Letter to Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee uncertain on impeachment

Drafted this today. I plan to send it on Monday to the five Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee who haven’t come out in favour of an impeachment inquiry.*

Of course you’re welcome to steal, part or the whole thing, for a letter of your own. I’d also welcome input. Is it too long? Is there something I missed, or got wrong?


August 5, 2019

Dear Representative _______________:

I am writing to you in your capacity as a member of the House Judiciary Committee to urge you to open an impeachment inquiry into the conduct of President Donald J. Trump.

According to press reports, more than half of Democratic House members – including all but five Democratic members of your Committee – now support opening such an inquiry. My own representative, Rick Larsen, along with every other Democratic Representative from Washington State, has come out in support of an impeachment inquiry. I am writing to you, and other holdout members of your Committee, to beg you to act.

The Constitution gives it to Congress to define “high crimes and misdemeanors.” President Trump’s insults to the body politic, through his venality, incompetence, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and pathological lying, are beyond counting. But among the documented behaviors that appear to warrant impeachment are:

  • Profiting from the Presidency in violation of the Emoluments clause;
  • Violation of campaign finance laws, as affirmed in sworn Congressional testimony by his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen;
  • Obstruction of justice, evidence for which Special Counsel Robert Mueller has all but said can only be further pursued by Congress through impeachment;
  • Conspiracy with a foreign power to influence an election, evidence for which has not been fully examined because of said obstruction;
  • Advocating violence and giving aid and comfort to domestic hate groups, in violation of his constitutional duties to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” to protect the citizenry against “domestic violence,” and to ensure “the equal protection of the laws”;
  • Abuse of the pardon power, in the case of former Arizona sheriff Joseph Arpaio;
  • Abuse of the powers of the executive branch, in directing law enforcement to persecute political opponents;
  • Efforts to undermine the freedom of the press, through verbal attacks, threats to individual journalists, and threats to change libel laws and revoke licenses;
  • Separation of immigrant families at the US–Mexico border in violation of asylum law, the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment,” and international law.

I am sure the images of children held in cages without access to decent food, proper hygiene, or their own parents have shocked your conscience. Whether or not you agree that these “detention facilities” should be called concentration camps; whether or not it worries you that dehumanization of just this sort has elsewhere been a prelude to ethnic cleansing, or worse – it is a simple and appalling fact that thousands of children have suffered long-term psychological harm by these separations. The practice is a crime against humanity, as the American Federation of Teachers has affirmed.

If a private citizen were treating children this way, he would be tried for kidnapping, child endangerment, and negligent homicide. We have only impeachment as a remedy. Indeed, if this were the only charge against the president, it would be ground enough for impeachment.

I know Democratic leadership worries that a drive to impeach Trump might ensure his re-election. And I agree Trump can’t have a second term. But while your political duty to defeat him in 2020 is an imperative, your constitutional duty to impeach, regardless of the outcome in the Senate, outweighs it. Our system of checks and balances is waiting urgently for the legislative branch to do its job – to say to Trump and his enablers that these abuses of power, this dereliction of duty, cannot stand. The process starts with the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee.

We have an autocrat in office whose actions threaten our core values as a liberal democracy. It’s on you now to reassert those values with vigor and clarity and without letting up. If you count on the election to remove Trump, when it does, you will have faltered in your duty, and history will not be kinder to you than to the Republican Party, whose moral and intellectual collapse this presidency confirms.

Surely you can find a way to fulfill your constitutional duty and win an election against an historically unpopular president. An impeachment inquiry gives time to assess evidence, build a thoughtful case, and persuade an uncertain public. There are times to listen to public opinion and times to shape it.

Thank you for your kind attention. I look forward to your response. With best wishes,

Sincerely,

Dr. Christopher Patton
Department of English
Western Washington University


New York Times impeachment tracker here. The “support” column grows longer daily.

* The five holdouts are Karen Bass (CA 37), J. Luis Correa (CA 46), Hakeem Jeffries (NY 8), Lucy McBath (GA 6), and Chairman Jerrold Nadler (NY 10).

The bathos of Donald Trump

From an anthology yet to be conceived, The Accidental Wit and Wisdom of  Donald Trump. The subject, climate change. The source, this interview with the Washington Post.

“No. 2”

If you go back
and if you look at articles
they talked about
global freezing.

They talked about
at some point the planets
could have freezed
to death.

Then it’s going to
die of heat exhaustion.
There is movement in
the atmosphere!

There’s no question
as to whether or not it’s
manmade and
whether

or not the effects
that you’re talking
about are there.

I don’t see it.
Not nearly like it is.

With a nod to Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld, by Hart Seely. The image up top is from A. Richard Allen’s homage to Katshushika Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa.

high_res_editorial_a_richard_allen_trump_wave

Read more about it here.

An Anglo-Saxon #metoo?

On a final pass through the proofs for Unlikeness Is Us. The title mistranslates a line from a short lyric, The Wolf, spoken by a female protagonist. There aren’t many such Old English poems. Reading this one today, I was struck by how it sits in #metoo’s penumbra, though it was writ 1,000 years ago. It’s hardly news that our crises are not new. Still, the sudden feeling of historical depth caught me by surprise. Even though I’ve posted this translation before, that bit of vertigo felt meaningful enough to share, with revised commentary, and a few new thoughts appended.

The Wolf

As if one had made the people an offering.
They will receive him if he comes in violence.
        Unlikeness is us.
The wolf is on an island. I am on another.
Mine is secured and surrounded by marsh.
The men on that island are glad at war –
they’ll receive him if he comes in violence.
        Unlikeness is us.
I have borne a wolf on thought’s pathways.
Then it was rainy weather and I sat crying.
When the war-swift one took me in arms,
the joy he gave me, it was that much pain.
Wolf – my Wolf – thoughts of you
sicken me. How seldom you come
makes me anxious, not my hunger.
Listen, onlooker, to our miserable whelp
        a wolf bears to woods.
Easy to part what was never joined;
        our song together.

The Wolf

Lēodum is mīnum swylce him mon lāc° gife.
Willað hȳ hine āþecgan° gif hē on þrēat cymeð.
        Ungelīc is ūs.° ⬩
Wulf is on īege, ic on ōþerre.
Faest is þæt ēglond, fenne biworpen.                                   (5)
Sindon wælrēowe weras þǣr on īge;
willað hȳ hine āþecgan gif hē on þrēat cymeð.
        Ungelīce is ūs.
Wulfes ic mīnes wīdlāstum wēnum dogode°.
Þonne hit wæs rēnig weder &ic rēotugu sæt. ⬩                                   (10)
Þonne mec se beaducāfa bōgum bilegde,
wæs mē wyn tō þon, wæs mē hwæþre ēac lāð. ⬩
Wulf, mīn Wulf, wēna mē þīne ⬩°
sēoce gedydon, þīne seldcymas,
murnende mōd, nales metelīste.                                   (15)
Gehȳrest þū, ēad wacer°? Uncerne earmne hwelp
        bireð° wulf° tō wuda.
Þæt mon ēaþe tōslīteð þætte nǣfre gesomnad wæs,°
        uncer° giedd geador. ⬩ :⁊

Commentary

More commonly Wulf and Eadwacer. A woman speaks. She’s pregnant and her people are hostile to the father of the child. Not much else is settled about the poem. Wulf may be a raider from another clan; is their encounter a rape, as has often been thought? Her longing for him is tortured but I don’t hear that sort of wrong in the past of it. Something more mutual then. Still, though, the poem is riven with her ambivalence; she wants him to come, wants him never to have come; and the doubleness in her thought sickens her.

That ambivalence streaks the poem with ambiguities. A refrain, Ungelīc is ūs, as odd in composition and placement as Stein’s “The difference is spreading.” A female speaker whose relation to her culture’s masculine warrior ethos is intimate but aslant and has, for us, only a few interpretive helpmates in the AS corpus – primarily Her Case, a poem as obscure in its own ways. Verbs that appear rarely or nowhere else and must be defined in a context almost as unprecedented as they are. A scribal practice that leaves names uncapitalized, making it difficult to discern person from animal from epithet. When is wulf a wolf and when is it her Wulf? And an oral tradition, contemporaneous or not long past, in which the spoken “wulf” could function without trouble as both. The scribe, following his lowercase practice, could preserve the ambiguity, but these days an editor has to choose.

Unlike most, I take ead wacer as an epithet, not a name, removing the third party usually thought involved – a jealous husband, Eadwacer, ready to avenge himself on the raider Wulf. Dramatically, that’s one extra, a late entry throwing off an otherwise finely balanced poem. Her people and her own mind, and Wulf too sort of, are opponents enough. A few other readers have also doubted this third party; Marsden suggests reading the compound as an epithet for Wulf himself, “joy guardian.” I go back and forth between “overseer” and “onlooker,” and end up choosing the latter because it hints at a break in the frame, an address to reader or auditor. That the speaker might assay such a move, moves me.

By this reading, which I admit is extravagant, ead wacer is the one who gehyreþ the spoken poem, the wacer of the written poem – you, dear lecteur, and I. It’s not that we’re her imprisoner, exactly, but consider, if we weren’t here, she wouldn’t be either. She’s hurt into a consciousness so sharp it rends the fabric that gives it voice – tears the air or page that binds her to, even as it divides her from, her only interlocutor, us. Many of the poems here perform like ruptures deliberately, either by addressing the reader directly – riddle poems that invite you to name their subject; maxim sequences demanding you speak from your heart – or by pointing in code, as the runes in His Message may, to the very surface they’re inscribed on. And why should the woman speaking here not tear the fabric her poem is made of? It may feel like her only way out.


That commentary done before the hashtag dawned. A few addenda –

Her cry against him isn’t, You violated me, or That was against my will, but more, This is the unlivable position I’m in now, thanks to you and our peoples. In directing to him a cry against more than him, she captures something about the complicity of an individual in a collective harm.

She first expresses concern for his wellbeing, only then for her own, and their unborn child’s. That her concern unfolds in that order is part of her predicament, and she and the poem both know it.

The power asymmetries between men and women in her culture mean that, while their circumstance may be fatal for both (all three) of them, he at least gets some agency. If he dies it was his choice to show up. All she gets to do is sit and grieve and await her fate.

She makes sitting, grieving, waiting, and articulating that, the work of resistance, and summons a force strong enough to rupture the frame.

The pathos of the poem then is that her resistance is at once minuscule and total.


Notes

1     lāc. “Offering” or “gift,” especially in a ritual sense. A sacrifice; in some contexts a message.

2     āþecgan. The verb appears to mean “to receive” in the sense of food, but with a suggestion of killing, destruction, consumption (Muir 571).

3     Ungelīc is ūs. Either “(it) is different (between) us” or “(it) is different (with) us.” It’s ambiguous whether the gulf has opened between the speaker and Wulf, or between those two and the speaker’s people.

9     dogode. Possibly the past tense of an otherwise unrecorded dogian, meaning something like “to suffer” or “to follow,” maybe here in imagination (Marsden 337). Some amend to hogode, past tense of hogian, “to consider, to dwell upon” (Muir 571–72). My translation draws on both senses.

13    The punctum marks the end of folio 100v.

16    ēad wacer. Most take it as a proper name. Ēad “riches, prosperity, joy, property” + wacer “watcher.” Eadwacer, a possessive spouse and enemy to Wulf. However, because the scribe doesn’t use capital letters to distinguish names, the compound can be taken as an epithet; Marsden (338) suggests “joy guardian,” for Wulf. I hear near the core of the phrase a sense of being thronged by eyes all round. Where “onlooker” downplays the possessiveness in the compound, “overseer,” also possible, would emphasize it. Note that she calls on the watcher not to see but to hear. She will rip him if she can out of his crowning sense function.

17    bireð. “Bears.” Since OE lacks a distinct future tense, this can be read either as a present event or as anticipation of what’s to come. ¶ wulf. It’s ambiguous whether she’s crying wolf here or naming her Wolf.

18    Þæt mon ēaþe tōslīteð | þætte nǣfre gesomnad wæs. “The man easily tears apart what was never joined.” The line doesn’t alliterate. Muir: “[It] has the ring of a gnomic utterance, and may well be an Anglo-Saxon rendering of the biblical ‘Quod ergo Deus coniunxit, homo non separet’ [Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate] (Matt. 19:6), which might account for its not following an accepted alliterative pattern” (572).

19    Uncer. First-person dual genitive – “of us two.” Ours as in yours and mine.

Minor emendations. 16 earmne MS earne.

“Poets Mistake Non-Poet for Fish in Barrel, Open Fire.”

Here is a bad bit of light verse published in this morning’s New York Times:

Screen Shot 2018-09-03 at 11.16.08 AM

Here is the Facebook pile-on by poets, some nationally renowned, that ensued. We rose up to defend the shade of John Ashbery and the immortal values of poetry:

FB pile-on

It goes on much longer. An umbrage orgy. Here’s why it’s embarrassing for us and for poetry:

Screen Shot 2018-09-03 at 10.35.22 AM

It was the NYT opening its pages to an ordinary reader. A non-specialist.

No one (including, at first, me) thought to check – everyone just leapt at the chance to pummel this light verster into submission to our post-modernity. It’s high-minded bullying. How are poets going to be critics of the culture if we succumb this easily to its ugliest temptations?


P.S. And here, of course, am I, doing meta-umbrage, its own temptation.

 

America again

And now our government has made the abandonment of children an instrument of policy and a means of gaining political leverage. As if those children had not already had more bravery asked of them than most of our leaders have ever shown.

Exhibit A: toddlers in wire cages with no idea where their mothers or fathers are.

Exhibit B: bone spurs.

On and off all day today, listening to the radio as I weeded the patio, made some lunch, napped through a migraine, tears of anger and grief for these kids, also for the men and women they’ll become. They’ll carry the injuries, many of them in silence probably, all their lives.

I don’t get to say “not my president.” I’ve never thought I do, I belong to the body that elected him and am part of this unconscionable mess, I’m implicated, we all are.

I’m appalled to be an American. “Make America Great Again.” You assholes.

I made a bumper sticker – see top of post. In Bellingham, where I live, it’s how you change the world. Want one? Contact me (leave a comment, or through FB) and I’ll send you one. It’s on me.

“Constructions of Whiteness”

Next week I’m moderating a reading and discussion called “Constructions of Whiteness” with the brilliant and talented poets Stephanie Bolster and Barbara Nickel at the Canadian Writers Summit in Toronto. What little I mean to say by way of introduction, follows.


Hello, and welcome to our reading and discussion, “Constructions of Whiteness.” Before we say more we should say that we are meeting on traditional indigenous territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit. Land also with a deep history of use and care by the Haudenosaunee and the Huron-Wendat nations. We are grateful to be able to gather here.

I’m not going to say much by way of introduction. Just that we have taken as our starting point, as invitation and provocation, a passage from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me.

[R]ace is the child of racism, not the father…. Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible—this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white.

These new people are, like us, a modern invention. But unlike us, their new name has no real meaning divorced from the machinery of criminal power. The new people were something else before they were white—Catholic, Corsican, Welsh, Mennonite, Jewish—and if all our national hopes have any fulfillment, then they will have to be something else again.

But for now, it must be said that the process of washing the disparate tribes white, the elevation of the belief in being white, was not achieved through wine tastings and ice cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land; through the flaying of backs; the chaining of limbs; the strangling of dissidents; the destruction of families; the rape of mothers; the sale of children; and various other acts meant, first and foremost, to deny you and me the right to secure and govern our own bodies.

—Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (2015)

He’s talking about his son’s body and his own there, and the African-American body more generally, and the American body politic, including American whiteness, and we’re here in Canada, and our national experience is different. But maybe not altogether different. We each, the three of us, Stephanie Bolster, Barbara Nickel, and myself, Christopher Patton, want to share with you projects that examine the invention of whiteness, its construction, and some of its attendant destructions, examine them in ways we hope are morally alert, if fallible.

I’ll read first, followed by Barb, then Steph, with some time for discussion after. Each reader will introduce the next one, though since I’m going first, I’ll introduce myself, even if it feels a bit weird.


Curious to hear more? If you’re attending the CWS, join us in Toronto!

Saturday, June 16
2:00–3:15
Loft 1, Harbourfront Centre

Repeal the Second Amendment

I am a kombucha-swilling poet smoking his weed as he listens to Fleetwood Mac on Spotify. So you might not take me serious on this point. You might not take the kids serious though you sure as shit should. Maybe you will take a retired Supreme Court Justice serious though when he says

REPEAL THE SECOND AMENDMENT

Questions? Refer them to the dead.

And yeah, so it’s undoable. Start now, wait till doable catches up, if it takes 50 years, 100, all the more reason to have gotten started today.