The Trial

In the coming days and weeks, the fortunes of two very high-profile American citizens will be determined (possibly) once and for all—and, with them, the very meaning of the word “fairness” in the national lexicon in 2019.

The Americans in question are Donald Trump and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—the president of the United States and the surviving Boston Marathon bomber, respectively—who both sit in judgment for their alleged crimes by a legal system built on the promise of equal justice for all but in real danger of appearing slightly less than impartial.

Trump, of course, is staring down the barrelhead of impeachment, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her merry band of Democrats plan to draft and vote on multiple articles by the end of the month, with a Senate trial presumably following shortly thereafter.

Tsarnaev, meanwhile—who has been quietly rotting away at the notorious ADX “supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado, since being sentenced to death in 2015—this week will be appealing his case in the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the First Circuit, where his legal team will argue (as one does) that Tsarnaev did not receive a fair trial.

As reported in the Boston Globe, the thrust of Tsarnaev’s attorneys’ case is threefold. First, that the defense was barred from presenting evidence that Tsarnaev had been coerced into committing the attack by his late brother, Tamerlan. Secondly, that by holding the trial in Boston—less than two miles from the scene of the crime—Judge George O’Toole necessarily stacked the deck against Tsarnaev, insomuch as every potential juror had been personally affected by the bombing in one way or another and, thus, had already formed an emotionally-tinged opinion about Tsarnaev’s guilt.

Finally, the defense will contend that at least two members of the jury were, in fact, openly biased against Tsarnaev before the trial began—as evidenced by social media posts that have recently come to light—and had concealed that information from the judge during the voir dire jury selection process.

Having followed the Marathon case from the beginning, I find all three of these arguments compelling—the second and third in particular—and well worth pausing over before allowing Tsarnaev to be the first person since 2003 to be executed by the federal government.

From the start, there has been no doubt about Tsarnaev’s basic guilt in planting the explosive device that killed Lingzi Lu and Martin Richard—including from his own lawyers, who admitted as much on Day 1. (Tamerlan planted the other device moments earlier, killing Krystle Campbell. At least 260 runners and spectators were wounded by the two blasts, including 16 who lost limbs.)

The question is one of process: At every step of the way, was Tsarnaev granted not only the presumption of innocence but also the opportunity to present his side of the story without undue influence from external factors, up to and including an avalanche of local media coverage that could very well have clouded the objectivity of the 12 people who were charged with deciding his ultimate fate?

In retrospect, considering how strong the government’s case was, was there really anything to be lost in trying Tsarnaev in a jurisdiction slightly farther away from where the crime occurred, with a jury slightly less inundated with pretrial publicity (not to mention the experience of having had to shelter in place” for a full day while the assailants were being hunted down)? By insisting on keeping the case local—in arguably the proudest and most parochial city in America, no less—did they not risk at least the appearance of a mob-like rush to judgment against the defendant, leading a reasonable observer to suspect the whole procedure was for show—or, dare I say, rigged?

That’s not how our courts should function in any context, no matter how foregone the conclusion might be. The whole purpose of trial by jury—and the appeals process that follows—is to ensure beyond all doubt that only the actually guilty are condemned as such, and only after exhausting every possible avenue—with every last piece of evidence—for convincing one’s peers otherwise.

In effect, the machinations of the American justice system—cumbersome as they are—are in service to the nation’s collective peace of mind. They are a means of being able to look ourselves in the mirror and be certain we have done the right thing and to prevent any fair-minded person from arguing to the contrary. The fact that this doesn’t always happen in practice—particularly with a less-than-white defendant—is no excuse for dismissing it in theory.

That is the spirit with which we should conduct and view the impeachment of Donald Trump: Not as a prepackaged march to an inevitable outcome, but as a conscientious search for truth that, whatever the result, all sides will be able to look back on proudly as a noble and wholly substantive episode in the history of American politics.

Of course, I am not so naïve as to believe that anything of the sort is likely to occur in the environment in which we currently reside. Impeachment, we are regularly reminded, is an inherently political institution, unbound by the rules and regulations that protect ordinary citizens accused of ordinary offenses.

What’s more, it has become quite clear in recent weeks that Trump and his enablers in Congress have no interest in legitimizing the House investigation of the Ukraine affair in any way, shape or form, assuming (justifiably) that some 40 percent of the public will follow their lead, come hell or high water—a luxury the typical criminal defendant does not enjoy and cannot expect. As far as they’re concerned, the very existence of an impeachment inquiry is proof that the fix is in.

That leaves Democrats with only one option: Call Trump’s bluff. Assume the best of intentions on the president’s part. Make him look ridiculous whenever he barks about hoaxes and witch hunts. Be so scrupulously circumspect in examining and re-examining every angle of the Ukraine imbroglio that, should a final vote for impeachment carry, no honest broker could say it came about fraudulently or in haste.

Would this approach be nothing more than a fool’s errand? In the short term, yes, insomuch as when it comes to Trump, honest brokers have become rather hard to come by.

But in the long term—that’s to say, in the view of every subsequent generation on planet Earth—we might look for guidance to George Washington’s favorite play, Cato, by Joseph Addison, in which a character asserts, “Tis not in mortals to command success […] but we’ll do more […] we’ll deserve it.”

There is no guarantee the prosecution of Donald Trump will yield a just outcome (whatever that might be). All his inquisitors can do is behave honorably in the pursuit thereof. In the realm of politics, winning is all well and good, but retaining one’s soul is a decent consolation prize.

Drive

Among the many, many things for which I was grateful this Thanksgiving—my loving family, my improbably sterling health—I must include my blue Subaru, Mookie, who turned one year old on Halloween night and passed the 40,000-mile mark this past week.

That’s right: In a mere 13 months, I have driven my new-ish car the equivalent of more than one-and-a-half laps around the equator. This is due less to vehicular wanderlust than to the nature of my job, which frequently requires me to commute more than 100 miles roundtrip per day (all of them reimbursed, happily) through all manner of terrain and every type of weather.

As a consequence of this unorthodox professional lifestyle, I am acutely attuned to the innumerable threats to life and limb that the act of driving presents—a reality exacerbated by the fact that I myself am, by any objective standard, a horrendously bad driver. Between speeding and tailgating on the highway to running stop signs and red lights everywhere else, I understand full well what a death trap the open road can be—particularly when I am the one driving on it.

Indeed, considering how much of my waking life I spend on public byways, it is only by the grace of God that I, my car and my fellow drivers have thus far escaped 2019 completely unscathed by my consistently appalling behavior behind the wheel.  (The same could not be said of 2018, but that’s another story.)

I exaggerate slightly, of course. Surely—hopefully—if I were half as reckless as I claim, the good folks at the Massachusetts RMV would’ve taken away my license many moons ago (the registry’s long history of negligence notwithstanding). More to the point, the real—or at least primary—reason I haven’t caused some horrific accident of one sort or another is the suite of beepy, flashy safety features with which Mookie—like most cars nowadays—came equipped, from the blind spot detector that tells me when not to switch lanes on the highway to the hysterical chirping that advises me to slam on the brakes to avoiding crashing into the vehicle directly in front of me.

A couple years ago, comedienne Paula Poundstone remarked that several of her most recent car crashes were preceded by her wondering aloud, “What the hell is that beeping noise?!?” Indeed, just last month Beth Teitell in the Boston Globe wrote a front-page story about how local drivers have come to detest their vehicles’ seemingly endless automated safety functions, either because of all the noise or—more philosophically—because of the perceived lack of control and freedom that such nanny-state systems foster.

As a part-time libertarian and full-time Springsteen fan, I can appreciate the allure of total independence that America’s car culture has long represented in the national zeitgeist. However, as someone too young to have experienced this Rebel Without a Cause-like attitude in its heyday and too square to give a damn about it now, I really must stress that the imperative to keep as many drivers alive as possible must always outweigh the imperative to be the coolest kid on the block. James Dean may have been the reigning badass of the 1950s, but he also died at 24 in a highway wreck due to excessive speeding.  Freedom is never free.

The simple fact is that, in their relatively short time in the marketplace, these incredibly annoying alerts and nudges by our modern-day driving machines have saved countless lives and prevented innumerable accidents and insurance claims along the way. In purchasing Mookie, I quite deliberately shelled out several thousand dollars extra for all the bells and whistles, suspecting they would save my bacon several times over. I haven’t been proved wrong yet.

The main culprit for all of this—with me, as with most people—is our old friend the smartphone and the “distracted driving” it encourages, which studies show is every bit as dangerous as driving drunk (and considerably less fun).

In recent weeks, the Massachusetts legislature, which banned texting while driving in 2010, has taken the next logical step by passing a law—signed by the governor last Monday—that prohibits any and all handheld cellphone by drivers use while the car is in motion, with fines of $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second and $500 for each violation thereafter.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m not using my Android as a map, I have an awfully hard time setting it aside while shuttling between point A and point B, and deep down I know that without the threat of a large fine hanging over my skull at all times, my tendency to fiddle around with my phone while in transit is eventually going to get somebody killed. As things stand, distracted driving causes roughly nine deaths per day in the United States. As such, the new Massachusetts law could not have come soon enough (the commonwealth’s drivers are called massholes for a reason) and we should only hope that it is enforced as robustly and mercilessly as possible.

See, it’s all well and good to assume human beings will behave rationally and responsibly at all times and require neither sticks nor carrots to compel them to do so. Against this rosy view I would refer you to Federalist 51, in which James Madison observed, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary […] but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

With 232 additional years of experience since the Constitutional Convention, we’re still not angels.  Some of us more so than others.

Patrick’s Day

Everyone has a personal anecdote they retell just a little bit too often. Mine occurred in October 2007 at the Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common, where a first-term senator from Illinois gave a rousing speech to an adoring crowd about why he should be the next president of the United States. Immediately following his address, Barack Obama worked his way down the rope line shaking hands, including my own. I may or may not have washed it ever since.

What I have tended not to mention is the other hand I shook that night—that of Deval Patrick, the then-governor of Massachusetts who introduced and formally endorsed Obama moments before the future president stepped up to the podium. While the precise content of Patrick’s remarks is lost to history (except on YouTube, of course), what I remember vividly is my being utterly spellbound by this newly-inaugurated political dynamo who, like Obama, had emerged from practically nowhere (actually, from the world of corporate law) to ascend, ever-so-rapidly, to the highest ranks of elected office.

Hearing him speak on that crisp fall evening, it wasn’t difficult to see why. Marrying fiery passion and thoughtful confidence with an eloquence that few orators of his generation possess, Patrick on the stump had that magical ability to incite righteous fury about the world’s problems while inspiring thunderous hope that, if we only came together in common purpose, every one of those problems could be solved. While I may not have envisioned him as a future president in that particular moment—he was Obama’s opening act, after all—he nonetheless commanded my attention as no other public official (including Obama) ever has.

I mention this now, of course, because Patrick announced at the end of last week—quite unexpectedly—that he is running for president in 2020, some 11 months after ruling it out and a mere 12 weeks before the Democratic primaries begin.

Can he win? Common sense and the laws of political gravity say absolutely not. Between having no money, no name recognition and no chance of appearing at Wednesday’s nationally-televised debate (and possibly not the one in December, either), Patrick would seem to require no less than an act of God to assume anything close to a competitive edge in what is already the most overstuffed crowd of presidential hopefuls in modern history. What’s more, the apparent premise of his candidacy—that none of the preexisting Democratic candidates is exciting enough to defeat President Trump next November—is belied by most polls, which suggest the party’s voters are quite happy with their buffet of suitors and are not itching for a white (or black) knight to swoop in and save them from themselves.

If money were involved, I’d say Patrick doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell to be the 46th president and is out of his goddamned mind to enter the fray at this extremely late date.

And yet: That voice. That command of language and evocation of sacred ideals. That dogged optimism that—despite all evidence to the contrary—America remains a land of bottomless opportunity whose best days are yet to come.

If any Democrat in 2020 can pitch the idea that Donald Trump is a moral aberration whose reign can be swiftly overcome and forgotten—and has the rhetorical gifts to sell that notion to a majority of the persuadable public—it may well be Deval Patrick. Indeed, as in 2006 when he first ran for governor, his relative obscurity among most voters could prove more of an asset than a flaw. After nearly a year of witnessing the same half-dozen “serious” candidates circle each other like hungry sharks, here’s an entirely new species of politician for us to consider with fresh eyes. What’s the worst that could happen?

How this actually shakes out will reveal itself soon enough—in all likelihood, by the New Hampshire primary on February 11. In truth, probably the most—if not the only—notable thing about the abrupt, 11th-hour entrance into the Democratic race of an entirely new candidate is the sheer audacity of it all—the presumption that a would-be serious contender could forego nearly a year’s worth of fundraising and profile-building and somehow still wind up on top.

It’s an utterly ludicrous electoral strategy with a near-zero chance of succeeding. But then again, Patrick would not be the first African-American political wunderkind in this century to employ audacity as an operating principle and use it to turbocharge himself to the front of the pack.  Weirder things have happened.

And will I, who has seen Patrick work his magic up close and in the flesh, cast my vote for him in the Massachusetts primary on March 3?

Ask me again on March 2.

Twitter and Cheese

Perhaps you’ve heard the joke. A married construction worker on break opens his lunch box and says, “I swear to God, if it’s ham and cheese one more time, I’m gonna jump off this building.” Sure enough, the next day it’s ham and cheese yet again and, true to his word, the man leaps to his death. At the funeral, his wife remarks, “I don’t understand. He packed his own lunch.”

I recount this silly, if morbid, little yarn in light of Americans’ gradually-escalating freak-out about our various modes of social media—in particular, the blue menace that is Twitter, whose darker, louder, more hateful corners seem to be sending all of us to the proverbial ledge.

Over the weekend, the New York Times published its latest exhaustive (read: exhausting) deep dive into some aspect of the Trump administration—in this case, the president’s use of Twitter as a blunt instrument against his political enemies, real and imagined, both within and without the executive branch.

While I would love to engage with the piece’s most compelling and insightful conclusions, I must confess that I haven’t actually read the damn thing and have no immediate plans to do so. Though I have no doubt the Times investigative team has produced valuable and enlightening analysis of how the 45th president’s Twitter habits have shaped the course of recent history—which they most assuredly have—the truth is I just can’t bring myself to care about what Donald Trump types into his phone while he’s sitting on the can.

Frankly, I don’t care what most people tweet most of the time, and I dare say the feeling is mutual. At present, I “follow” a grand total of 22 individuals and organizations on the platform, which is to say I don’t follow roughly 330 million others, including Donald Trump, yet—oddly enough—I have never once felt I’m missing out on anything of any consequence.

In the decade since I first joined, I have only ever used Twitter as a means of keeping up with the nooks and crannies of American culture that truly interest me, and blissfully ignoring everything else. What’s more, my account is private, meaning no one can read my own 280-character brain droppings without a formal request. My current group of loyal followers could fit comfortably inside a telephone booth, and that suits me fine. So far as I’m concerned, I’m the consumer and Twitter is the product—not the other way around.

Which returns us to the construction worker and the ham sandwich. When it comes to Twitter and its many analogues across the googlesphere, we all pack our own lunch. Online, our “friends” and “followers” are entirely of our own choosing and can be done away with through a single tap of the finger. If we don’t want ham and cheese appearing in our newsfeed 24 hours a day, we have the power to pick a different sandwich, or none at all. Apart from the advertising that pays our meal ticket, the menu is entirely within our power to curate.

It begs the question: Why, exactly, are so many of us threatening to jump off the ledge? Why is our entirely voluntary participation in this virtual town square causing us so much unnecessary agita? If each of us has near-total control over which social media personalities to invite onto our pages—and which ones to block—why all the bellyaching about how these platforms have become toxic dumpster fires of intemperate partisan hysteria?

Are we simply a nation of masochists? Do we secretly enjoy rolling around in the rhetorical muck, self-righteously claiming we don’t? Are we so addicted to the dopamine hit that outrageous online behavior provides that we are destined to be sucked into the vortex of hate no matter how hard we resist? Are we a species that just enjoys complaining any chance we get?

Here’s a thought: Stop complaining and start acting.  If the ugliness of social media genuinely repulses you, try removing the sources of that ugliness from your field of vision and see if conditions don’t improve.  Don’t blame others for that which you yourself brought forth.  Take responsibility for your own life.

And don’t forget to vote on November 3, 2020.

Only Words

Bitch, please.

If a certain civic-minded Massachusetts resident has her way, that two-word phrase could someday cost me as much as a speeding ticket—and without the adrenaline rush that comes from barreling down the Mass Pike at 88 miles per hour.

As reported last week in the Boston Globe, back in May a state representative from Boston, Daniel Hunt, submitted a bill in the Massachusetts legislature, titled, “An act regarding the use of offensive words,” which stipulated that a person who “uses the word ‘bitch’ directed at another person to accost, annoy, degrade or demean the other person shall be considered to be a disorderly person” and fined up to $200. The text went on to say that “a violation […] may be reported by the person to whom the offensive language was directed at or by any witness to such incident.”

Commentators across the political spectrum have been having a lot of fun with this story in the days since it broke, pointing out—among other things—that any bill regulating the use of certain words in the public square would be in direct conflict with the First Amendment’s guarantee of free expression and would presumably be ruled unconstitutional by every court in the land.

What’s more, it turns out that the bill in question was conceived and drafted not by Representative Hunt himself, but rather by an unnamed constituent of his, who submitted the proposal through a “direct petition” process that Massachusetts—unique among the 50 states—allows its residents to use. In short, Hunt moved this bill forward because the Massachusetts Constitution required it, not because he necessarily thinks it’s a good idea or will ever even be put to a vote.

And of course, it’s not a good idea to levy fines on American citizens for uttering four (or five)-letter words, however objectionable they might be, nor does any measurable chunk of the citizenry seem to think otherwise. While “swear jars” may work fine within one’s own home—particularly when small children are nearby—enshrining the concept into law would prove problematic at best and unenforceable at worst. Call me insensitive, but the prospect of adult women running to the nearest cop saying, “That man over there just called me a bitch!” doesn’t seem like the best use of our law enforcement officers’ time.

Having said that—in my capacity as a First Amendment near-absolutist, I might add—I cannot help but admire the underlying feminist sentiment behind the anti-“bitch” bill—in particular, its precision in only punishing those who utter the B-word “to accost, annoy, degrade or demean.” It would not, for instance, target an individual who spontaneously yells “Son of a bitch!” to no one in particular, nor (one imagines) would it proscribe the playing of Elton John’s “The Bitch is Back” or Nathaniel Rateliff’s “S.O.B.” at some public gathering.

In other words, at least this pipe dream of an anti-obscenity law acknowledges the existence of nuance and context in the language we use. It allows—if only implicitly—that so-called “bad words” are not inherently objectionable, but rather are expressions of objectionable ideas under certain, limited circumstances—a distinction George Carlin made on his comedy album Class Clown in 1972 and which the rest of America has been stumbling toward ever since.

I mention this in light of a recent incident at a high school in Madison, Wisconsin, where an African-American security guard was fired for telling a student not to call him the N-word after said student called said security guard the N-word 15 times in rapid succession.

I will repeat that: A teenager spewed the word “nigger” repeatedly at a black security guard, the guard repeated the word in order to explain its inappropriateness, and the guard lost his job.

And we claim to live in an enlightened society.

Happily, the officer in question, Marlon Anderson, has since been rehired following an extremely public backlash. But the “zero tolerance” reasoning behind his firing remains endemic in the American body politic, which insists on removing all complexity from a given situation in favor of lazy, politically correct pablum. As a wise man once said, zero tolerance equals zero thinking.

To be sure, the N-word can be considered a special case—a term that, for obvious historical reasons, need not pass the lips of anyone under any circumstances—and that while Anderson’s initial sacking was plainly an overreaction, it was done in the spirit of enforcing a total and justifiable taboo against a word that is inextricably synonymous with the ugliest and most irredeemable facet of the American character.

And yet the N-word has very definitely retained a certain ironic cache within the African-American community, and as a Privileged White Person, I feel more than a little silly discouraging black people from reclaiming and re-appropriating it in order to blunt its toxic impact, much as the LGBT community has assumed ownership of words like “faggot” and “queer” and—come to think of it—women have with the word “bitch,” among others.

The solution, in short, is to treat each other with due respect as individualized human beings, avoiding hurtful stereotypes whenever possible, while also recognizing that the negative power of offensive words derives not from the literal stringing-together of a series of sounds, but rather from a complicated matrix of ideas and prejudices that will regrettably endure long after the current verbal manifestations of them have been vanquished from the American lexicon.

Ain’t that a bitch?

Impeachapalooza

Ask the typical conservative what he thinks about the looming, likely impeachment of one President Donald Trump, and he will likely turn the question around by indignantly claiming that liberals have been plotting to impeach Trump “since the day he was sworn in.”

As one such liberal, I can assure you this is incorrect. In fact, we have been plotting to impeach Trump since before he was sworn in.

Not that he hasn’t made it exceedingly easy to do so. The precise meaning of “impeachable offense” may well be in the eye of the beholder—Gerald Ford immortally called it “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history”—but it seems reasonable to conclude that the cumulative behavior of the sitting commander-in-chief, both before and during his tenure, amounts to a veritable buffet of disgracefulness wholly unbecoming of the highest office in the land.

The question isn’t “Has Trump committed an impeachable offense?” Rather, it’s “Which impeachable offense is the most offensive of them all?”

Is it the emoluments, i.e., Trump’s personal profiting from foreign dignitaries lodging at his many luxury hotels? Is it the campaign finance violations surrounding his silencing of Stormy Daniels mere days before the 2016 election? Is it attempting to collude with Russia to swing the election itself and covering up the subsequent investigation of same? Is it repeatedly putting in a good word for (or being silent about) the domestic terrorists who have attempted to murder his political opponents and/or members of the press?

Or—as Nancy Pelosi would argue—is it leaning on the leader of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, tacitly threatening to withhold millions of dollars in military aid if he doesn’t?

As Democrats and Republicans in Congress squabble about the precise nature of the president’s questionable July 25 phone conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky—was it extortion, a quid pro quo or a friendly suggestion?—let us remind ourselves that impeachment doesn’t require a specific act of criminality on the president’s part—or, indeed, a specific act of any sort.

As Republicans were quite happy to point out when they attempted to hound Bill Clinton from office in 1998, impeachment can simply be a referendum on a president’s character—that is, on his collective personal flaws as they relate to, and impinge upon, the carrying out of his constitutional duties as commander-in-chief. As no less than Alexander Hamilton wrote in no less than the Federalist Papers, objects of impeachment are “those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”

That’s a fairly open-ended standard for censure by the legislative branch, and in the face of Donald Trump, the case could scarcely be clearer or more damning. Surely, if Bill Clinton’s single lie about extramarital sex constituted a “violation of some public trust,” it stands to reason that Trump’s 13,000-or-so lies about just about everything—including extramarital sex—constitutes roughly the same thing, with interest.

As a moral issue, impeaching Trump is a question that answers itself. The real quandary—the practical one—is whether actually following through on the impeachment process will make any damn difference in the long run.

When it comes to this president—and this presidency—the closest we have to a statistical constant is the fact that virtually every scandal of Trump’s own making tends to fizzle out within 72 hours. Through the sheer volume of Trump’s offenses against common decency and the body politic, no single idiocy—however appalling—retains its outrageousness from one end of the week to the other before the next abomination takes its place. There have been exceptions to this rule, to be sure—Charlottesville and locking kids in cages chief among them—but they are, in fact, exceptional.

As such, are we so sure that impeachment, should it come, won’t be more than yet another ephemeral three-day story? That formally indicting Trump for various high crimes and misdemeanors, however legitimate, won’t be supplanted by some new, unrelated ridiculousness shortly after the official vote is tallied?

Political pundits have been breathlessly wagering about whether Trump’s impeachment would redound to the benefit of the left or the right come Election Day 2020. However, both conclusions assume that, 385 days from now, the electorate will even remember that impeachment was ever a thing.

Color me skeptical that they will—that impeachment may yet prove a mere minor episode in the reality TV show from hell that is America since November 8, 2016. That, like the two-year Mueller investigation that preceded it, it will evaporate like mist from the nation’s collective consciousness almost immediately after reaching its denouement.

The truth is that we may never know for sure what impact impeachment will have on the next election—we’re still arguing about the causes of the last one, with no consensus in sight—and this fact ought to be liberating for the Democratic Party. After all, so long as the consequences of moving forward with this inquiry remain indeterminate, there is all the more incentive to do the right thing for its own sake. “Tis not in mortals to command success,” intoned a character in Cato, George Washington’s favorite play. “[B]ut we’ll do more […] we’ll deserve it.”

Donald Trump should be impeached because he has abused the powers of his office above and beyond what should be tolerated by either Congress or the public. If he is to be re-elected in 2020, it might as well be with his full record of criminality on display for the electorate to either endorse or reject. In such a scenario, no voter could decently claim to have filled out his or her ballot under false pretenses. Everyone’s cards would be on the table, with no stone left unturned.

There are worse ways to run a presidential campaign.

Trailer Treasure

Not all heroes wear capes, and some of them live in trailers.

As reported by Dugan Arnett in last Friday’s Boston Globe, somewhere in Maine there resides a man named Bobby Stuart. A 65-year-old white-haired, white-bearded widower, he works 11-hour shifts for a concrete-mixing company by day and patronizes the local diner for burgers and hot dogs by night. In between, he keeps mostly to himself, relaxing in front of the TV on his comfy recliner in the trailer he has called home for the past four decades. It’s a simple but satisfying existence: He bothers no one and no one bothers him.

Earlier this year, Stuart won $1 million on a lottery scratch ticket. A few months later, for good measure, he won $100,000 more.

So what has he has been doing in the weeks since this sudden brush with unexpected wealth?

Why, he’s been working his 11-hour shifts every day, grabbing dinner at the greasy spoon every evening, and settling into his trusty rocking chair every night.

Asked if he plans to hire a lawyer or a money manager, he shrugs. Why bother?

Does he foresee any world travel in his future? Maybe to New Hampshire.

Has he used his winnings on any splurge of any sort? Yes, in fact: He installed new windows on his house. At a discount.

Here, I submit, is a model American: The sort of man we thought they didn’t make anymore and forlornly wish they did. Specifically—on the basis of the Globe story, at least—the type of person I myself hope to be someday.

While I haven’t purchased a lottery ticket in years, I have absolutely no trouble fantasizing (as one does) how I will react when I inevitably hit the jackpot. Given the opportunity, what would I do with a million dollars? Or $10 million? Or $100 million?

On my better days, I imagine giving most of it away—to my family, to my favorite charities—and sticking the rest in a retirement account and forgetting all about it. In more extravagant moments, I picture embarking on a grand tour of all the exotic foreign countries I would never visit otherwise—of hopping on a 747 and never coming back.

If history is any guide—which, generally-speaking, it is—the likeliest answer is that I will immediately blow most of my winnings on silly impulse purchases—yachts, beach homes and the like—and plunge swiftly into bankruptcy and decrepitude, as an alarmingly high proportion of lotto mega-winners tend to do. While I’d like to think I know myself well enough to assume I’d be wiser and more circumspect than the average American with a sudden infusion of unearned disposable income, I’m not quite so arrogant to take that assumption to the bank (so to speak).

To the extent that I know myself at all, however, I cannot help but wonder if a million-dollar scratch ticket wouldn’t make a heck of a lot of difference in my day-to-day comings and goings. If I wouldn’t keep the whole business to myself and a small handful of confidantes, and modulate my behavior as minimally as possible.

The prevailing research on the relationship between wealth and life satisfaction concludes that while money can, in fact, buy happiness, the effect is subject to diminishing returns as you climb ever-higher up the income ladder. According to one estimate, the typical American requires roughly $75,000 in annual earnings to be perfectly content; after that, one’s overall happiness more or less plateaus and becomes increasingly less a function of money.

I don’t know about you, but I find this highly encouraging—an indication that our national obsession with wealth and power is even more misplaced than we previously thought—and Bobby Stuart would seem to be proof positive that winning the lottery needn’t fundamentally change one’s behavior or outlook on life, for better or for worse.

In a scene from Before Sunset on this very subject, Ethan Hawke regales Julie Delpy about a study (possibly apocryphal) that tracked the lives of lottery winners and paraplegics over many years, which concluded, in Hawke’s words, “If they were basically an optimistic, jovial person, they’re now an optimistic, jovial person in a wheelchair; if they were a petty miserable asshole, they’re now a petty miserable asshole with a new Cadillac, a house and a boat.”

Sounds about right to me.  If (to quote Pascal) all of humanity’s problems arise from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone, there is something to be said for the Bobby Stuarts of the world:  They know exactly who they are and what they need, and have no greater ambition in life than to enjoy the modest fruits of their labor.

You could do worse.