February 27, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Truths we know

By |2018-04-19T02:46:41+02:00March 31st, 2018|"Closing Argument"|
"I cannot tell a lie," said young George Washington. Detail from a painting by Grant Woods.

f you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way.

Émile Zola on the Dreyfuss Affair

When Rodolfo shouts Mimi’s name in the finale of Puccini’s opera La Bohème we know he feels her loss to the depths of his soul. We know it because the love they have for each other runs through us from the instant they touch hands in the dark. That knowledge is born from Puccini’s lyrics and music but mostly from the singers and actors themselves; they convey to the audience from their own life experiences the undeniable emotions of the Italian composer’s passionate and compassionate 1896 opera. They confer human truths that need not even be spoken.

By the end of Tom Robinson’s trial in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee’s novel on growing up in the South during the Great Depression, we know that it was illiterate Mayella, a poor white girl living in bigoted circumstances, who had lied. It was she who had sought out that dignified black man’s affections, not the other way around. The racist all-white Maycomb, Alabama jury finding Tom guilty contradicted the evidence, a falsity we know with certainty.

Those stories are fiction. Yet we can judge them as an audience because they present characters and situations from outside the theater that are true to our life experiences.

In a court of law the jury is the arbiter of fact. Each jury member takes the evidence presented by two sides to a dispute and determines what is fact and what is fiction. A jury can do this because each member’s experiences from outside the courtroom give them what is commonly understood as perspective. The very existence of perspective is what allows a trial by jury to exist.

We are jurors in this life, the life we live daily, and sometimes, based on the evidence, we must condemn.

Mitch McConnell, the Senator Majority Leader from Kentucky, has a history of regressing into his Republican political shell. McConnell will do that which benefits his party but little else. This places him in a position of near constant retreat since many of the problems facing the United States require rising above self-interest and find active if not progressive solutions.

The cost of McConnell’s cynical behavior, both to the U.S. constitution and to the country as a whole, seems not to trouble him. Two years ago, he refused to hold hearings for President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominees following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, ignoring age-old political protocol as if it had never existed. Now, under President Donald Trump, he has set aside proof that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election campaign, remaining as aloof as possible. He has stayed away from condemning sexual misconduct by politicians despite damning evidence against them. He is not in the forefront of legislation that would attempt to limit gun violence, or address climate change, or illegal immigration.

Under Obama, while still in the minority, he worked to ensure Republican senators thwarted every move that president made, using filibusters at every turn and poisoning any attempts to create a bipartisan atmosphere. “The single most important thing we want to achieve,” he said in October 2010, “is for President Obama to be a one-term President.” Though McConnell has spoken out against the political dangers of partisanship, he indulges it at every turn.

When McConnell does act, such as in working to gut Obama’s Affordable Health Care plan, it is with backroom secrecy, ignoring committee processes and without concern for Democratic Party input or public opinion.

The Senate Majority Leader is of course the spokesman for the majority party. But in reality also manages the Senate, which brings with it transcendent moral responsibility. It is a leadership role that leaves a national legacy.

That legacy, if calculated now, would be one marked by equal parts political sabotage and gross negligence through intentional omission; ignoring the constitution and the country in favor of special interests and power. In the Trump era much criticism falls on the president, for behaving like a bull in a china shop. McConnell, meanwhile, tries to remain safely hidden in a bog of his own making, burying the truth behind his policies. Yet the public as his jury gives him the highest disapproval rating among all sitting senators. They know him for what he is.

About the Author:

Don Carroll wrote the Closing Argument column from 2011 through 2018.