The Shakespearean Grandeur of Trump Derangement Syndrome

Trump Derangement Syndrome, now playing out in the impeachment proceedings in the House, would require a Shakespeare adequately to describe and understand the way it is playing out as a motivating factor in our politics. The Bard did give us a hint of what is going on in one of his more obscure yet fabulously entertaining works, The Winter’s Tale. That mysterious late drama is a meditation on irrational jealousy, tyranny, and injustice.

In the climactic scene in Act III of the play, when the innocent Queen Hermione is wrongly found guilty of adultery by her husband, King Leontes, she laments that it is her fate to “be condemned Upon surmises, all proofs sleeping else.” And yet, the queen understands that what has brought her to this sad pass, as she tells her judge and tyrannical husband, is a result of “what your jealousies awake, I tell you ’Tis rigour, and not law.”

Just so, Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, and Nancy Pelosi’s determination to find something, anything, to use as impeachment fodder against President Trump. 

Trump himself is a character even Shakespeare might have hesitated to create, an almost inconceivable combination of both Falstaff and Henry V. Trump has both the irreverence, buoyancy, and earthiness of Sir John, but also the ability to inspire and the patriotism of that great warrior English monarch. Trump’s detractors have tried to portray him as Richard III, a tyrant, one who puts his personal political interests ahead of those of the nation, but the charges against him are, essentially, no more substantial than those brought against Queen Hermione.

The Constitution’s Framers perceived the danger that impeachment proceedings might be brought as a result of “rigour” and not “law,” and we are in the midst of just such a misconceived enterprise. To put it into even simpler language, the impeachment of the president, for the Framers, was not conceived of as a tool for easy removal of that official whenever Congress may have political or policy differences with him. It was to be reserved for occasions when there was a clear, convincing, and undeniable mistake made by those who selected the president when the president turned out to be something other than represented. 

Impeachment, in other words, is not a game of “Gotcha!” It is not about finding one or two things that can be spun to be self-serving acts, it is not about whether this president may have sought to use another country in ferreting out corruption in that country or at home, and may have used the powers of the presidency to seek to do just that.

Impeachment, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi apparently once understood, ought never to be undertaken unless the underlying facts were so “compelling and overwhelming” that the process could be “bipartisan.” None of those three qualities are present here, and therefore what the Democrats are undertaking is the most egregious, the most hypocritical, and the most unconscionable impeachment ever sought.

If there actually were convincing reasons for impeachment it would not have been necessary for Schiff, in his House Intelligence Committee “investigation” that began this enterprise, to deny the Republicans and the president the basic protections of due process, such as the right to summon defense witnesses, to have lawyers participate and cross-examine accusing witnesses, and not to conduct proceedings in secret with penalties for revealing what was going on. 

As former Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz explained, “We’re seeing a complete distortion of due process in the interest of just reaching a result, which is to be a partisan result.”

With Trump, those who voted for him got precisely what they sought. He has appointed judges and justices committed to implementing the original understanding of the Constitution and laws, he has reduced federal regulation and taxation, and he has facilitated job creation and low unemployment, especially among minorities, and he has restructured American foreign policy in a manner that is more favorable to the interests of this country.

Donald Trump’s enemies are entirely self-serving and seek to preserve a system in which they have corruptly reaped shameful profits, with Hunter Biden’s sinecure on the board of a Ukrainian Gas Company, Burisma, only the most egregious of the known examples. 

The president, as he emphasized in a recent tweet, is seeking to “reveal, for the first time, how corrupt our system really is. I was elected to ‘Clean the Swamp,’ and that’s what I am doing.” Pelosi, Schiff, Nadler, and the Bidens live in the deepest and most fetid part of that swamp, and this impeachment is a corrupt, shameful, tyrannical and unconstitutional effort to protect it. 

Shakespeare, perhaps the greatest artist at portraying miscarriages of justice, if alive today, could write “Donald Trump,” and it would be a masterpiece.

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About Stephen B. Presser

Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, and the author of “Law Professors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law” (West Academic Publishers, 2017). In the academic year 2018-2019, Professor Presser is a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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