Congress, you’ll recall, left some rather awkward business hanging over the holidays. But now our lawmakers are back in Washington, and the Senate will soon get on with trying President Donald Trump. Much about the trial is unsettled, but not the outcome. He will be acquitted.
Republican senators have offered a variety of defenses, but the one that the president insists on is that his July 25 phone call to Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky was “perfect.” Most Republicans can be expected to fall in line. Reading the summary (it’s not a transcript) of the call has failed to convince me of its perfection, or even blamelessness. Seeking enlightenment, I called up one of Trump’s most tireless defenders, Senator Roy Obfuscate.
R.O.: No crime! No quid pro quo! A travesty got up by Democrat conspirators!
D.L.: Thank you, Senator. I’ve heard you on television. I’d like to focus on the July 25 phone call, and why you say that it is not evidence of any wrongdoing.
Zelensky thanks Trump for the financial aid package and says he wants to buy missiles from the U.S. Trump says, “I would like you to do us a favor, though,” then brings up the unsupported theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind the hack of the Democratic National Committee in 2016, and urges Zelensky in strong terms to investigate it. He goes on to urge the opening of an investigation of the Bidens.
R.O.: Yes. So?
D.L.: Sounds to me like using public funds to coerce a foreign leader into giving him political help.
R.O.: No! It would only have been coercion if Trump had said, “If you don’t do what I want you to do regarding the Bidens, we’re not going to give you the aid.” Just show me where he says that. Put your finger on the page.
D.L.: I cannot.
R.O.: That settles it. No crime! No quid—
D.L.: Yes, got it. So with no need to think about the trial anymore, I suppose you’ve had a relaxing vacation?
R.O.: In my leisure, I’ve turned to literary criticism.
D.L.: You surprise me.
R.O.: With the textual analysis skills I’ve honed defending President Trump, I’ve been able to correct some longstanding misinterpretations of Shakespeare. For instance, the absurd belief that Lady Macbeth is trying to talk her husband into murdering King Duncan.
D.L.: That has been the settled interpretation for the last four centuries or so. You say it’s wrong?
R.O.: She’s no more trying to do that than Trump was trying to talk Zelensky into investigating the Bidens. Just read the transcript — I mean the play. There’s a lot of excess verbiage about “fill me from the crown to the toe topful of direst cruelty,” blah blah, but nowhere does she say the words, “You’re not getting into the marriage bed until you kill the King.”
D.L.: You mean...no quid pro quo?
D.L.: But there are a lot of lines that make it pretty clear she’s talking about murdering the King.
R.O.: Such as what?
D.L.: Well, Macbeth comes in and says the King is staying at our castle tonight, and she says, “And when goes hence?” Macbeth replies, “Tomorrow, as he purposes,” and she says, “O, never/Shall sun that morrow see!”
R.O.: She’s talking about the possibility of a total solar eclipse. I don’t see any mention of murder.
D.L.: Okay, how about when she says, “The raven himself is hoarse/ That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan/Under my battlements.” There is that word “fatal.”
R.O.: But fatal to whom? She’s obviously talking about the boar they’re going to slaughter for the feast.
D.L.: I see. So when Lady Macbeth says “Come, thick night,/And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,/That my keen knife see not the wound it makes” —
R.O.: She’s talking about slaughtering the boar. Obviously.
D.L.: Well, that clears up a lot of confusion. Now that you’ve elucidated Macbeth, what’s next for you?
R.O.: I’m working on Othello.
D.L.: Another misinterpreted play?
R.O.: Iago is no more trying to talk Othello into killing Desdemona than Trump was trying to talk Zelensky into investigating the Bidens. If he was, he would have said, “Your wife is unfaithful, and I urge you to murder her.” Show me those words. Put your finger on the page.
D.L.: You know, Senator, some people think Shakespeare had a bit of insight into human nature. He knew that when you’re trying to persuade someone to commit a crime, you don’t say so straight out. You both know what you’re talking about, so you talk around it. Like when Trump said to Zelensky —
D.L.: What was that noise?
R.O.: That was my mind closing.
D.L.: Okay. I guess we’re done. You have a Happy New Year, now.