On day four of Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, the former president’s lawyers went full tilt into a “hypocrisy” (or, as some would say, a “whataboutism”) claim, arguing that Trump did nothing rhetorically on January 6 that his Democratic tormenters don’t do all the time. Team Trump showed a long series of heavily edited video clips featuring Democratic politicians promising to “fight” for this or that cause, or referring to various political battles as a “fight.”
The montage was unveiled by attorney David Schoen, then partially aired again a few minutes later, to bolster his colleague Michael van der Veen’s argument that all political speech is constitutionally protected. It included footage featuring Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, virtually all of the House impeachment managers, and an assortment of other figures.
The montage must have been great fun to put together, and it does have an impact in terms of reminding us all that pugilistic language has become dominant in day-to-day political discourse in both parties, though that’s hardly news. But unfortunately for Schoen and van der Veen, all this fight rhetoric was wrenched entirely out of context, which, if supplied, would have shown that the fighters were alluding to legislative or policy conflicts, not to mobs preparing to march on the Capitol to disrupt the certification of a presidential contest that had ended months earlier, amounting to an insurrection against the United States government.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, for example, was shown rattling off the words fight and fighting with common frequency, and she does use that term a lot. But she’s equally famous for making her “fights” about ideas, and utilizing the legislative, regulatory, and judicial processes as avenues for conflict, not street action, much less physical assaults on her enemies. Has Warren (or Biden, or Harris, or any of the Democrats featured) ever gloried in the idea of her supporters mixing it up on the barricades or breaking down police barriers to make their views known? Are Democrats in the habit of mocking respect for legal restraints on their ambitions as weakness and even disloyalty? Without question, the Republican senators watching this show know the difference between Trump’s kind of “fighting” and those deployed by most pols.
The Washington Post’s James Hohmann nailed it in suggesting (on the Post’s video commentary) that the president’s lawyers are at this point performing for an audience of one: their client, the 45th president. Trump’s own rules of combat have always depended on dragging his opponents down to his own depraved level. What the “fight” video shows is that if you can’t succeed in doing that, you can always edit the record to pretend you have.