Thursday, February 20, 2020

Moi et mon droit

I hate to make these comparisons because they are usually so facile, but I've been watching "The Tudors" on Netflix (the Showtime series from years back, which focusses actually just on Henry VIII and his many wives).  Probably this series is as historically accurate as "A Man for All Seasons" or "Anne of the Thousand Days," though it's a tonic for those two hagiographies of their subjects.  Still, it seems somewhat reasonable Henry VIII was as capricious and unhinged as he is portrayed to be in the show.  Certainly the roots of concern in our Constitution with charges of treason lie in the free and easy use of the term in accusing Anne Boleyn of the crime.

I should pause and explain that, and say one more time I'm not supposing this version of events is history or truth, but it is persuasive:  Thomas Cromwell, prompted by Henry, fabricates a case against Anne which becomes positively Shakespearean.  He interrogates Mark Smeaton, the dance master to the Court, and under severe torture Smeaton, portrayed as gay in this version of history, confesses to having an affair with the queen.  Since we know Smeaton is gay, we know this isn't possibly true.  Anne's brother George is also accused of incest with the queen, as are two other purported lovers.  Of course the interrogation is a simple matter:  the accused are guilty and either confess so they can be found guilty and executed; or they deny the charges, in which case they are tortured until they confess the crimes they did not commit.  And then, of course, they are executed.  Anne is found guilty based not on her confession (she is, after all, Queen, even if only Queen consort) but on the confessions of her purported lovers.  Things turn Shakespearean when Cromwell tells Henry he has evidence she took upwards of 100 lovers to her bed (in "Othello," the titular husband of Desdemona comes to believe, thanks to Iago, that his wife has slept with Cassio more times than there are hours and days since they all arrived at Cyprus).  Obviously such an effort by Anne would keep her in bed for months on end, but no matter.  She is guilty of treason against the crown, all that matters is the manner of her death.

Ironically, and this underscores how dangerous and uncertain life must have been in the Tudor court, Thomas Wyatt, the poet, is portrayed (again:  true?  I have no idea) as Anne's lover before her marriage to Henry.  He, of all the accused, has actually had carnal knowledge of the queen; but long before she was queen.  He is imprisoned, too; but not found guilty.  Why?  As he screams out when Cromwell tells him he will be released "eventually":  "But I'm the only one who's guilty!"  I suppose since they won't find him guilty now, he's safe to confess.

I bring this up almost solely because of this:

President Trump erupted at his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, in the Oval Office last week over what he perceived as disloyalty by Maguire’s staff, which ruined Maguire’s chances of becoming the permanent intelligence chief, according to people familiar with the matter.
Trump announced on Wednesday that he was replacing Maguire with a vocal loyalist, Richard Grenell, who is the U.S. ambassador to Germany.

Maguire had been considered a leading candidate to be nominated for the post of DNI, White House aides had said. But Trump’s opinion shifted last week when he heard from a GOP ally that the intelligence official in charge of election security, who works for Maguire, gave a classified briefing last Thursday to the House Intelligence Committee on 2020 election security.

It is unclear what the official, Shelby Pierson, specifically said at the briefing that angered Trump, but the president erroneously believed that she had given information exclusively to Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the committee chairman, and that the information would be helpful to Democrats if it were released publicly, the people familiar with the matter said. Schiff was the lead impeachment manager, or prosecutor, during Trump’s Senate trial on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The president was furious with Maguire and blamed him for the supposed transgression involving Pierson when the two met the next day.

“There was a dressing down” of Maguire, said one individual, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. “That was the catalyst” that led to the sidelining of Maguire in favor of Grenell, the person said.

Henry's great friend, according to this account and others, was Thomas More.  But Thomas refused to acknowledge Henry head of the Church of England, and for that he was finally executed.  By this account, again, that tortured Henry, and was a catalyst to his split with Anne, again portrayed here as an activist for the Reformation in England More opposed.  But after More, no one in Henry's orbit is safe, including Anne, and he screams at people for no apparent cause and over the tiniest disagreement.  He bears the responsibility of the crown poorly, and constantly looks for someone to blame for his anxieties.  This version of fictionalized history is far too old to have imagined a Trump presidency, so it is in no way an allegory or even reflection of modern times.  still, it's hard not to watch and see Donald Trump on the screen, although Henry VIII was far above the power of the law, much further above than Donald Trump.  Trump can rail about Roger Stone's sentencing:

According to Trump, Stone is a “good person” despite being a “little different.” He went on to claim that Stone was “never involved” in the 2016 despite some minor consulting work, and accused the forewoman of the jury of being ideologically biased against Stone.

“It’s totally tainted when you take a look,” Trump said, referring to the forewoman and the jury. ‘How can you have a person like this? She was an anti-Trump activist — can you imagine this?”

And can even claim Stone will be "exonerated:"

“But it happened to Roger Stone, and it happened to Gen. Flynn. and it happened to — I won’t name names,” Trump continued during his Hope for Prisoners commencement address. “I know Roger but a lot of people know Roger. Everybody sort of knows Roger. And what happened to him is unbelievable. They say he lied. But other people lied, too. Just to mention [James] Comey lied. [Andrew] McCabe lied. Lisa Page lied. Her lover Strzok, Peter Strzok, lied. You don’t know who these people are? Trust me. They all lied.”

That could be the ravings of the fictional king.  The only difference is that Trump's merest word is not law; but he obviously thinks it should be.  There is, unlike 16th century England, a functioning legal system independent of the Administration.  Trump's only power of intervention is pardons and commutations:

Is Trump so stupid he doesn't know what words mean?  Or is he already turning away from the possibility of a pardon?  He hasn't pardoned Flynn, or Manafort (who still goes unmentioned in these rants), why would he start with Stone?  Is he waiting for the appeals process to run?  Or is he waiting to be re-elected, when he will be truly invisible and bulletproof?

I'm not so sure it isn't the latter.  In the portrayal of the execution of Anne, Henry accedes to her request for an executioner from Calais to perform the act.  He is delayed, and the execution postponed.  Cromwell goes to Henry to give him the news, and Henry in a rage demands anyone with an axe be found to carry out the sentence.  Cromwell reminds him the kingdom knows he's granted the Queen's wish, implying it would not do to now renege on it.  (I'm reminded watching this that execution by axe was not the neat stroke it is portrayed to be in movies.  That's why the guillotine was invented; not for proficiency, but for mercy.)  Henry rages again, but acquiesces.  Even a king can't cruelly offend his subjects.

Trump understands that, too.  It may be the only check we have on his behavior, left.

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