trump. Trump can’t even fathom the depth, breadth, organization, detail, focus and endurance of Sally Yates’ mind. So he fired her.
Yes, Trump doesn’t know what he is doing and the way that he treated Sally Yates indicates that he is not likely to learn. He treated a diligent and dedicated public servant who only wanted to serve the American people — and by extension, Trump — as an enemy, someone guilty of “betrayal.” If Trump had bothered to meet with Yates his policy would’ve met with less resistance from the public.
The biggest terror attack associated with Trump’s Executive Order was in his own encounter with someone with great knowledge and skill and the ability to apply it for practical good. He found that chilling.
Competence is knowing what you are doing, or having the humility and work ethic to learn how to do it in the time frame required by the people that you are working for.
Trump is too defensively thin-skinned and not disposed to thought and reflection to listen to others and learn in other ways in order to become competent at his job. Even a dictator has to have certain skills in order to dictate effectively.
(As I write this Congressional Republicans are complaining that Trump didn’t consult with them about the E.O. either. He might want to talk to them to figure out how to expand upon the nascent idea that he introduced in the order — vile as it may be to me — into full-blown legislation. No, Trump wouldn’t want to do that — he finds the work too frightening.)
Of course if you can create an alternate reality I guess it doesn’t matter…
YATES 1/30/17 LETTER TO TRUMP WITH MY ANNOTATIONS
Please read the full text of Yates’ letter (in italics) that prompted Trump to fire her (my annotations in bold):
On January 27, 2017, the President signed an Executive Order regarding immigrants and refugees from certain Muslim-majority countries. The order has now been challenged in a number of jurisdictions. As the Acting Attorney General, it is my ultimate responsibility to determine the position of the Department of Justice in these actions.
Sally Yates asserts the independence of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice. An Attorney General is not like other Cabinet officers who execute the President’s policies exclusively. It is her ultimate responsibility to determine the position of the Department of Justice in the matters before it. An Attorney General’s ultimate responsibility is to the law in the making of the positions of matters before the Department of Justice. When Trump said that Yates’ decision not to defend his executive order was a “betrayal” he showed that he either doesn’t know or doesn’t respect (or both) the independence and integrity an Attorney General must have in order to fulfill her responsibilities to the rule of law and the nation. One aspect of Sally Yates’ heroism is that she innocently opposed Trump’s claim to authority that he does not legally have because she knows our law and she knows our history.
My role is different from that of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which, through administrations of both parties, has reviewed Executive Orders for form and legality before they are issued. OLC’s review is limited to the narrow question of whether, in OLC’s view, a proposed Executive Order is lawful on its face and properly drafted. Its review does not take account of statements made by an administration or it surrogates close in time to the issuance of an Executive Order that may bear on the order’s purpose. And importantly, it does not address whether any policy choice embodied in an Executive Order is wise or just.
Yates is saying here that the Department of Justice has a far greater role than merely to determine whether an Executive Order is properly drafted and lawful on its face before being exposed to greater legal scrutiny.
Then she makes a statement of morality. She says the Attorney General has to determine whether the policy laid out in the Executive Order is wise or just. An Attorney General is not the President’s lawyer. She is the lawyer of the people of the United States. She has an important client. Any attorney has a responsibility to serve her client’s interests. If she can’t, she can demur on any action she might see as harmful and withdraw from the representation if she is not able to serve the client in a way that she sees fit.
Similarly, in litigation, DOJ Civil Division lawyers are charged with advancing reasonable legal arguments that can be made supporting an Executive Order. But my role as leader of this institution is different and broader. My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts. In addition, I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right. At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful.
Sally Yates ultimately did not resist Trump on a matter of law. She innocently confronted Trump on the field of morality — the field where our battle to defeat Trump and restore our constitutional democracy is taking place. She said that her job transcends creating an argument to assert the legal validity of the order. She said that her ultimate responsibility was to do what was right. She didn’t say that she absolutely was opposed to having the Department of Justice defend the order. She only said that she needed to be convinced that it was wise to do so. This angered Trump.
Consequently, for as long as I am the Acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so.
How dare Sally Yates ask Trump to give her an explanation so that she could make a decision within the boundaries of her independence and responsibility! He fired her for needing to consider a situation to be sure that her actions in relation to it conformed to her sense of morality instead of giving silent and subordinate obedience to his orders.
Trump called Yates’ action a “betrayal.” This was an ignorant and dangerous statement. Not only did he misunderstand and disrespect Sally Yates’ role as Attorney General, he also attacked all of our First Amendment rights. Trump is demanding absolute loyalty to him personally and silent obedience to his directives. This is un-democratic and un-American.
Trump is going to keep assaulting our First Amendment rights. We must never be acquiesce to his demands. If we sacrifice our right to speak and to make our own decisions based upon the dictates of our own consciences we will not be free. Never shut up!
Sally Yates shows us what resistance is. It happens in our daily lives and work when we simply live our daily lives and do our daily work. We have to follow the authority of our consciences. The America we must be loyal to is the America of the beautiful values of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the continuing and persistent progressive march to ever greater democracy and recognized equality that is the very soul of our history.
Sally Yates acted with courage, integrity and stated her position with intellectual clarity. She also just did her job. She didn’t go looking for trouble. It happens. She was simply dealing with someone who didn’t have her intelligence and character — Trump.
We all have to do that now. We must not compromise our values. Stand in the place where you live. Some of us will sacrifice more than Sally Yates, particularly when we have to resist Trumpism in the workplace. I am sure Sally Yates won’t have a problem finding another job.
We also have to keep speaking up and explaining our decisions. We are at a moment when talk is definitely not cheap. We have to explain what is right. We can lay our marker for the coming reality when American ideals are not only aspirations, but become concrete reality only with our words and apparent deeds.
Our talk and representative action are the only things that we have right now. It is the means by which we stay Americans.
I faced a situation similar to Sally Yates’ once. It was 2001. I was working for the Gang Crime Prevention Center of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. I disliked the Assistant Attorney General who ran the office, a right wing conservative from the far Western suburbs of Chicago who favored extremely harsh sentences and the death penalty. He named me Legislative Liaison for the Center to the Illinois State Legislature in Springfield. The first thing that he wanted me to do was lobby for a proposal that he had created. He wanted to fine parents $500 any time their child was truant from school more than 3 times in a school year.
I thought it was a horrible idea. I told the boss why. It seemed to be a persecution of poor people. Parents of children at risk for joining gangs most often lived on the edge of poverty or smack in the middle of it. A $500 fine was a real hardship for them. Also I felt there was some victim blaming going on. Shouldn’t there be discussions about why the students skipped school? Were the schools sub-par? Did the obvious economic stress force the students to either work or sell drugs to get money to get by? Don’t we have to work with many stakeholders to see why the truancy problem exists and come up with creative solutions instead of knee-jerk punishments that accomplish nothing?
The Assistant A.G. told me to shut up and go to Springfield to flack for his proposal. I told him I couldn’t do it. He got mad. He basically reacted as Trump did with Sally Yates. I explained. “Look this is like asking a Catholic doctor to perform an abortion. The proposal offends my moral sense. I just can’t go after poor people in this way. This fine will accomplish nothing and may even hurt any progress at keeping kids in school and out of gangs.”
He fired me. I didn’t have a big reputation like Sally Yates. I suffered a bit. It was hard to find new work. But I have no regret for my decision. I kept my soul. I stood up for what I believed in and eventually my life was much better than if I remained at the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.
Dissent. (Dissent means being the authority of your own life in the face of forces that wish to define who you are and what you must do.)
Decide. (Choose what you feel is right, not necessarily what someone else tells you is right.)
Persevere. (You have to hang in with who you are. Don’t try to run away from yourself. It’s impossible.)
Hopefully prevail — or at least sleep at night. (Dignity and goodness are more important than victory or success. But you may well win too.)
Simply by living your actual life you will redeem the world.
Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas
From February 2, 2017:
Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic made a great point this morning. We aren’t only a nation of laws, we are also a nation of norms. We use institutions like the Presidency and Supreme Court to give us a sense of stability. Those institutions are inherently conservative. At the time when Bill Clinton watered down his stance on full acceptance of gays in the military in the early 1990s to “don’t ask don’t tell” he said that change comes from the bottom up. His point was that Presidential leadership couldn’t take the country further than where enough of the people wanted to go.
History is filled with such examples. Surely Lincoln was personally opposed to slavery as early as the 1840s. He never said so until the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The job of activism and advocacy was left to the abolitionists.
When Trump made a moral equivalency between the US and Russia he went further than the American people currently want to go. Obama used to say in third world nations that America had been “far from perfect” in its relations with those poor countries. Obama was doing his job beautifully moving America’s public statements — we feel when the President speaks we are speaking — towards an admission to the crimes of our Cold War imperialism and towards a stance of being more leader than bully in the family of nations.
Trump spoke for us when he said that we were killers like Russia — and we didn’t like it. He appalled just about all of us. Conservatives hated the admission of America’s historic acts of immorality in much more blunt and less incremental terms than Obama. Liberals hated what he said because it promised much more of the same.
We have an anti-social personality, Trump, acting in the role of representing our society. The President’s job is to represent our image of ourselves and execute concrete policies that reflect that image. Trump only knows how to project his own image and has the hubris to say he wants it to be the image of all of America. This won’t work. In America, even in this current age of major sympathy for authoritarianism, l’etat is definitely not c’est moi.
It is the job of artists, writers, activists and other cultural leaders to lead changes in the way we think. Not Presidents. Successful Presidents figure out what we feel and find a way to make it real. LBJ followed MLK as the latter changed American views on civil rights and equality. LBJ turned the new morality into legislation. That’s what we want from our Presidents. We want them to use brick and mortar to make the visions of our hearts real. We don’t want them to tell us what to feel.
Trump and Bannon don’t know or care what the Presidential role is. They want to force a world view down everyone’s throats that no one asked for. Ultimately this is what is going to bring them down because this cultural level is what the general public understands.
The most apolitical people in the country gasped when Trump said that we came from a long line of killers — funny on one level because he got in trouble in a rare instance when he was truthful and right!
The 1968 ridiculously camp movie “Wild in the Streets” was a dystopian nightmare aimed at an older audience. It was about the terrors caused in a fictional USA when the youth counter-culture takes over the White House. I don’t include a reference to this movie here to re-litigate the 60s Generation Gap. I offer it as an absurd example of what happens when a President is culturally tone deaf and imposes his unvarnished world view on everyone else. The movie is less absurd than what we are living.
What is compelling and provocative in tabloid and reality TV stardom and even in a political campaign is alienating and off putting in the Presidency.
One who governs needs the consent of the governed. This is how Trump is going to lose control.
The Trump/Hitler comparison stops when we consider that we are a nation of norms. Hitler enthusiastically represented the soul of the German people at that time of the Third Reich. Trump is an exotic even to his supporters in the present day.
Trump will fall because he doesn’t follow our norms. We have to stay focused on demanding that he stand down. He and the Republicans in Congress DON’T SPEAK FOR US!
We want our American norms back. They have to go. Before 2018.
Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas
From February 21, 2017:
Trump’s incendiary comments yesterday (8/8/17) promising “fire and fury” against the North Koreans, accelerating a potential threat of nuclear war with that country, could be grounds for removing Trump from office for reasons of incapacity as delineated by the 25th Amendment of the Constitution.
I still prefer impeachment and subsequent prosecution as a way to handle this problem, but an unhinged president risking irrational nuclear war seems to be a potential scenario that the 25th Amendment was intended to address as a grave emergency for the nation.
I would not expect the current Vice-President, Cabinet and Congress would strongly consider invoking the 25th and claiming Trump’s incapacity, but they should.
2/21/17 Constitutional law scholar Professor Laurence Tribe was very interesting re: Section 4 of the 25th Amendment last night on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show. He said that Section 4 removal of a President for incapacity is not limited to mental or physical defect. He basically said that a President could be removed for “moral incapacity” (my phrase). If the President has a lack of understanding or indifference to fulfilling his moral responsibilities to work for the welfare of the American people, he can be removed.
Tribe said the reason he could infer that there was no need to show mental or physical incapacity to invoke the 25th is because the Amendment gives the courts no role in the decision making process. A high level official , say Pence, would approach Trump and say he should be removed for incapacity. Then the Cabinet would convene and vote. If the Cabinet voted to remove Trump and Trump disagreed, the decision would go to Congress which would decide if the President is relieved of his duties by a 2/3 vote.
Tribe points out that this process is entirely political and not legal. Courts would need to see medical evidence of incapacity. The Cabinet and Congress wouldn’t. Whether a President is fulfilling his moral obligations to the American people is a political question.
I don’t think this type removal would be best for our side. The Republicans could put all blame on Trump and be in a stronger position to push their legislative agenda and push for re-election.
If they impeached they would be implying their own culpability. When the Republicans withdrew support from Nixon they basically ceded the 1976 election to the Democrats. They acknowledged that there previous support for Nixon was a mistake. If they used the 25th for Trump they could make the argument that he had betrayed the country and they did something about it immediately.
That’s moral high ground they don’t deserve.
Of course, Trump would most likely challenge the Republicans’ use of Tribe’s interpretation of the 25th Amendment in the courts, but he would just as likely lose.
If Trump got embroiled in criminal investigations that preoccupied him to a point in which he could not do the job, the 25th could be invoked.
Speaking of which, we have to watch carefully if Attorney General Sessions allows investigations of Trump and/or related to Trump’s campaign and administration to continue. Sessions, who was a major figure in Trump’s campaign, should recuse himself from all questions related to the campaign and name an independent special prosecutor to investigate them. Don’t hold your breath.
If Sessions stonewalls the fight will move to private civil actions and to state attorneys general. And with Congressional committees of course. And with independent commissions — if and when Congress gets to a point of bi-partisan support of those commissions, which like independent special prosecutors are the fairest and most efficient way to go. I don’t know what this will look like yet. Lots of vectors of power in motion.
But I do know that investigation is the way to liberation.
If this wasn’t so important, it would be really interesting in its own right.
Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas
From March 3, 2017:
Don’t lack confidence when confronting the legal aspects of our struggle against this abomination in the White House and Congress. It is a very positive sign that the lawyers are involved. Real teeth is beginning to be applied to execute protections and punishments well-deserved in light of our efforts and journalists’ muckraking.
We want investigations and hearings and trials. Don’t be intimidated by the seeming complexities of the law and legal process.
The law isn’t hard. It’s just a lot of work.
Lawyers have a big scam going. They have created an appearance of being some kind of mystical priesthood that alone has access to the high intellectual content of the law.
The law isn’t that “intellectual.” George Orwell is a better writer than Antonin Scalia.
I became a lawyer when I was fifty. I sat for the bar exam twenty-five years after I graduated from law school — for the first time. I had forgotten everything that I ever learned in law school, which wasn’t much in the first place. I scored in the eighty-eighth percentile of my bar review course’s practice exam, which is the only measure of one’s rank because the Bar just tells you whether you have passed or failed.
I was ridiculed as every new lawyer is, and to a greater degree because of my age. I also consistently beat more experienced attorneys whenever I litigated matters against them.
I have been a comedian, a lawyer and a college professor (among other things) professionally, and I can tell you unequivocally that comedians are generally the smartest of those three groups.
Don’t cower before understanding the law, especially now when we as citizens need to understand it.
The law belongs to all of us. It is a leading tool that we use to maintain the machine of our democracy.
It is not an arcane thing administered by a mystical elite that we should watch in silent confusion.
Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas
From March 4, 2017:
Trump is trying to distract from the Russia inquiry by tweeting about the Russia inquiry. He went after President Obama last night. Be careful, Donny, FYI — Obama isn’t Rosie O’Donnell.
Trump said that Obama wire tapped him, and interfered with the “sacred” election process. Two things, Donnie — first if the Obama Administration under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA — or the Department of Justice, DOJ, wire tapped you, you can be sure they had a warrant, or other legal bases for a wire tap. They knew how to do that because they have experience working for a living.
Wire tapping warrants are granted when there is probable cause that the conversation involved is related to illegal activity. Exigent circumstances that may justify a wire tap without a warrant include a conspiracy threatening the national security, or a conspiracy suggesting organized crime. Also, FISA, authorizes a President to wire tap when he or she has reason to suspect espionage by American citizens against the U.S.
If you were indeed wire tapped, Donnie, that fact doesn’t make you look like a victim of injustice. It makes you look like a criminal with mounting evidence being gathered against you that is building to a prosecution.
If the DOJ got a warrant, the warrant application will be very damning against you, Donnie, as it will present evidence of probable cause in your commission of a crime.
If the wire tap was granted to President Obama on a FISA warrant, a FISA judge did not have to rule that there was evidence of probable cause that you committed a crime. The judge did have to find that there was evidence that you were working as an agent of a foreign power.
Normally, the public wouldn’t be seeing this investigatory process — prosecutors normally wait until they have assembled all of their evidence and developed their case and charged a party before publicizing that evidence — but the Obama Administration had to leave office before you could be indicted so they left all of these clues so that you couldn’t destroy all evidence and halt all investigations once you came into office. That’s what you were planning to do, isn’t it, Donnie? I told you Obama isn’t Rosie.
Oh, I know you are going to say you were unfairly targeted. All the guys in prison say that. Funny thing, once you get into a court of law — alternative facts don’t get into evidence, and only the real ones do.
Oh yeah — the second thing — Donnie, your process in the election could only be described as “sacred” by Devil Worshippers.
Are you starting to get a little nervous, Don?
Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas
From March 17, 2017:
It’s amazing that the Democratic lead dog on issues related to Sessions on the Senate Judiciary Committee is a comedian, Sen. Al Franken. I am a lawyer and a comedian — and I can tell you in all of my experience, comedians are much smarter — much smarter.
Law is just a lot of work, it isn’t usually a very big intellectual challenge. Just because artists aren’t recognized as being as important as they are to the practical direction of our society doesn’t mean that they aren’t that important. The only people who approach real artists in terms of intelligence, practical and otherwise, are scientists.
Lawyers are like mechanics who maintain things. Comedians are like mechanical engineers who design things. Comedians don’t only understand how things work. They understand why.
Since we are under an existential threat because of the Trump coup, deep thinkers are really useful right now. They always are of course, but people really realize the need in a time of crisis.
Non-lawyers, don’t be afraid of the legal issues. The Law is the field upon which these bastards will go down. Do the work and figure out the answers. Listen to the comedians and other artists and writers and get up to speed on the need-to-know minutiae of the Law.
Franken just got under Grassley’s skin at the Deputy AG confirmation hearing. Trump, of course, had his ridiculous wiretap tweet on Saturday, 3/4/17. When I was actively litigating I always took whining by the other side as a sign I was winning.
I also noticed that Jimmy Kimmel explained wiretap warrants in his monologue (I just saw a clip.)
The Law belongs to all Americans. Use it!
Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas
a frustrated rant …
From March 21, 2017:
Pictured above the legitimate nominee to fill the open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court — a nominee that doesn’t excite me. Below is an unvarnished rant at the illegitimate grinning phony who has usurped Garland’s rightful hearings and you, you whining pussies with your petty rebellions, lack of seriousness and endless whining. FIGHT GODDAMIT!!!!!!
Watching Neil Gorsuch with his phony kind, wise professor routine sharing unfunny fables with the dry and awkward Ted Cruz and Ben Sasse — miserably failing to humanize the inhumane…
and into the breach between the slices of white bread enters Al Franken
Watching Al Franken tear Neil Gorsuch a new asshole. A non-lawyer in the minority attacks a radical right-wing — oh hell they are fascists, they marry corporate power with the power of the government and aspire to raw power —-Franken tears a new asshole to a right wing, a fucking right wing corporatist — Franken is not intimidated by how hard the law is supposed to be —- Franken just does the work —-Franken is not bamboozled by Gorsuch’s Mayberry R.F.D. Ken Berry mild charm bullshit — Franken doesn’t cower before Gorsuch’s subtle condescensions — Franken knows this another jagoff with a billionaire sponsor — Franken is incredulous at Gorsuch’s immorality —
Humanity! What a great day in our sacred checks and balances! Please stop whining. Be a player — THEY don’t have all the power — you give it to them — stop worshipping the bitch goddess success or of position — have the clarity and the balls to see yourselves as PLAYERS —
STOP WHINING — STOP TALKING ABOUT NO FUNDING ABOUT MEALS ON WHEELS WHEN THE BUDGET HASN’T PASSED YET —
Adam Schiff doesn’t act like they have all the power — neither does Jim Comey — neither does Devin Nunes even who gave the green light to a public hearing of the House Intelligence Committee that made CERTAIN THAT THEY ARE EVENTUALLY GETTING THROWN OUT OF OFFICE AND WORSE —
The Republican Freedom Caucus — vile as they may be — see themselves as PLAYERS — they aren’t afraid of the big bad Trump and McConnell who threaten to ruin their careers if they don’t vote for the health care bill —
Durbin watches Franken intently — intrigued — BECAUSE EQUALITY IS CREATIVE —
THE COUNTRY BELONGS TO YOU AS MUCH AS TRUMP. WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH IT, GODDAMIT!
STOP WHINING AND COWERING — FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU ARE BEST AT AND DO IT FOR YOURSELF AND FOR YOUR COUNTRY.
AMERICA IS A BIG BRAWL. SO SOME NAZIS GOT A LITTLE LEVERAGE. TAKE THEM OUT.
CHECKS AND FUCKING BALANCES!!!!!!
COPYRIGHT 2017 RICHARD THOMAS
Prescient about Mueller’s investigation having one hand tied behind its back …
From May 18, 2017:
We don’t have an independent counsel law which created a mechanism that allowed a President to be investigated without a possibility of any interference in the investigation by the President, particularly firing the Independent Counsel, because Kenneth Starr was unprofessional (read inappropriately partisan for the position).
Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Cox (and Attorney General Richardson and Deputy AG Ruckelshaus resigned when they refused to carry out the order). Outrage ensued.
Carter signed Independent Counsel law which set up system where a panel of 3 federal judges chose a lead investigator/prosecutor of President and other officials.
Ken Starr showed ridiculously poor judgement in his persecution of Bill Clinton for misconduct unrelated to his duties as President. Clinton suborned perjury and obstructed justice as he battled his fanatical chief shamer and accuser, Starr.
In 1999, Congress repealed the Independent Counsel statute to avoid another abuse of power like Starr’s.
So now we are basically back to how it was under Nixon. Nixon told AG Richardson to fire Special Prosecutor Cox. Richardson refused. Nixon fired Richardson. Nixon ordered Deputy AG Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus refused. Nixon fired him. Finally Solicitor General Robert Bork did the dirty deed and Cox was out.
The political outrage was so strong after the Watergate Saturday Night Massacre that polls showed, for the first time, one week later, that a majority of Americans believed that Nixon should be impeached.
The story of the independent Counsel/Special Prosecutor laws is the story of our ambivalence about whether or not Presidents are above the law. It is the tradition of the Justice Department not to pursue criminal prosecutions against Presidents, but rather to send the findings of their investigations to Congress for consideration under the political impeachment process. Nixon and Clinton’s impeachment considerations revolved basically around obstruction of justice activities. What will the Special Prosecutor do if he finds evidence that the President is a full blown gangster involved in a wide range of felonious criminal activities?
The truism says it’s not the crime, but the cover up — a truism which worked for a third-rate burglary and fellatio in the Oval Office. Will that truism work for treason? Giving aid and comfort to foreign adversaries for fun and profit?
We are not merely a “nation of laws not men.” We are a nation of laws, politics and men. A President, by virtue of his election, represents the will of the people supposedly, so he has never been held to the law like you and me. To hold him to the law would be to subvert the people’s electoral will —that’s the rationale. What if a President is illegitimate and not actually elected?
Who is Mueller’s boss? Will Trump face criminal prosecution beyond impeachment? Did Ford’s pardon of Nixon set a precedent to apply to more serious Presidential crimes? How independent is the Justice Department from the Presidency? It is culturally seen to be different than other Cabinet departments especially since Watergate, and not completely under the President’s control. What is the Justice Department’s future?
The current Trump investigations are a reminder of how much our system is executed by a general cultural agreement and not law; and how the very role of the law itself is a subject of historic debate in America.
Reagan rewarded Bork for his willingness to fire Cox with a Supreme Court nomination. The Democrats defeated that nomination in the Senate. The Republicans stacked the court toward authoritarianism — nominating severe right wingers, manipulating Democrats to nominate centrists, then boldly blocking consideration of the Democrats’ last centrist nominee, Merrick Garland — in the aftermath. The Supreme Court itself has moved away from the protection of the rule of law and toward an honoring of the rich strong man, see the particularly stark example of the Citizens’ United decision.
The current battle of autocracy versus democracy in our system is nothing new. Are we “a nation of laws not men”? Sometimes.
Our system is being severely tested. What do you do when the President is a criminal potentially, or even probably, guilty of a crime that rises to the level of a capital offense — treason?
We live in the stream of history. 250 plus years in, and we still are deciding who we are.
Note: Historically, the terms Special Counsel and Special Prosecutor are used interchangeably.
Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas
From May 21, 2017:
It isn’t necessary for Robert Mueller to get anything more than an ethics waiver in response to a mere technicality to act as Special Counsel. The waiver has nothing to do with Mueller’s personal integrity.
I practiced as an ethics attorney. The situation Mueller has in relation to his former firm, WilmerHale is a common one. Often a lawyer who works in a large firm (or has recently worked, as is the case with Mueller) takes on a representation that conflicts with the interests of other clients of the firm. As long as the attorney did not work on the representations of those clients, and has no knowledge of the matters for which they are represented, there is no problem.
Mueller didn’t work on any of the conflicting files. The firm says so. Rosenstein wouldn’t have appointed Mueller if there was a conflict.
The Justice Department is being disingenuous by even raising this issue. This is a phony media “ethics” story. It has no substantive legal basis. They know this is going nowhere — the waiver will be granted, and the question raised had no purpose — they are just raising dishonest talking points for Trump surrogates and media shills — doing all that they can to make America stupid.
Nancy Pelosi asked for an ethics waiver for Mueller. Fine, but she should also be saying what a red herring this conflicts “issue” is. The waiver that Pelosi is asking for is of a specifically federal ethics rule that bars government lawyers from investigating clients of their former law firms in private practice — if those representations took place less than two years before the time of the investigation. THIS IS A TECHNICALITY THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MUELLER’S INTEGRITY OR ABILITY TO DO HIS JOB.
Politicians should stay close to lawyers right now and listen to them.
The battle is democracy AND the rule of law versus autocracy and criminality. It is not only important that we beat Trump. It is also important how we beat them.
They, Trump and Associates, will try anything to get their way. We have to beat them with the law. And it’s on our side — our ultimate and most effective tool.
It is no mistake that our early heroes in this fight are Yates, Comey and (in anticipation) Mueller.
They will lie, bully, try to use the law to manipulate and not achieve justice, and may resort to violence. We will investigate and prosecute.
If they illegally shut down our investigations and prosecutions — they’ve already tried and got walloped but are still standing — then we still have to keep investigating and prosecuting.
Mueller is ethically pure in this matter. Mueller stays and any attacks on his character and fitness for the job related to conflicts of interest should be met by outrage backed by facts — like free people do it in a nation that follows the rule of law.
Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas
From June 8, 2017:
Republican: Trump had a right to fire Comey. He’s his boss.
Rick Blog: It doesn’t work that way. It’s more nuanced. The Department of Justice (DOJ) — of which the FBI belongs — is unlike other Cabinet departments. It traditionally has been, at least since 1973, both a political and legal entity. In October 1973, Richard Nixon fired Attorney General Elliot Richardson and then Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus in succession when they refused to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox at Nixon’s direction as Nixon attempted to obstruct justice by aborting the Cox-led Watergate investigation. Eventually, Solicitor General Robert Bork did the dirty deed. Nixon eventually resigned because, among several other reasons, he would have been impeached and convicted in Congress for obstructing justice by firing Cox. (This of course is an assumption. No impeachment ever took place. And as we discuss below, the standard of what constitutes obstruction of justice would most likely be different in an impeachment proceeding than in a court of law.)
Attorney General Janet Reno independently chose Republican Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr who eventually advised Congress to impeach President Bill Clinton and settled criminal charges with Clinton. Our political culture has given the DOJ independence from the President’s direction particularly when it comes to investigations of the President and members of his Administration. The line between the dual political and legal natures of the DOJ has not been settled, and courts could conceivably rule that Trump had a right to fire Comey, BUT Trump’s threatening to fire a person leading an investigation of the President and/or his associates, as evidenced by Comey’s testimony could very well be seen as obstruction of justice as a legal matter because coercion, is a large element in the obstruction of justice law— as opposed to the quasi-legal matter of a political impeachment and conviction in the Senate. It is unclear whether a sitting President could be indicted with any crime, but certainly if the Special Counsel decides that he would have a case to pursue against anyone other than a President, the evidence of that case would be a ground for his suggestion to Congress for impeachment.
Federal courts have ruled that there is a distinction in situations similar to the Comey firing. It is not obstruction of justice for federal officials to fire personnel during the investigation phase of a matter. It is only obstruction of justice if the firing takes place when the matter is being tried before a court. But the key behavior by Trump constituting obstruction of justice was not the firing of Comey. It was the threatening coercion to fire him. Trump told Comey that he wanted his loyalty in order to retain his job and then repeatedly asked him to drop the Flynn investigation. After Comey persistently did not do so, Trump fired him. But Trump did not fire Comey in the same manner that Nixon fired Richardson and Ruckelshaus. Nixon gave an order and when Richardson and Ruckelshaus refused to comply, he fired them. Trump intentionally made Comey feel insecure in his job and, as mentioned above, said he wanted loyalty from Comey for him to be retained. Trump never ordered Comey to end the Flynn investigation. He tried to manipulate Comey to end the investigation on his own. Trump acted deceitfully in order to create the impression that he and Flynn were cleared after an impartial investigation that was conducted without Trump’s interference. When Comey didn’t play ball, Trump fired him. Threatening parties charged with carrying out justice is the heart of the obstruction of justice statute. This in and of itself is grounds for impeachment, but I do not believe that Special Counsel Mueller would even consider doing so. Nearly as persuasive arguments could be made for Trump’s right to make a personnel decision related to the police powers of the Executive Branch, of which Trump, of course, is the highest officer could rule the day. There is so much evidence related to not only the cover up of the crime but of the underlying substance of the crime as well, that I believe that ultimately the obstruction of justice charge will be only one count in the ultimate impeachment indictment against Trump. You, dear Republican, are laboring under the Republican delusion that the US government is like a bad business run by a tyrannical boss. We have a Constitution, sir. The President isn’t a king. Or a CEO. Executive power is vast, but it must be applied artfully. (Trump clumsily fumbled into obstruction of justice — or at least a strong argument that it occurred, and it will likely be proven that he and/or his associates have also fumbled into treason — which will be explored in later posts.)
Republican: There’s no evidence of any collusion with Russia.
Rick Blog: Wrong. There is plenty of evidence that could potentially lead to a case against Trump and Associates for treason. What does not exist yet is a case. You can’t want to stop an investigation in progress if it hasn’t completed its work and determined whether to go forward asserting the need for charges against a specific individual(s) or has determined that it uncovered insufficient evidence to press charges.
Republican: I don’t like Jim Comey.
Rick Blog: That’s irrelevant. What matters is whether or not he is a credible witness offering relevant information to the investigation.
Republican: I hate the Democrats. They are always saying that Trump is guilty.
Rick Blog: I am no defender of the Democratic Party, but the Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have gone out of their way to say that the case hasn’t been proven yet — because those statements put them in a better political position to complete their investigations. I am sure some Democrats have been less temperate in their statements, but they are not doing the key work in the matter.
Republican: Well we’ll find out. The system works.
Rick Blog: It will only work if men and women of good will follow the law and play their roles in our system of checks and balances and real facts and clear reason triumph over fake news propaganda.
Republican: I guess you’re right.
Rick Blog: Finally we have reached common ground.
Happy Comey Eve, everybody!
Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas
From June 9, 2017:
James Comey balances four interests: the law — untainted by politics or any other subjective influence, the FBI — which he views as a non-partisan implement of factual truth, justice and order, his own career — which he has carved out by fostering a reputation for competence, reliability and impeccable integrity and honesty, and the country itself — which he personally served with dedication to the furtherance of the first three interests.
Comey’s balancing of those interests explains why he made the controversial and consequential announcement regarding re-opening the Hillary Clinton email investigation eight days before Election Day 2016.
Comey didn’t trust Obama’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and when she had to recuse herself from the email investigation, Comey determined that he would deal with that investigation with no consideration of politics at all. That was good for the law, the mission of the FBI and his career. He believed for his entire adult life that service of those interests would serve the country. It didn’t work out that way at that time — at least for those of us who saw Hillary as the significantly lesser of two evils — a tainted pol versus a fascist gangster. The unintended consequence of Comey’s action, aiding in the election of Donald Trump (he must’ve believed that Clinton would win like the vast majority of the rest of us), subsequently made Comey, “slightly nauseous.”
Lynch instructed Comey to refer to the Hillary Clinton email investigation as a “matter”. “Matter” is a common legal term of art that refers to any circumstance requiring legal consideration. “Matter” is a much more benign and vague term than “investigation.” Comey saw that directive as a red flag. Comey saw politics possibly tainting the email investigation in the future. He complied with Lynch’s request. It required no breach of ethics, and when people heard the word “matter” they still assumed that Clinton was being investigated anyway. Lynch eventually recused herself from the investigation after she had a mysterious meeting with Bill Clinton for thirty minutes on an airport tarmac. The recusal put Comey in de facto charge of the email investigation with no political supervision. This led to the ill-timed (from the perspective of Democrats and those who feared a fascist Trump Administration) announcement regarding the email investigation right before the election. Comey’s decision to make that announcement was consistent with the behavior of the entirety of his career. It was made from a perspective of legal purity untainted by political considerations.
Comey said yesterday (6/8/17) that Putin is not a Democrat or a Republican. He said Putin is an opportunist — and a threat to all Americans regardless of party. Comey may ostensibly be a Republican, but he, Comey, is also at heart neither a Democrat or Republican. Comey is the Anti-Putin. He is a servant of the law and a protector of the American people.
When Trump demanded Comey’s personal loyalty to Trump and foolishly attempted to bully him into suspending the Russian investigation, Comey could have said to Trump — directly and in real time — that the conversation was inappropriate, and Comey could have strongly affirmed his intention to diligently pursue the Russia inquiry. Why didn’t he?
Because he was doing his job as an investigator. He opened a file on Trump and kept detailed notes of their interactions. He used the notes to gain evidence for a possible obstruction of justice charge and other information that could be helpful in possible substantive criminal charges related to the investigation.
He also used the notes for a release to the press which led to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller which protected the law, the FBI, Comey’s reputation and future career, and America. Comey’s pure work before his unceremonious removal from his position would be honored.
If you want to understand why Comey does what he does look at the balancing of the four interests. He is a first class lawyer of high intelligence, skill, professionalism and ethics. He is a public servant with a strong belief in government’s role in promoting Americans’ security and as an instrument of justice based upon law and truth. He is a canny careerist, who has earned a reputation of being an impartial person of high integrity and has made that his niche. Finally, he is a patriot who makes his decisions from the perspective of serving America without political partisanship.
Trump has a big problem with this guy. Republicans and Democrats can dislike him. One might question Comey’s judgment at times. But it is impossible to question his honesty and meticulous attention to detail. (Trump and his people claim Comey is a liar! Right — Comey is going to perjure himself —for what motive? The accusation, even offered in desperate defense is ridiculous and may be literally insane. Comey is the soul of credibility and Trump, is, well, Trump — an obvious liar and a master of inconsistent statements.) Comey is an unimpeachable witness — an exceedingly difficult adversary for an increasingly impeachable President.
Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas
From June 23, 2017:
Trump doesn’t have lawyers, he has propagandists. He knows he can’t win within the law, and his end game is to win in the streets.
Trump’s soap opera is a cover for a violent attack upon our lives by the Republican Congress.
Dick the Butcher said, “Kill the lawyers,” in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part II. Dick the Butcher was a follower of Jack Cade, a rebel who thought that if he disturbed law and order he could become king. The line is often taken out of context and used as a criticism of lawyers. Shakespeare was actually pointing out how dictators attempt to destroy lawyers and the law itself as a strategy to gain power.
Trump’s strategy is to kill the lawyers by slandering them with the aid of his propagandists with law degrees and the ersatz journalism of the right wing “press” like Breitbart and the New York Post, Fox News etc.
Eliminate faith in the law, eliminate the influence of the legitimate press, do large rallies and manipulate the most weak-minded among us with mass hypnosis … this is Trump’s strategy — not attempts to have winning legal arguments.
Trump believes that democracy is a fraud. He, despite his wealth, has always felt that he was an outsider — the gauche boor with money from Queens who was laughed at by the Manhattan social and financial establishment. He hates the people who laughed at him, and obsesses about their hypocrisies and crimes — some real, some imagined.
Trump is the fraud, of course. Democracy is imperfect, but it’s genius is that it doesn’t rely on one personality. Democracy stumbles and fusses and struggles. It frustrates. But somehow it reaches the collective will — and protects the rights of individuals without granting any one person or institution too much power. Trump understands none of this. He thinks that “democracy” is a system that is manipulated and that strong men exist within it, but no one calls them that. Trump thinks that dictatorship is the way of the world and talk of democracy is a scam. He actually feels that he is being honest about it. (We do have to improve our democracy after we get rid of Trump.) Trump wants to burn everything down and then take over. Ironically, he has no idea of what to do once he wins. So he rents the decision making out to Robert Mercer, Vladimir Putin, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.
We must defend the law, defend the true press, prosecute Trump, defeat the Republicans in Congress, end the sway of the right-wing propaganda machines — Breitbart, Murdoch etc. and eventually meet the army of right-wing zombies that Trump mesmerizes at his rallies and the agit-prop fascists indoctrinate online, on the radio, in newspapers and on TV.
Don’t get distracted? No. Walk and chew gum at the same time. This is a war on several fronts. (Non-violent war — my constant caveat since that crazy son of a bitch shot Scalise. Ah, another thing we have to deal with — their accusations of being violent or crazy simply because we oppose them and won’t bow to them with respect that we don’t have. That’s another thing that we have to do — protect ourselves in the clinches.)
We can do it.
Copyright Richard Thomas 2017
From December 18, 2017:
We Have Ourselves a Good Lawyer
Mueller isn’t out to get Trump or anyone else. Mueller wants to get the truth, period. Mueller’s power comes from mastery of his profession and impeccable personal ethics.
Trump has nothing to fear from Mueller. He has everything to fear from the truth.
Mueller has no motivation to nail anybody. But he also no fear of charging anyone that he can legally charge. Mueller finds the facts and knows the law and if together they make a case he prosecutes it. Mueller’s work is complex and his life is simple.
Mueller serves the rule of law.
Mueller isn’t a salesman or a politician. He doesn’t spin. Trump lies and bullies constantly in an attempt to save himself with marketing and public relations, as he has done his entire life.
Mueller just works —- quietly, skillfully, shrewdly.
Mueller is the polar opposite of Trump.
Substance and decency not show business and lies.
America should become more like Mueller. Not Democrat or Republican but hard working, intelligent, fair and decent.
That will go a long way to avoiding more Trumps and destructive Congresses.
We went this weekend from rumors that Mueller would be fired, to reports that Trump was relaxed and confident that the investigation would come to a positive outcome — for Trump.
Trump was like America this weekend —- nervous, all over the place, just trying to feel good, reading tea leaves, grasping at straws.
Mueller just kept working —- shrewdly —- and legally of course —- gathering more email evidence than Trump’s legal team knew he had obtained, leaving Trump’s legal team bleating cries of dirty pool because they had no legal argument available.
Other lawyers, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former Director of the Office of Government Ethics Walter Schaub, and even little old me and probably hundreds of lawyers like me told America (and their personal friends) to take to the streets in a peaceful demand —- not protest, an assertion of power —- exercising our power as the ultimate check and balance — if Mueller were fired, thus ending the rule of law in America and our freedom and democracy if left unchallenged by OUR power.
The lawyers tell us to be peaceful because peace comes from being knowledgeable confident and strong. If we are violent, we won’t have the control of the situation needed to win.
Leadership falls upon different types of people at different times depending on the situation. Right now, our leaders are highly ethical lawyers.
At a moment of lies and ignorance, reverence for facts looked at in the context of wide knowledge of history and the law is the antidote.
Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas
From February 28, 2018:
The Hero and the Drunk
A day of psychology. A woman courageously confronted the darkness imposed on her life by bullies. An alcoholic hit bottom only to be denied the crash he needs in order to begin recovery by opportunistic enablers. An inspiring and sad day.
Kavanaugh does not have the character, temperament or legal intelligence to be a United States Supreme Court Justice. It is not a close call.
He may sit in a black cloud on the bench and ignorance and injustice may win the day. Or not.
But it is only one day.
Dr. Blasey-Ford lived Gandhi’s quote: first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win. She won a victory in her soul and in the souls of millions of women and other oppressed people.
If we “lose” politically, we simply have to keep fighting.
When I was doing The Rick Blog I was often asked “what do we do?”
Dr. Blasey-Ford showed the way. Kavenaugh didn’t silence her. She made a great life, made herself into a great person. And when it was time to stand up for herself she did —- not for personal petty reasons, but for us all.
Kavanaugh taught us something too. I personally have no hate for Kavanaugh. I feel badly for him. He has lived a life driven by a sense of personal inadequacy. He excelled at school, said his prayers, pleased his bosses, practiced hard at sports, was nice to everyone —- and got drunk. Alcohol liberated all of his self-hatred and envy. He envied Dr. Blasey-Ford’s talent and intelligence and, most of all, her joy.
Kindness, honesty, integrity, a sense of fairness and responsibility —- living those values IS the victory. Once won everything else is just a detail —- including the composition of the Supreme Court.
We have to stand up to the Kavanaughs of the world while never forgetting their great pain.
And the very suffering which their meanness imposes upon us will transform into another type of pain —- compassion for the Kavenaughs of the world.
The best victories aren’t followed by celebrations.
Villains are too mediocre to be tragic.
And heroism happens when joy persists in the face of the mean sadness of the world.
The Kavanaughs will ultimately win when they lose to us. They’ll be forced back to self-acceptance and humanity. We have to do it for them; they are too weak. And if they win/lose a battle, it just means that we have more work to do.
Hang in there … and keep growing.
The human condition was on full display today. Heroism contesting fear —- in high school, a woman’s mind and the US Senate.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
Who Is Far More Important Than What.
No government, democracy or monarchy or autocracy, can ultimately succeed without the consent of the governed. We are now clearly in a new phase. We are entering into what will be a long and protracted period of sacrifice and suffering.
It is not that our democracy has just now been stolen from us. That happened long ago. What is new is the level of our general consciousness. Our enemies have become much more bold in their subjugation of us. They have taught us their intentions. This shamelessness and arrogance will be their ultimate undoing.
But the challenge to us in the face of their hubris is great. The enemy will win many battles. We must endure.
The theaters of the current war are not only on Wall Street, and in Washington, D.C. and Hollywood. The war is where we work, where we live, in our schools, our hospitals — our lives.
The war is being fought, ultimately, not in the political arena, but rather in the realms of the moral and existential.
The war is not only with other people, but is primarily fought within our own minds, hearts and souls.
I want my writing to be about something more than the controversy of the moment — unless we view the entire sweep of all time as one moment — because that is the reality.
The persons, places, cases and controversies of the day are metaphors. They resonate with us, cheer or upset us, because they mirror our own souls. What we call abstract is what is real, and what we define ourselves by is an illusion.
The current public drama roiling the nation is a reminder of an important truth. Who we are is more important that what we achieve. To be a Supreme Court Justice or captain of the football team has no meaning if you are a rapist.
Our political trials scream a needed direction to all but the blessed best of us. We need to put our major effort into who we are, and understand that what we do are merely the tasks of life and not life itself.
Judge Kavanaugh answered accusations of sexual abuse with a recitation of his resume.
Talk about irrelevant.
He is a fool but he is a representative one.
When I was younger I was elated by my perceived successes, and frustrated and ashamed by my perceived failures. Now I spend more time regretting the moments when I have been mean or insensitive or selfish. I have found a new shame that serves my humility instead of my pride.
I teach and write and take out the garbage. Those are tasks, jobs. They do not identify me.
Who is far more important than what.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
Condescension, Ridicule and Silencing an Individual Is Violence
Trump ridiculed Dr. Blasey-Ford in Mississippi tonight. She was assaulted again.
Trump and anyone who cheers him, or ignores him or apologizes for him, participates in immorality.
A pundit said today that the Trump family’s decades of tax fraud and larceny from their tenants was “an aspect of capitalism that we aren’t proud of.”
Capitalism has no aspect to be proud of. Some great writer said that all great wealth is founded on a crime.
Decent people live their lives making adjustments to the lust for money and power of others. They compromise in order to survive. They stand up to the bullies when they can no longer endure the pain. They assert their value as persons and chastise the capitalists. The capitalists make them suffer.
The most decent do not strike the mocking knuckle dragging economic royalists back. They free themselves on the cross of suffering.
And they create something new.
Dr. Blasey-Ford, a kind, brilliant woman was assaulted tonight.
Because she is winning.
Her focus is not on defeating her enemies. Rather she is engaged in creating a new world.
Humility is stronger than pride.
Humility is stronger than power.
Gentleness is stronger than violence.
Hard truths are stronger than attractive lies.
Trump and his accomplices are drowning in their swamp of sensation. They fill themselves with the rush of claims of false superiority buoyed by their ill -gotten bank accounts and licenses to rape —- or their pathetic idolatry of their greedy rapist heroes if they sit in the cheap seats.
Excellence of mind, heart and spirit are their own rewards. See the beautiful Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford.
And Trump, Kavanaugh and everyone who can’t recognize what Trump and Kavanaugh are, live in hell. They just don’t know it yet.
Evil ultimately destroys itself. And when Trump and Kavanaugh destroy themselves —- and they will —- Dr. Christine Blasey- Ford will be among the first in line to forgive and help them.
First they ignore you.
Then they laugh at you.
Then they fight you.
Then you win.
Christ on the cross.
Hitler in the bunker.
Two deaths. Different stories.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
I never went along with authority
Not because I’m rebellious
Or hungry for power
I never went along with authority
Of the boss or the group
I never went along with authority
Is not true.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
Beyond Chastisement and Reason: Humility
The American Story begins a new chapter.
I have written in defense of anger as a tool in our struggle with Trump, his supporters and their embrace of anti-values which have always been a dark aspect of the American character and the nature of mankind. I realize now that I advocated and practiced a particular type of anger — the anger of chastisement.
Chastisement is a hopeful anger. It is a plea and a purposeful attempt to shock, in the hope that a person, or in this case people, would wake up to their moral nature.
Chastisement is ineffective with a person or people who have lost their ability to feel shame. We are dealing with antagonists who are beyond shame. This is clear to me now.
Conservatives who have opposed Trump until today, are now applauding Trump’s ability to get the ideological Supreme Court that they have desired for generations. Their ruthlessness in their pursuit of getting their way reveals them not to be mere political opponents. They are radicals who, whether they know it or not, are interested in subjugating our self-determination and sacrificing our lives on an altar of authoritarianism and greed. We have seen this movie before, most recently in the George W. Bush administration, and this sequel has more gruesome effects.
Ideology — not only conservative ideology — is beyond reason. It is a belief in a fantasy world view that leads to forcing that world view upon others, and not applying reason and compassion in the care of the world as it is. Ideology of any kind is rationalization for the pursuit of power over others. Ideology is the hymnal of the church of domination.
All radicals, including the conservative ideologues blighting us at the moment, are beyond persuasion. Any attempt to reason with them is futile. I knew this long before I recently realized that chastisement of our radical brothers and sisters was a non-starter.
To argue with conservatives is pointless.
“We’re a republic not a democracy.” “The Bible needs no interpretation.” “An originalist view of the Constitution.” “Rich people are smarter than people with less means. (Antonin Scalia).” These are not points of view to be debated. They are slogans of oppression.
So what now?
Kavanaugh will be confirmed. We lost another battle.
Sidebar: I paused writing to listen to Senator Susan Collins’ articulate speech that sealed the deal for Kavanaugh. The speech is illustrative of what I am saying here.
Collins proved my point re: the lack of conservative reason. The crux of her faux argument was that Kavanaugh was a good man and judge, and that the confirmation process denied him due process. She didn’t mention that Dr. Blasey-Ford was also denied due process. An artificial time limit restricted the length of the hearing so that it could only be a superficial consideration Ford’s allegation. The FBI investigation was truncated and incomplete. The confirmation process was designed to obfuscate clear consideration of Kavanaugh’s fitness to sit on the Supreme Court. That modus operandi was just extended to Dr. Ford’s sexual assault allegations.
Collins said nothing about Kavanaugh’s lack of candor and poor judicial temperament during the hearings.
She made a plea for national unity while defending Kavanaugh, who inappropriately demonstrated partisanship as a nominee.
Collins made a partisan plea against partisanship. She condemned the strong partisan bias of Democrats, and didn’t discuss the sins in the same regard of her Republican Party.
In 2018, sly electioneering passes as a profile in courage.
Kavanaugh will be a reliable vote on the Supreme Court supporting immoral right-wing causes.
Democratic Senator Hirono said that she felt Kavanaugh was a person of poor character because of his judicial decisions and policy positions. Hirono said that the callousness of Kavanaugh’s public record made her believe that was capable of bullying rape.
Hirono is right. Her words weren’t as polished as Susan Collins’ words, but they are based on reason — whereas Collins’ words were a manipulation to justify getting her own way, perhaps even a self-manipulation. Kavanaugh attempted rape on Dr. Ford — of course I believe her — the mistaken identity argument is laughable when viewed in any informed way regarding the way human memory functions in relation to trauma — and he is actually raping us with his biases against reproductive rights and in favor of authoritarian government and unfettered greed. The dark side of our culture likes to separate our personal and public lives. It’s just business. But there is no line of demarcation between personal and public life. We only have our lives — unities. If we are mean at the office, we will be mean at a party. Dr. Ford described Kavanaugh as an arrogant, entitled bully who got pleasure from dominating a weaker person. His public record makes the same description. End of Sidebar.
Yes, we lost the Kavanaugh battle; but our defeats are useful to us if we learn from them.
What I have learned has been mentioned in previous writing, and I will expand upon that realization here.
Our survival and salvation hinges on our capacity for humility.
The Process of Humility
- We live our lives. We love and work. That’s what we are about. We pursue happiness and don’t want enemies. We aren’t thinking about revolution or resistance or taking power. We don’t go looking for trouble.
- With innocent simplicity and purity we go about our affairs and others notice and connect with us. We become part of one or more communities. The individual connects to the social.
- We work without concern for rewards of fame, power or glory from our society. We do positive things. We finish what we start.
- We don’t go into hiding however. We accept needed and natural recognition from society not because of personal ambition. Humble love and work evolves into leadership. Self-development leads to social development. We must be open to this. Recognition that results from this process doesn’t lead to it’s antithesis — self-aggrandizement. We see that we need such recognition to reach our greatest effectiveness — our highest capacity for love and excellence.
- We are then, quite naturally, attacked by those who envy our effectiveness and want the trappings of our soulful power. We must chastise our opponents in order to defend our work and what we love, and avoid self-betrayal.
- This is where we are today: We don’t carry the process of chastisement too far. We don’t fixate on destroying our opponents. We don’t have to win all of the time. We maintain our authenticity and integrity. We accept and understand that challenges are the nature of life, and that each challenge is an opportunity to become more highly conscious of who we are. Our victory is in who we are. At times we are in charge. At other times we present the alternative when darker forces push claim sovereignty over us. We never bow. We create when we can and refuse to participate in darkness. We live in truth. We live with integrity, refusing to betray the truth. We are free of fear and desire, sadness and elation, success and failure. We freely embrace joy, and freely embrace suffering when necessary in defense of that joy. That freedom improves life for all, in all of life’s details, sometimes in the short term, and always in the long arc of history. It is fashionable to speak of the failure of our institutions, but no institution can dictate a false reality to us, including the Supreme Court. We answer to the higher authority of our heart and conscience. Our understanding will eventually save our institutions too — including the Supreme Court.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
From November 14, 2018:
11/14/18: “Big Law Killed My Husband”
I read an article on LinkedIn written by the widow of a junior partner at Sidley and Austin who committed suicide, “Big Law Killed My Husband.”
Big Law did not kill her husband. He killed himself.
The dead lawyer was a bankruptcy attorney who apparently messed up the big American Mattress bankruptcy matter. There were extenuating circumstances. His supervising partner left the firm. A senior associate whose help he heavily relied upon also left. The dead lawyer was overwhelmed.
The widow says that her husband greatly feared failure. He apparently would rather be dead than live with that shame.
Big Law did not kill her husband. He killed himself. He should have talked to me. I would have told him that he had already failed by wasting his life working on the American Mattress bankruptcy matter. The widow says he was a very kind and intelligent man. I believe it. A kind and intelligent man shouldn’t waste his time working for and with assholes.
Some rich pricks didn’t get the money that they wanted. Who gives a shit? That’s failure? I think the dead lawyer subconsciously wanted to “fail” his masters, and his deep lack of confidence that also mastered him. He wanted out.
Sidley and Austin held a memorial event for the dead lawyer. Few of the Sidley attorneys attended. Greed makes people sub-human. The need to revere the dead is ignored. The insane desire to display the trappings of what is only thought to be “success” by ignorant people creates a destruction of personhood.
The dead lawyer was a human being in an inhuman situation. He didn’t need to kill himself. He needed to get another job.
Most of the attendees at the dead lawyer’s memorial were staff employees. They said that he was the only lawyer in the firm who was nice to them. That is the tragedy here. The dead lawyer could have been somebody.
I have committed suicide several times in my life. The trick with failure is to not identify with it. Every time that I have failed, I have grown. Failure isn’t pleasant — growing pains.
When I was 49 years old, I was flat on my ass. I existed in a tiny apartment in the Uptown neighborhood in Chicago before it began to be gentrified. I was out of work and went on one humiliating job interview after another. Friends and family shamed me mercilessly. Thankfully, I responded angrily to their criticism. I wasn’t free enough not to be conflicted, but I was strong enough to know that their way wasn’t mine.
I had one asset, a law degree that I received 25 years earlier. I never wanted to be a lawyer. I went to law school to please my parents. When I was in my 30s I burned my law diploma in my parents’ backyard.
They were right, however. I needed something to fall back on. I had never sat for the bar after my law school graduation in 1981. As a last resort, I took the bar in 2005.
I passed. I scored in the 88th percentile on the practice exam before the test. (The Bar Examiners don’t tell you your score on the actual test.) I knew that I passed. I liked it. I was good at it.
I got a job at a corporate law firm — a couple of tiers below the prestige of Sidley and Austin. Some of the lawyers at that firm were great people and lawyers. I admire good lawyers. They really are people of fine practical intelligence who serve important values of justice, equality and democracy. I am not really one of them. I am by nature a writer and a teacher. A writer and a teacher should do a lot of things, have a lot of jobs — explore the world. I am glad that I met these good lawyers.
The corporate firm also had assholes worthy of Sidley and Austin. I’m glad that I met them too. Then there was another tier of half-humans who struggled between pleasing the assholes and being a person. This group was less successful. If you want to make it as an asshole, you really have to commit.
I hated that job, lost it and was out of work again for a while. I eventually got a job in government service. I failed up. This job was better, but not right. I got to do administrative trials and learned a lot that I later applied to my teaching. The physical office of the agency was clean and functional without the ostentation of the corporate firm which was preoccupied with presenting a good impression of the ignorant vision of success. The salaries were just that too, not an opportunity for wealth. There were many good lawyers working at the agency.
But there was also a pettiness, and a bureaucratic smallness about the place. Bean counting led to small injustices. Many people there were insecure, and insecurity leads to a disrespectful toxicity in human relationships. I had the experience of working with free and creative people when I was young, and I just couldn’t stomach the opposite atmosphere.
So I quit. I started teaching and writing. My contract wasn’t renewed at UIC, as I have written about previously in great detail. Then I looked for a job in a better school that would be more supportive of the methods that I developed at UIC, I became way too hip for that room. I got that job only to have it fall through with a change of management.
And here I am. Trying to figure out how to look for something that you can’t search for.
The widow is wrong to blame Sidley and Austin. We are all wrong to blame anybody. The fault lies not within the stars but in ourselves.
Thank God for our faults. If we didn’t fuck up, we would never grow up. I don’t write because I am a wise man. I write because I am not wise.
There is no such thing as success. There is no such thing as security. There is only oneself and the world — two mysteries to be engaged in and be contemplated.
You build a foundation from one failure to prepare you for the next.
This blog has had periods, just like Picasso’s — that’s not grandiose, he never fully knew what he was doing either.
I started the blog with the idea of integrating all the aspects of my personality: the lawyer, the teacher, the comedian and whatever else. I didn’t want to act in a limited way the way I did in every job that I ever had. I wanted to be analytical in one paragraph and silly in the next.
Then Trump took his escalator ride to hell and I presciently wrote about that. I was an American Studies major in college and that background, plus my law experience and my experience as a social satirist emerged.
In December 2017, my Trump period ended. I said what I had to say. Everyone sees what the Trump version of America is now. Enough said. There is a lot more that I have to say about America in general. Later.
In October 2018, I began my period of processing what happened at UIC, (and by extension what happened at all of my jobs). Each experience taught me something about my life before painfully ending. The jobs died, not me.
On November 9, 2018, that processing period ended. The Trump period was an outward one. I did stage shows and talked to a lot of people. The processing period was inward.
Now I turn outward again.
There is a promotional video selling the University of Notre Dame, my alma mater, that they show during the televised football games. The video says that Notre Dame does three things: shows you who you are, what you can do and where you belong. That’s a false marketing claim. Notre Dame does no such thing. I have to do it for myself.
I know who I am — what makes me deeply happy, what pisses me off. I know what I am good at. I’m a good writer and teacher. I have always been where I belonged, until I wasn’t. I have to figure out how to look for that again — money, honor to my spirit and service to others.
I don’t know how to classify this current blog period yet. The titles don’t arrive until the period is over.
I feel bad for the youngish couple who never saw life beyond Big Law. Fear of failure, suicide and blame are not the way to go.
Learning how to look.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
From May 2, 2019:
5/1/19: William Barr Inside the Actor’s Studio
I have heard a few great actors tell James Lipton “Inside the Actor’s Studio” —
Digression One: (Is that show still on? I stopped watching after Lipton interviewed Billy Joel. Before that I pretty much enjoyed it. I like listening to actors talk about acting — usually more than I like watching them act. Actors — good ones — are part practical philosophers. Freed from all the abstraction, they are experts on how and why people behave. I like it when they drop the artifice of “creating a character “, and they just talk about character. Lipton is, Digression Two: was? is he dead? retired? still in business? My life is just one moment —a flurry of passing moments rolled into one — usually I’m a retiring Emily Dickinson living a resonant life of observing small and distant things like a talk show hosted by an acting teacher — sometimes I perform acts of great heroism on the edge of danger — defiance, fierce independence — moments of power and failure, ecstatic joy, rage and frustration, sometimes moments of listening to Barr on MSNBC while doing quiet, tedious, necessary and uncertain work unrelated, or is it Minor Digression Two Point Five: )
I have heard a few great actors tell James Lipton “Inside the Actor’s Studio” that they never play villains as villains. “Villains don’t think they are villains. They think they are good people doing right.”
I wrote this in a piece about Barr recently:
In the process of writing this blog, I’ve been surprised interacting with more than a few people who really don’t care about morality at all. I used to think that people engaged in immorality, but then lied to themselves about it in order to justify taking what they wanted. I’ve been finding that more people than I thought just don’t care about what is right and wrong. I think Barr is in that category. He only believes in power.
I still think that. But I also believe that people lie to themselves to justify their dirty deeds.
I contradict myself. I am a multitude.
Lipton: Mr. Barr, how did you find the motivation to play Trump’s Attorney General, a lawyer who hates the rule of law, a Constitutional officer who hates the Constitution, a politician who hates the voters, a man of words who misuses words and distorts their meaning, an advocate who hates discussion and favors tyranny, a Catholic who disdains the Church’s teachings on social justice, a proud man who debases himself to be the lackey of a man who is his intellectual inferior, a man of good reputation who chooses infamy?
Barr: Silence. Cleared throat. Um, well — when I was a young lawyer, my father, a patrician Republican academic and writer who was with the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) during WW II, got me a job as an attorney for the CIA in the mid-seventies. It was after Nixon was unfairly run out of the White House. I was supposed to be a lawyer for the owners — special, better than others. It was my birthright. But when I got to the CIA, we couldn’t do anything without getting permission from Congress. The country was being run by people who didn’t have a right to run it. All of this frustrated and enraged me.
Lipton: Your character showed annoyance at times, and was condescending, but you always seemed in control. Rage didn’t seem to be in your repertoire.
Barr: Oh no. Demonstrated rage is not in my repertoire. Visible rage is too transparent. It makes one vulnerable. Patience, stealth — these are the virtues of vengeance.
Lipton: That sounds so difficult.
Barr: It is very hard to do. But that’s my job.
Lipton: But what was your motivation? I want to know even more since it took so much effort.
Barr. Nixon with David Frost.
Barr: Yes. Gosh, James, you’re good. You are making me reveal my secrets.
Lipton: Oh don’t stop now.
Barr. (Pause). OK. Nixon told Frost, “It’s not a crime if the President does it.”
Barr: That was the answer. It was my mission in life to be a savior of bad Presidents, and the life and class that my father created for me to be an important person in. I would not be a President — I would save the bad ones. That would save my tribe’s control of the world. I’m a different type of white nationalist. Nothing crude like Charlottesville. I would do the real damage — not with Tiki torches — but in the corridors of power.
Lipton: You felt justified?
Barr: Oh yes. Being Trump’s Attorney General was the role of a lifetime.
Lipton: You hate the rule of law?
Barr: Oh yes. We are bigger than the law.
Lipton: You hate the Constitution?
Barr: I hate people.
Lipton: How can you misuse words and distort their meaning? Your father was a writer. You are a lawyer.
Barr: I am poet of vengeance. I use words to fight a war of obfuscation for myself and my people.
Lipton: You see yourself as a hero? A patriot of sorts?
Barr: Those are your words. I am a humble lawyer. You want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.
Lipton: You abandon your Church’s teachings? You disdain social justice?
Barr: Justice or chaos? — democracy, religion — simple things for simple people. We built the pyramids.
Lipton: What does that mean?
Barr gives a patronizing grin and stares at Lipton.
Lipton, changing the subject: How do you prostitute yourself to Trump, a man who is your intellectual inferior?
Barr: At first I thought he was an idiot, and that I would get my way in many things. But he prevailed. And I grew to admire him. Kind of like in “Team of Rivals.”
Lipton: You compare him to Lincoln?
Barr: He emancipated our power. There is no virtue in shame. Life is war, and he was a great general.
Lipton: OK, now it is time for our questionnaire, originated on French television by the great Bernard Pivot:
What is your favorite word?
Barr: It’s two words actually — no collusion.
Lipton: What is your least favorite word?
Lipton: What turns you on?
Barr: A daydream of Margaret Thatcher in a nightie.
Lipton: What turns you off?
Barr: The minimum wage.
Lipton: What sound or noise do you love?
Barr: A threatening mob chanting “Lock her up!”
Lipton: What sound or noise do you hate?
Lipton: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Lipton: Isn’t that what you do?
Barr: You got me, I guess.
Lipton: What’s your favorite curse word?
Lipton: What profession would you not like to do?
Barr: Public servant.
Lipton: If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say to you at the pearly gates?
Barr: I’m betting it doesn’t exist.
Lipton: And now we will turn to our students here at the Actors’ Studio for a question and answer session.
But by this time all of the students who were in the audience have left.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
From May 30, 2019:
5/30/19: The Two Roberts: Mueller and De Niro Quotients
The news justified my life and my life’s work yesterday. I’m a lawyer and an actor, or a lawyer and an actor, depending on the situation.
All writing is autobiography. What else could it be?
Robert De Niro implored Robert Mueller to “get out of his comfort zone” and to speak to the American people about his report. De Niro rightly pointed out that Mueller’s report was written for lawyers and legislators. In so many words, De Niro said the technical language of the report had to be popularized for the uninitiated population that has to make a democratic determination about the fate of the Trump Presidency. When impeachment is described as a political process, pundits are just saying that it is up to the American people. The American people have to understand what happened related to the Russian interference in the 2016 election, and most of them aren’t “lawyers and legislators.”
Mueller is nothing if not a diligent worker. De Niro informed him that he was ignoring part of his job. Mueller has to connect his work to the people that he wrote it for. Like many professionals of his generation, Mueller discounts the human touch in their work. Some of those older professionals see the arts as the toy department, and undignified. They also think that “communication strategies” are manipulations that sully the non-political and objective basis of their work.
The old school professionals have good reason for their skepticism of the arts.
Most ad men and politicians use the crafts developed by writers, actors, singers, visual artists etc. to sell. Professionals like Mueller (and all professionals should be like Mueller — dedicated to the truth and the meticulous execution of the respective tasks of their professions) are not salesmen. They aren’t trying to get you to buy something. They are trying to reveal a situation to you, and perhaps suggest next steps or solutions.
Mueller wrote his report with the spirit of a lawyer consulting with his client. He had no motivation to make the client’s decisions for him. He just wants the client to know the full extent of what she is facing, and the full range of her options.
Sometimes a lawyer will advise a course of action to a client after interviewing the client and discovering her needs. In Mueller’s case, the law restricted him from offering such opinions. So he simply told Congress that further options in the prosecution of a matter involving Trump and Russia belong to them. But Mueller never really spoke to his ultimate client, the American people.
What De Niro is asking Mueller to do is very difficult. It’s an ethical minefield. There is always a danger of diluting the intrinsic value of substantive material by what is charitably referred to as “humanizing” and what is more coldly and often accurately described as “dumbing down.”
Actors need more Mueller too. The best actors, in my estimation, are the ones who also have, and have had, lives away from the theater — actors who study other things, work other jobs, pursue other interests, and have a commitment to personal relationships away from their work with all of the attendant joys and problems …
Actors who only know the theater really don’t know anything. The theater is like life. It has no meaning. The artists bring meaning to the stage. The theater is famously called “the empty space.” It remains empty when populated by empty people, and is filled when people come to it full — full of human experience served by technical stagecraft, and that is never merely in service to that craft.
Here are some applications of De Niro/Mueller analysis using some people in a frame of reference most of us know.
Recent Presidents De Niro and Mueller Quotients
John F. Kennedy was a writer and historian. His wife, Jackie understood literature, art and culture. An elevating wit and intelligence was a hallmark of White House press conferences. Kennedy gets a very high De Niro quotient. His understanding of writing and the arts informed his way of communicating with the American people. He didn’t talk down to us. His arc of idealism was expressed in his substantive agenda — racial justice, a man on the moon, ending the arms race … His presidency was tragically and abruptly ended and we are denied the record to see the execution of the tasks of his dreams, so Kennedy gets an incomplete Mueller quotient, but trending high.
Lyndon Baines Johnson has one of the highest Mueller quotients of all of our Presidents, with demerits for lack of honesty and integrity offset by off-the-chart marks for technical skill. He was very well trained for the work of the Presidency from his entire life biography — most notably his time as Senate Majority Leader. LBJ passed huge pieces of legislation — the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare and much, much more. He was a master of the substance of the job. His great Achilles heel, the disastrous war in Viet Nam, was in part due to LBJ’s weak De Niro quotient. LBJ was seen as a liar by many Americans. This happened because he lied to them about what he was doing in Viet Nam, and about its human costs. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis used his high De Niro quotient to identify with the fear of the American people and overruled the cold technical substance of the generals of the military industrial complex. LBJ sided with the pros — “the best and the brightest” and betrayed his own biography and heart and his sympathies for ordinary Americans. Strangely, Johnson, a man who came from very humble beginnings, didn’t know how to talk to “folks” about war. He could only relate to the generals, men of “accomplishment” that now look less distinguished later in the arc of history. Johnson’s tragedy was that he loved the people — and his domestic policy achievements show great action showing that love, but he couldn’t talk to them because he ultimately didn’t trust them. A politician’s weakness is demonstrated by how much he lies. A great politician, for example, “Honest Abe” Lincoln can talk truthfully to the people about complex and tough topics. So can great actors. The great are blessed with the experience of knowing men’s higher angels. Mueller is scrupulously honest. He is a Shakespearean character. Professionals need more than integrity. They need to be able to communicate the products of that integrity. They don’t need to only be Shakespearean characters of rectitude. They also need to be Shakespeare himself — understanding their own and other people’s motivations, the effects of the pursuit of those motives, and how to tell stories that explain reality and lead to higher consciousness and more effective action. Professionals have to know that higher consciousness in themselves, their clients and society in general is not only possible, but that the raising of that consciousness is their ultimate job and purpose.
Nixon scores very high on Mueller substantive skill, — he was very intelligent and competent lawyer and public official, scores abysmally on Mueller character skills, and was tortured and inept on all De Niro skills. Nixon played sentimental piano and spit out vulgarities when frustrated and behind closed doors. In other words, he was a typically mid-Century middle-class white American bourgeoise man, and a lousy artist. He was a good advertising executive, however. (Advertising sucks.) Nixon’s dishonest manipulative communication style affected the quality of his substantive work, and ultimately ended that work. “Cover up” is a synonym for “lie.” The De Niro quotient is ultimately simple to understand if not to achieve. Be honest and connect. Mueller’s integrity is not required only for the substantive side of work. It is the essence of the De Niro side as well.
Carter had extremely high Mueller and De Niro quotients — a nuclear engineer, poet and politician. Of course, he was punished for it politically. But my work here is not to teach success, if success is defined by popularity. Great leaders play the long game. Carter has led a life of substantive achievement in public affairs, and transforming consciousness through his writing and biography. Carter has not lived a life in art. Carter’s life is art. Sometimes it’s the audience that fails. When Carter gave a truthful speech to the American people, telling them that they were depressed, self-involved and suffering from a “malaise,” his chances of re-election ended. The crowd chose escapism and entertainment … they chose …
Reagan was a better actor, when given the right script and director, than he is often given credit for. And his letter telling the people of his descent into Alzheimer’s is quite beautiful and poetic. He also was better substantively at the tasks of government than he is often given credit for. He was intelligently engaged on the issues as governor of California, and the subsequent period before he was President, and up to the day he was shot. He was an intelligent man (that I disagreed with). He was famously “The Great Communicator.” I would give Reagan high marks on both the De Niro and Mueller scales, but for one major blind spot. Reagan was the son of an alcoholic father. On one painful occasion, he had to help his father who had passed out in the snow in front of their house for all the neighbors to see. Reagan was sunny and optimistic by nature, and possessed by a genial ambition. The way Reagan learned to deal with darkness at a very young age was to deny its existence. That helped him possess a handsome, light quality that won him jobs as a minor league radio play-by-play man, and a Hollywood male ingenue contract player. It also helped him possess a callous quality that denied the existence of homelessness, the profiteering of the military-industrial complex, the hardships of poverty, the suffering of drug addiction, the scourge of AIDS, and the brutality of unregulated markets. Reagan was a proud promoter of American virtues — virtues that by the end of his administration had practically disappeared.
George H. W. Bush
Poppy Bush was the President who culturally most resembled Mueller, but did not share Mueller’s integrity. Bush’s fatal flaw was his need to win. It led him to use the Willie Horton ad in the 1988 campaign which lacked De Niro’s integrity and stoked a racism that Bush didn’t personally feel but was willing to use to get votes. Bush hired men like Cheney and Barr who have high substantive Mueller scores, zero Mueller integrity and zero De Niro scores, and operate to enrich the powerful with cold indifference to the welfare of the rest of us. Bush thought De Niro concerns were beneath him. He knew he lacked integrity in order to gain power, and pathetically tried to compensate for that by writing nice thank you notes.
A potentially great artist who settled for a career in sales. A man of tremendous substantive Mueller ability —- and Mueller integrity as related to a drive to be highly competent —- who denigrated it all by chasing after immature and superficial things. Great potential that devolved into mediocrity because of his shallow desires. Very high in both Mueller and De Niro ability, Clinton threw way too much of it away.
George W. Bush
A disaster. Failing grades on both the Mueller and De Niro scales. He didn’t win the office. He was there as a legacy, a byproduct of family ties and big money. Tough to evaluate from the point of view of professionalism or democracy because neither was operative during his Presidency.
Obama scores high on both the Mueller and De Niro scales. He was a lot like Kennedy in many ways, but represented a cultural de-evolution since Kennedy. He could inspire great personal growth in others, and effectuate substantive change, but in a corporate way that never reached the level of poetry. The greatest De Niro leaders — the Lincolns and Kennedys — raise the people up in an existential way. Obama didn’t do that. Obama was sometimes handled by his team and backers, and it led to awful results — i. e. his horrible trip to Flint in response to the water crisis. He wasn’t really the transformational leader that he promised to be. But he did faithfully execute the laws of the United States, and honored our national values in word and many of his deeds. Obama executed politics, the art of the possible, but too often assessed possibility to be more limited than it is.
I am not reviewing Trump here. He is not legitimately the President. He is the type major problem that Muellers and De Niros deal with.
I did not write this piece for marketing purposes. But I want to share here the link to my website. It describes my work in great detail. I work at the point where Mueller and De Niro intersect.
Check out all of the tabs for the whole story. Everyone can work to develop their Mueller and De Niro quotients (my term of art in this piece — I generally call it Ethical Presence TM — which is a trademarked phrase.)
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
From December 2, 2019:
12/2/19: Jack Lemmon, Adam Schiff and the American Character (I’m an American)
I have a free moment. I don’t know if it is a temporary respite, or a permanent state.
I don’t care what anyone thinks of me.
I understand my past,
all transgressions against me are forgiven,
all of my life choices bringing me to this moment are clear.
I suffer no confusion.
I harbor no regrets.
I am as sensitive as I was on Thanksgiving Day,
but I no longer suffer
from the memory
of long gone
I have let it go.
I’m not conflicted in any way.
I accept myself,
and the world,
and other people
as they are.
I have no illusions.
My mind is well ordered —
everything and everyone is in their proper place.
Ogres have turned into the topography of life.
They are no longer adversaries,
they are just mountains,
and raging rivers
that I have traversed
Ogres have a beauty this evening,
as all natural things do.
I don’t fear them,
or hate them
or need them.
Pain seems to be history
and the future a mystery
as I sail on a lovely calm moonlit evening towards an inviting horizon,
secure that the world is round.
Thanksgiving Day was a day of furor and frustration that I spent alone
in order to protect myself from imagined insult,
and to not spoil anyone’s dinner.
I don’t know why I was so upset.
My mind was a roulette wheel —
no check that — a juke box
blaring a medley of bad thematically related memories of
places and things.
I roared with pain, employing mostly silent screams
as I simultaneously enjoyed a movie,
and a drive up Chicago’s north lakeshore
and a very good roast beef sandwich.
What an odd state I was in —
blissful serene pleasure listened to frustration persistently knocking on my door.
I was a very happy baby and I still am.
Conflict is a figment of my imagination.
My conflict is all nurture and no nature.
I can watch myself feel badly. It kind of interests me.
I always get upset when I am undergoing a change.
Each transformation is accompanied by an anger or frustration related to my sense of loss,
even when the out with the old and in with the new
is an improvement,
and in my case it always is.
I’m an American.
Freed from any reflection on myself,
my mind turns to …
what other place could I be?
My immigrant parents chose this place for me.
I’ve never chosen another
and would not do so
if I had the chance.
was such an American actor
in comedies and dramas
losers struggling to succeed
pulled by the anti-morality of the rat race
and the biological reality of the conscience
of the human race
America nobly claims to be the best hope for all humanity
with comic bravado
and tragic consequences
ordinary Joes and Josephines
willing ourselves to magnificent triumphs
and colossal disasters
the cake and eat it too country
believing we can have the rainbow
and the pot of gold.
Lemmon, that American actor
Ensign Pulver hiding from the authoritarian power of a petty man
finally inspired by the martyrdom of a good man
to stand up to that false power,
Jack Lemmon as
An alcoholic deciding he’s had enough
the integrity to lose his equally alcoholic wife
in order to gain sanity and sobriety,
Jack Lemmon as
a man reeling from divorce
saving himself with the help of a sloppy friend
and saving the friend in the process,
Jack Lemmon as
a real estate salesman desperate for a good lead
pathetic in his inept attempts to lie to get it
begging for mercy
from an unconcerned and heartless world
personified by an angry capitalist avenger —
the manager of a sales office,
Jack Lemmon as
who like most Lemmon characters was far from pure
(who like all Americans are far from pure
our Bibles and our flags
give us false confidence …
“the greatest country in the world”
is an aspiration
never an actuality
a contest of free will
a cartoon angel on our shoulder
while a demon seduces and bullies us
modulating his volume
in our other ear)
(Repeat) Jack Lemmon as an entrepreneur,
who energetically created something of value
cutting corners along the way
but also loving what he was doing
collapsing into despair
and resorting to arson
burning down all that he built
believing that he and America died,
such hope in that bleak movie —
Save the Tiger
The director, John G. Avildsen, also did Rocky
which was about redemption
and was much more popular
but real redemption is found in our despair
not in our resolve to self-improvement
not in moral victories with Apollo Creed
but in our defeats
in the death of our illusions
not the conquering of that we couldn’t grasp before
but the embrace of something new —
a new perspective
we must die to the world and come to birth from within —
America, the most materialistic place on earth
and the most spiritual.
To be an American is to face the existential question
Jack Lemmon as
a Mid-western businessman
looking for his missing son
in a South American dictatorship
and allowing his love for that son
make him renounce his previous naive belief
in American goodness and innocence.
Jack Lemmon was the bard of the dark side of the American Dream,
a poet of the unhappiness that accompanies
the pursuit of happiness.
My current favorite of Lemmon’s characterizations
is in Billy Wilder’s 1960 film
which I watched again on the Saturday night
after my Thanksgiving furies.
A very junior man
in a large insurance
lends out the key to his apartment
to senior executives
in an absent-minded strategy to get ahead.
Again, Lemmon is far from pure,
but he doesn’t play the role as a cynical climber.
He plays a nice guy
really too nice to compete up the corporate ladder
a weak man
who by nature will accommodate other people
whether he believes what they are doing is right or not.
choose love over success
he loses the job
and gets the girl
who was fighting the same battle.
It is to America’s credit
that Jack Lemmon was so popular.
Most people would choose love over winning
eight days a week
and most people go through similar struggles.
There are unrepentant winners
who are unmoved
Winner and user are synonyms in America.
Users are unmoved
by the suffering of their victims
Users (winners) are the walking dead
Ill-equipped to give life meaning
having as little regard for themselves as they do for other people
distracted by their scorecards …
tallying their scorecards
in a region of hell
that they call
Jack Lemmon’s performances were so often
the best performances weren’t sentimental
in his best performances he was far from a hero
he was nothing maudlin like a hero
he was that much more interesting persona
a human being.
Jack Lemmon loved golf
and he lost every time.
Maybe happiness isn’t something to pursue
might just be something to follow.
I am glad the Libertarian Cubs finally won a World Series a couple of years ago
but the lovable losers
were the superior work of art —
when fat unemployed men
watched all of the losses
in sagging lawn chairs
on yet-to-be-monetized roof tops.
Which brings us to Adam Schiff
built an elegant
to impeach a pretender President
who most likely will never be convicted
by a corrupt Senate,
America seems less important to the Senatorial winners
than the tallies on their American scorecards
Schiff stood up
for right not might
for truth not lies
not emotional manipulation
undistracted by catcalls and attacks
simply doing his duty.
We all have to get over ourselves
as Jack Lemmon’s characters have done time and time and again
and stand up for what we know is right
what we were born knowing is right
what we love
as Lemmon usually did by the final scene
and Schiff did when circumstances asked him to do so.
A friend said that I was both lucky and unlucky to be so introspective.
We should all be so lucky and unlucky.
It is called being alive
and being an American.
Our country is about being good and righteous
and making a million 1960 dollars,
it’s a contradiction and we have to choose
I die to the world and come to birth from within.
The answers aren’t in the world.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Original sin and free will make so much sense tonight.
You may not so cynically say
“Lemmon got fame and money
Schiff got power.
How can you be so sure that they are so damn special?”
Not even Ivory Soap is 100% pure
I have no idea what kind of fathers, husbands, friends
and Schiff is
but I know on the professional occasions
that I cite here
they did the right thing.
The true word must be said
at the precise moment that it must be said
The true deed must be done
at the precise moment that it must be done
these things are what we are called to do.
Lemmon and Schiff have excellent American
The American dream has haunted me
and love is my birthright.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
From September 25, 2020:
9/25/20: Judicial Dissent #poetry
The truth is always lonely at first
Excellent Judicial Dissent, like Art, speaks to the future
when justice and decency and compassion and reason
Blessed are the people who do right
at the moment when right is needed
Who are kind and fair
Who raise what is too low
and lower what is too high
Blessed are those who take rare gifts
and share them with us all
Blessed are powerful people
who honor the titles that honor them
who see power as a means and not an end
Blessed are those who inspire the ordinary
and vex the selfish and condescending
Blessed are the obscure
who rise to power
and remain righteous
or the obscure who never rise to material power
but rule the world with their modest example
Blessed be judges who understand the feelings of thirteen year-old girls
Blessed are those insulted by the lie of inequality
Blessed are those who think and pray and wonder and struggle
to discover the right word, the right thing to do
the one true thing required of them in the present moment.
Greatness is pointed at in history books and museums
but righteousness is an eternal thing
an everlasting influence
not only in the person of the great one
but in all others that she influences and inspires
now and forever more
Prophets walk with us today
in high and low places.
Listen to them
immediately if you are up to it
as soon as possible.
Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas
From October 13, 2020:
10/13/20: The Straight A Student and the Puppet Show* #poetry #amyconeybarrett #sheldonwhitehouse
She’s not ready
and not nearly ready
a Straight A student
darling of professors, deans and students
she does her homework
but doesn’t remember it
Finish the paper and get it in the outbox
Snow White in the Ivory Tower
She’s never met the puppet masters
but she knows her fellow marionettes
her fellow professors and judges and senators and president
and always gets them to nod in approval
They smell and taste her blood
They can tell what a weapon she can be
Just what the dark money men
the puppet masters
an A student
Who lives for their approval
Inexperienced in the ways of the world
her world has been gold stars on a report card
and her art work under a magnet on the refrigerator
She figured out her way to get love early
and she beats it like a rented mule
She has busied herself for her entire life
doing abstract assignments
Her reason purposely segregated from the ground
The backdrop of the puppet show is a painting of Mount Olympus
She play acts the role of goddess in a black robe
controlling others’ destinies while floating on a cloud
What does health care have to do with sick people?
or abortion have to do with women?
What is like to be gay and not married …
when your partner is sick
and you have no right to care?
Are there people called workers and consumers
or they only vectors on a flow chart
in a 3-D representation of a management plan?
Is there only a Constitution
words on a piece of paper
not a screen
they didn’t have screens in 1789,
and not a nation that wrote the sacred text?
The law is the same today as the day it was written
in the Eighteenth century
she is certain of that
The law is the same
for a musket or an AR-15
for a Navy SEAL or a Hessian soldier
the law is the law that was written
who owned slaves
and saw their wives as property too
and thought that dignity was only a right of white men who owned real estate
All of the philosophy and poetry of the law
is excised from
the courses that she got her A’s in,
The legal theories that resemble
the reading of the Bible
limited to words on the page …
What fine pseudo-intellectual tactics
to preserve patriarchies and entrenched power
It is hard work to knit together detailed rational arguments
from such specious and superficial bases
This is a job for the tunnel vision of an A student
Technical writing designed to justify the designs of …
the puppet masters
The A student is charming
if you like that sort of thing
they always are
to people who like that sort of thing
so much promise
but no experience
nothing very bad ever happened to her
she is a hero to other people
she’s the Savior
she has never needed to be saved
The puppet masters love her for that
she’s a slot machine who always pays
Democracy is about something more than usefulness
Humans have inherent value
in a democracy
The straight A student has no sense of humanity
hers or anyone else’s
She has no real intelligence
but not that smart
real intelligence needs more than smart
real intelligence doesn’t take anything at face value
let alone the Bible or the Constitution
for God or America’s sakes
She’s not ready
She’s just prepared
and that is exactly what the puppet masters want
The old men sit behind thick black curtains
covered in darkness
designing on riches and power
rigging everything …
B students sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee
they are not naive,
The A student is
she has an instinct for where something that resembles power
and she lusts for it
underneath aw shucks and her “beautiful” family
She will only get the resemblance of power
All power resides with the puppet masters …
who have seen this show before,
want the A student to be the last puppet
You can see the fear in her eyes
Confusion and fear
For one so socialized
the A student has a feral quality
She senses what is going on
and doesn’t dare put words to the music
Her words are reserved for constructing rulings
for a world that doesn’t exist
You can see that she is overmatched by the situation …
The people aren’t in the theater …
but she senses them out there
They line up at polling stations
this show is ending …
the puppet masters might get her on the court
but they won’t get their way
Democracy lives in the soul of the American people
The curtain is coming down …
She isn’t even a judge or a professor
She is a star student
at Notre Dame Law School
which will never be Harvard or Yale
It is not an elite place
Excellence involves more than being an A student
When you think of some the great people who have been on the Supreme Court …
They are like great literary figures
not mere English teachers
They created this nation
not merely explained it …
America and its Constitution are living things
which grow and evolve
not rare old books
curated in a museum
Notre Dame wants to believe that it is exceptional
but it is ordinary
a professional school
not a great academic institution
staffing law firms and accounting offices
Greatness comes in extraordinary places
demanding venues of the greatest recognition
and from un-credentialed visionary outsiders
who emerge from the wilderness
with prophetic discoveries
Greatness doesn’t go to pep rallies and wine and cheese parties
Silently assessing how well everyone is doing
while singing songs of masturbatory self-congratulations
to themselves in the mirror
and to each other
in flat, false harmonies
Where is soul?
The puppet show makes one howl
the attribute of the Straight A student
is just the first requirement
for meaningful achievement
Experience and heart
It takes a lot to develop as a person who pursues
wisdom and truth
The straight A student just does her assignments
and forgets them
and those who cry and bleed
because of her cultivated innocence
line up to vote
The puppet masters have usurped our democracy
and this straight A student
is one of their prized possessions
She can be a decent person in her private life
and oblivious to the destruction she writes in her chambers
Just like Notre Dame
Too confident in its perception of good character
while ignoring the darkness in its victories
Just like the middle class
The sainted people on Main Street
callous dumb and hard-hearted
while giving each other good recommendations
and awards. …
Middle – White -American schizophrenia …
so the people line up
to vote …
Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas
— video of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s “Puppet Show” remarks at Barrett confirmation hearing