Saturday, March 17, 2018

I Could Get Into This...

     ...at least, if I were terminally ill:

     Have you ever wanted to reply to a clearly dishonest panhandler in such a fashion? I have.

     If you’re wondering, the scene above is from Interstate 60, a genuinely marvelous and uplifting movie that hasn’t received nearly the audience it deserves. Yes, it’s essentially a fantasy – among other things, there is no Interstate 60 – but it skewers many aspects of contemporary life that range from deplorable to ludicrous, and it does so humorously enough that the viewer can get the point without feeling he’s being proselytized. It had me cheering. I recommend it highly.


     There are days when it seems that no one says what he means. It’s a political plague, to be sure, which is a great part of the reason we elected Donald Trump to the presidency. But it’s also pandemic throughout commerce, the media, and law enforcement.

     For example, New York State law permits the police to lie to a suspect if they believe it will help their investigation. Federal agents routinely lie to targets to induce the results they want – in some cases, a statement from the target that the FBI can characterize as a lie to a federal agent: a prosecutable offense. And when was the last time you heard a straight question met with a straight answer during a Congressional hearing?

     At one time – and for all I know it could still be this way – a trial lawyer conducting a witness examination could compel the witness to answer a yes-or-no question with a yes-or-no answer. Whence arose the old gag about “Have you stopped beating your wife?” – a question which cannot be answered yes or no without damaging the witness. Typically the presiding judge could rule such a question out of bounds. Yet there are other questions that no judge would dare to rule out of bounds that are just as damaging. Here’s one: “Would it shake your faith in the defendant’s innocence if you were to learn that he’s been convicted of armed robbery?”

     Try answering that one yes or no without harming your credibility.

     I made use of this sort of deceit by implication in Statesman:

     The head of the Wooster defense cadre rose from his seat to stand immediately across from Redmond. He led off with twenty minutes’ worth of utterly mundane questions about the engineer’s age, marital status, education, employment history, and duties at OA. He paced his questions in a deliberate, placid manner. It was obvious to Sumner that he was trying to put Redmond at ease, setting him up for a Sunday punch.
     It took exactly the shape and substance that Sumner had anticipated and feared.
     “Have you ever been involved in a criminal trial before, Mr. Redmond?” the lawyer said.
     “No.”
     “What about a civil matter?”
     “No.”
     “Have you ever been called for jury service?”
     “No.”
     Weems smiled coldly. “Then I suppose no officer of the court has ever asked you about your penchant for violence?”
     Sumner tensed.
     “No.”
     “Well, wouldn’t you agree that one who has a habit of settling disputes with his fists would make a poor witness to a criminal action?”
     Redmond’s eyebrows rose. “Would you care to be more specific, Counselor?”
     Weems’s smile brightened to victorious intensity. He lowered his basso voice to its most grandiose octave. “How do you think the trial jury would react to hearing that you’d committed a felonious assault against a law-abiding citizen?”
     This is it. Either he dives across the table and throttles the bastard now, or we’re home free.
     Redmond looked briefly away.
     “I would say...no more adversely than your wife would react to hearing that you’d been downloading and storing child pornography on your office computer.”
     Sumner came to full alert. The D.D.A.’s mouth dropped open. The stenographers gasped. Weems’s face went from incredulity to astonishment to fury.
     “How dare you!”
     He cocked an arm to strike Louis Redmond and swung with obvious force.
     With a move both swift and casual, Redmond caught the lawyer’s wrist before the blow could descend. He seemed to do nothing more. Yet six foot four, heavyset Horace Weems, one of the most feared defense lawyers in the Northeast, paled and staggered. He looked about to drop to his knees.
     “Perhaps you should sit, Counselor.”
     Weems sat. Redmond released the lawyer’s wrist and steepled his hands before him.
     “Under the law that governs slander,” Redmond said, “were you to say explicitly that I’ve committed a felony, I could take legal action against you for it. If it were to happen on federal government property, it might be a matter for the federal courts. Your only defense would be to produce court records to confirm your claim. So tell me, Counselor: do you have such records to present to such a court?”
     Weems’s eyes were fixed upon Louis Redmond. He said nothing.
     “Now as it happens,” Redmond continued, “I understood exactly what you said. You didn’t make an accusation that the law would deem actionable. You merely posed a hypothetical question that invited me and the others present to infer that you could do so. But as it happens, I have never even been stopped for a traffic violation, and I resent your insinuation to the contrary. So in reply, I invited these others to infer that you’re a consumer of the vilest imaginable entertainment. I would say, based purely on your reaction, that you didn’t like it much. Do you think you’d like it any better if I were to do it in open court, with a judge and jury listening?”

     Ballsy, eh? Trouble is, you’d have to be hyper-alert and absolutely ready to react in so pungent a fashion. (You’d have to be Louis Redmond.) I shan’t claim to speak for anyone but myself, but a question such as that would throw me for a loop.

     But if we were to severely discourage deliberate lies, misdirection, and obfuscation by persons in positions of authority or trust, the problem wouldn’t exist.


     Straight talk – the plain and open expression of what one really means – is more endangered than any species on the EPA’s list. Everyone “talks around the subject,” and the more important the subject, the more circuitous the circumlocutions. Think of a few subjects in the national discourse:

  • Race
  • Immigration
  • “Rape culture”
  • Federal deficits
  • Federal handouts
  • UnConstitutional laws
  • Governmental corruption
  • The failure of public schools
  • Political office as a life career
  • The corruption of our elections

     That’s ten, right off the hairless top of my pointy little head. Virtually no one with a voice in the national discourse talks straight about any of them. How many more could you come up with if you were to give it an hour’s thought?

     Now and then someone will violate the taboo on saying what people need to hear – a Pat Buchanan will declaim about America’s “world policeman” follies, or a Ron Paul will pull the mask away from the organized crime syndicate we call the Federal Reserve system – and the big guns, the major figures in politics and media, will immediately roll up and start blasting the upstart.

     Have a little C. S. Lewis for a conclusion:

     Consider too what undesirable deaths occur in wartime. Men are killed in places where they knew they might be killed and to which they go, if they are at all of the Enemy's party, prepared. How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition! [From The Screwtape Letters]

     If anyone deserves the straight truth, surely it would be a dying man. But how often does a man in such straits receive such truth, unfiltered and undecorated? And if we are so ready and willing to lie to him, where can we reliably find the truth? Whom can we trust?

     It’s enough to make me sick. But short of donning a dynamite vest and playing brinksmanship games such as the one in the opening clip, how do we put an end to it?

2 comments:

Bill Sheffield said...

What the MSM and establishment types didn't, and still don't get, is that Trump's appeal is that he says straight out what we all want to hear. Simple answers to simple questions. Washington speak, Hollywood speak, and academia speak have been the norm too long. It is so very rare that I hear a straight, simple answer from a politician, that it stands out like a red flag in an empty field. Hillary, Bill, and Obama are the best at giving a non answer that I have ever seen.

Derald Yancey said...

Some years ago I was involved in a large construction project. It was a madhouse on square wheels and I decided to take a week off. As I was about to leave the office for my vacation, a member of my staff handed me a bottle of whiskey. I seldom drink whiskey but I thanked him for it and stepped out onto the street and turned toward the bus stop.

As I did a panhandler shuffled out of a doorway and asked for spare change so he could buy some "food." Instead, I handed him that bottle. The look on his face was priceless - as if he were dying and already had his ticket punched for heaven.