“A little late, gentlemen”

As the United States continues to slide into fascism, I have been rereading Hannah Arendt’s book “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” concerning the 1961 trial in Jerusalem of a war criminal who expressed himself in cliches, was an ambitious braggart, an egregious liar, an ignorant sociopath, someone attracted to and utterly at the service of men of power. We have many of these creatures living among us today. It could happen here. It is happening here.

In Arendt’s discussion of how ordinary Germans made themselves accomplices in something so monstrous as the Holocaust, she touches on the coup attempt that almost ended Hitler’s regime. Arendt quotes from German novelist Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, who himself died in a concentration camp on the eve of the collapse of the Third Reich. In his “Diary of a Man in Despair” Reck-Malleczewen writes of those who participated in the dictatorship who could have stopped Hitler early on — but only thought of it too late to save their nation.

I swear, he was talking to the Republican Senators of 2020:

“A little late, gentlemen, you who made this archdestroyer of [the nation] and ran after him, as long as everything seemed to be going well; you who […] without hesitation swore every oath demanded of you and reduced yourselves to the despicable flunkies of this criminal […] Now, when the bankruptcy can no longer be concealed, they betray the house that went broke, in order to establish a political alibi for themselves — the same men who have betrayed everything that was in the way of their claim to power.”

Inhumane

I recently read Ken Hartnett’s Christmas letter about the Ancient Scribe and Dory, his Angel Dog. The Ancient Scribe was right on the money about our capacity to discover humanity in the presence of animals but to completely fail at it with our fellow man.

Hartnett’s piece also reminded me of how we treat the humans in our jails.

The National Sheriff’s Association — the organization representing rogue sheriffs like Sam Page, David Clarke, and Tom Hodgson, which celebrates the abuses of Customs and Border Patrol officers — has a soft spot for animals.

Yes, the NSA actually endorsed legislation on animal cruelty, arguing that there is a link between animal cruelty and cruelty to humans. And who would disagree?

But the sheriffs don’t appreciate the irony of defending puppies while torturing humans in the county jails they themselves operate.

Not to be outdone by Stetson-hatted hypocrites, last month Donald Trump just signed the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT), giving rights to animals that he himself refuses to extend to Central American children in his concentration camps.

But showing concern for animal rights while simultaneously being indifferent to human life and suffering is a feature of laws right here in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts has animal cruelty statutes that provide for up to seven years in prison for animal abuse. In 2016 the Attorney General charged ten people with the mistreatment of over a thousand animals on a farm in Westport.

But when it comes to protecting the state’s prison population, the AG’s office has refused to deploy its own civil rights division to stop an epidemic of jail abuses including suicides and cruel and unusual punishments.

In March 2019 the Animal Legal Defense Fund named Massachusetts state senator Mark Montigny as one of America’s Top Ten Animal Defenders for his sponsorship of the PAWS II Act, a comprehensive set of animal protection legislation.

But even before Montigny’s bill became law, the rights of dogs and cats in the Commonwealth had a leg up —  four legs up, actually — on the rights of their human counterparts. According to Massachusetts General Laws, Part I, Title XX, Chapter 140, Section 137C:

“The mayor of a city, the selectmen of a town, the police commissioner in the city of Boston, a chief of police or an animal control officer may at any time inspect a kennel or cause the inspection of a kennel. If, in the judgment of such person or body, the kennel is not being maintained in a sanitary and humane manner or if records are not properly kept as required by law, such person or body shall, by order, revoke or suspend the license for the kennel.”

That’s right. Kennels may be freely inspected by public officials if conditions are believed to be unsanitary or inhumane. Inspection is a right that not even state legislators can exercise in Massachusetts “corrections” facilities.

For dogs, state law likewise regulates confinement:

“No person owning or keeping a dog shall chain or tether a dog for longer than 5 hours in a 24–hour period and outside from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., unless the tethering is for not more than 15 minutes and the dog is not left unattended by the owner, guardian or keeper.”

Right again. “No excessive solitary” for dogs is written into Massachusetts law — while we wait for the courts to decide if the overuse of solitary confinement on mentally-ill prisoners in Bristol County represents cruel and unusual punishment, as a Prisoners’ Legal Services suit asserts.

Under Massachusetts law, a dog must be given adequate space to move around in and environmental considerations (including heat and cold) are strictly regulated. Several specific types of inhumane treatment are prohibited:

“(1) filthy and dirty confinement conditions including, but not limited to, exposure to excessive animal waste, garbage, dirty water, noxious odors, dangerous objects that could injure or kill a dog upon contact or other circumstances that could cause harm to a dog’s physical or emotional health;

(2) taunting, prodding, hitting, harassing, threatening or otherwise harming a tethered or confined dog; and

(3) subjecting a dog to dangerous conditions, including attacks by other animals.”

No such protections exist for the safety and well-being of humans confined in Massachusetts jails and prisons. Last year we discovered that corrections officers had organized racist gladiator fights in the Dartmouth jail.

Finally, it boggles my mind that “inhumane” is the adjective we use to describe the mistreatment of animals — but not of fellow humans who, shown no pity, instead are believed to “deserve what they get” in the American carceral system.

But there is a solution. By simply re-designating jails as “kennels” — a name change prison rights advocates point out already describes conditions in state prisons and jails — human prisoners in Massachusetts can finally receive the legal rights their four-legged friends already enjoy.

It’s a crazy idea, I know. But not half as insane as what we do to our sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, friends and neighbors, whom we abuse in filthy, inhumane conditions with no intention of ever rehabilitating them.

 

The all-white jury

The U.S. Senate consists of 100 senators, 67 of whom must vote to convict Donald Trump in order to remove him from office. Of these, 53 are Republicans, 45 are Democrats, and 2 are independents. One may think that the greatest obstacle to fair proceedings in the Senate is political affiliation.

But like most things in America, it’s going to be about race.

While Republicans have a majority in the Senate, it’s thanks to a Constitution which gives a state like Wyoming with half a million people the same number of senators as California with almost 40 million.

Our nation’s founders not only feared black demographics but modeled the Senate after the British House of Lords. It wasn’t until the 20th Century that a citizen even got to vote for his senator. Until the Seventeenth Amendment was ratified in 1913, senators were appointed by the governor of each state and often the position was inherited. It wasn’t until 1920 until women could vote at all.

By design, then, the U.S. Senate has always been the Yankee version of the House of Lords. By design it was and remains undemocratic, and by design its purpose is to thwart the will of the people’s House of Representatives. It does this a little too well, and thus undermines democracy.

Also by design, the Senate remains an almost exclusively white club. Of the nation’s 100 senators, 91 are white — a statistical anomaly in a country where 76% of the people are white and the percentage has been in steady decline since 1950. There are four Hispanic senators, three Asian senators, and three Black senators. Kamala Harris is of Indian-Jamaican heritage, checking off two boxes.

All of which is to say — this is the lily white jury that’s going to consider Trump’s Articles of Impeachment.

Donald Trump once boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and wouldn’t lose a vote. A Department of Justice memorandum gives him a get-out-of-jail-free card for federal offenses. And the composition of the Senate makes it virtually certain that Trump’s impeachable offenses will result in acquittal.

But American deference to white billionaires is bipartisan and bicameral.

Even the House’s Articles of Impeachment are watered-down charges consisting only of the president’s most recent attempts to extort Ukraine to intervene in the 2020 presidential election. So far, the charges don’t include anything from the Mueller report, Trump’s numerous emoluments clause violations, lying about illegal payments to porn stars and mistresses, or any of his many obstructions of justice.

As if all this kid glove treatment were not bad enough, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell intends to fast-track the Senate trial down to two weeks — three times shorter than Nixon’s. And for the sake of comparison, in 2016, when South Korea impeached president Park Geun-hye for corruption and influence-peddling, prosecutors charged her with 13 counts remarkably similar to Trump’s, and her trial in South Korea’s Constitutional Court lasted 10 weeks. Gun-hye’s refusal to appear before the court was never an impediment to her conviction.

No, the travesty of justice we are about to witness from an all-white jury in the U.S. Senate is one America has seen many times before:

  • In 1955, when Emmett Till was murdered and his body thrown into the Tallahatchie River, his killers were acquitted by an all-white jury after one hour of deliberation.
  • In 1963, after Medgar Evers was gunned down in Mississippi, two all-white juries acquitted his killers in separate trials.
  • In 1998, when 13 white supremacists were charged with attempting to murder a federal judge and FBI agent, they were acquitted by an all-white jury.
  • In 2013, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin by a jury with only one juror of color.
  • In 2016, a group of armed sovereign citizens who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were acquitted by an all-white jury — while on the same day unarmed Native Americans protesting a pipeline on their own land were maced and beaten by police.
  • It’s not even possible to list the thousands of times that white police officers have murdered unarmed black men and been acquitted or simply not charged.

As Trump’s impeachment unfolds, Democrats may rightly fume about a partisan Senate subverting justice by speeding through a sham trial with the clear intention of acquitting the president.

But, to steal a phrase from the software world, these travesties of justice are not a bug but a feature of American so-called “democracy.”