Adam Schiff Made The Case For The Soul Of America

In his effort to sway an impossible Republican Senate jury, Schiff’s performance in the impeachment trial is one for the history books.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump (AP). Rep. Adam Schiff (CSPAN)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump (AP). Rep. Adam Schiff (CSPAN)

Representative Adam Schiff’s closing argument to the 100 United States Senators, the juror-judges in the Impeachment of Donald John Trump, and to the nation, January 24, showed passionately and powerfully that he believed, however improbably, he just might sway an impossible jury. A week later, only two Republican Senators voted in favor of calling witnesses and subpoenaing information, effectively guaranteeing that the President will be acquitted, even though the final vote on the two articles of impeachment is still to be held.

Schiff’s appeal to the Senate as judge and jury recalls The Devil and Daniel Webster, a 1936 Stephen Vincent Benét fable in which the great American statesman, orator and lawyer Daniel Webster contests with the Devil for the soul of his fellow New Hampshire citizen, farmer Jabez Stone, who had years before intemperately bartered his soul to the Devil for relief from a life of poverty. When the Devil comes for the farmer’s soul, Webster is there to represent Stone against the Devil. At great personal risk, Webster argues for a trial by jury, and agrees the Devil may select that jury and the judge; the Devil agrees with Webster’s stipulation they be Americans all. And what a jury the Devil selects: Blackbeard the pirate, slavers, war criminals, and for Judge, John Hathorne, the cruelest Salem Witch Trials judge. In the story, Webster has an impossible task: win acquittal from a jury of the damned who are under the eye of the Devil himself.

Adam Schiff seemed to be arguing for an impossible outcome, in this case, not for an acquittal but for a conviction, not before a jury of the damned but before a jury perhaps even more unlikely to be swayed by his argument, and in the presence, for many of them, of a power even more intimidating than the Devil – an angry tweet from the president.

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This is no claim that the “Devil” is actually involved, or that there is a jury of the damned or a soul at risk of forfeiture. Nor do I believe the majority party in the US Senate are the Damned or should be damned. It would be enough if a bunch of them were defeated and damned to being extras on Fox News. Donald Trump is not the Devil. (I will, though, go so far as to argue he is more like Mussolini than is good for our future.)

I’ve loved “The Devil and Daniel Webster” since I was a child. Schiff, like the fictional Webster, appeals to core values, the highest aspirations of the American dream.

Schiff argued for the soul of the United States. He believes that everything is on the line for that soul. He believes, as his speech and conduct demonstrated, that it just may be possible to change the preordained outcome, to convince a jury. As hopeless as that seemed, he demonstrated putting everything on the line to give hope a chance. This time it was not enough.

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He seemed to believe that the oath Senators take commencing an impeachment trial is serious: “I solemnly swear (or affirm as the case may be) that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.”

The President’s supporters, of course, attempted to trivialize and demean Schiff and the other House Managers presenting the case, as if those making the case are the problem. They called it theatrics and so on. They shamelessly repeated Biden Biden Biden as they repeated Hillary Hillary Hillary. Fox protected their defense of the President by reducing actual coverage of the House Managers, with a constant overlay of a disparaging panel.

In the end, despite some bright shining moments of clarity, the jurors were not swayed. But if we want to see a speech of the truth and dignity that Benét’s fictionalized Webster delivers – it is here, in Adam Schiff’s remarks to the Senate of the United States.

“Because right matters, and the truth matters. Otherwise, we are lost.”

Opinion // Adam Schiff / Impeachment