Saturday, August 30, 2014

Of a trial down in Richmond

-- medio de fonte leporum
Surgit amari aliquid, quod
in ipsis floribus angat.

From middle spring of sweets some
bitter springs
Which in the very flower smartly

In the matter of the Federal District Court corruption trial of Virginia's most recent ex-Governor and his wife, the element of conspiracy has been frontally rebutted by assertions, now quite famous, of no love lost between the conspirators. Infamous as a gladiatorial net of indiscriminate suspicion, a conspiracy indictment deserves all the opprobrium it can get, for incrimina-tion without acts; and the affections, as we've tried to suggest, are the last business of the law. On the other hand, Jon Stewart, long suspected of lurking about the perimeter of this most Gordian of all of repression's knots, clove it paradoxically, with something of an idiot savant's epitaph, "You don't have to be in love to be corrupt." 

That said, you need to have acquiesced in each other's darling little stocking stuffers, to be deemed to have known they come to you from a common source. And this seems very much to define the source in question here, a quite splendidly gothic construction out of the wildest dreams of Huckleberry Finn. We are not, dear Readers, threatening the domain of taste in the transcripts before us. A white leather coat, a 5-lb Rolex, do not the Pleiades excite. But there is innocence born in all of us. I gave my mother once a sap-phire bracelet at La Côte Basque, and she kissed the captain for it. Not that he didn't deserve it.

The evidence, presented in these proceedings, supports the Southern fratboy gotcha to a T. Observing serial indelicacy of judgment as we may, we find that the laws of the Commonwealth extend a reverence toward the Office of Governor with which no petty crackpot can compete: he [sic] is insulated from avarice by law, if not by nature. He may suck all the Sazeracs he likes, and Louis Treize in the bargain, on the premise, very frankly, that he is likely to be richer'n death as it is. Jefferson, the first Governor, could turn only to Washington with envy,  but that man inherited several counties, and his wife brought him the whole Potomac watershed in dower, and still they couldn't hire a decent architect. 

In short, foundation law portrays a fine opinion of who may vote and whom he'll [sic] select. Mind you, no one anticipated this exact Governor's educator, Jerry Falwell, or had any inkling of Fox News, where nothing ever needs to be true. All the more reason to marvel, then, at least for a moment, in the spectacle of a definition of the Office, which anticipates hypocrisy in such elevated flight that the world might see only the soaring radiance of shattered principles.

 Yet this is the only story,  actually, to claim position  here, not the squalid, emetic  distractions the defendants'  attorneys conspired to thrust  before the People of the Com-  monwealth. And all of this as  free entertainment, too, given  their confidence that there is  no case. There is a greater  humiliation, as Jefferson  certainly knew, than subjecting  the People to the shameful  affront of begging them to be  excused for years and years of  indignity, at best, for lack of  conjugal felicity. Who hasn't  given that one a whirl, on an  off weekend; and 48 solid  months of neglectfulness, it  has been said, deserve a  consolation.

Now the People's little, ancient, natural principles are desecrated as pretenses of antiquity, expectations pitched too high for Falwellian contrition, Foxed fabrication. The People are blamed by these attorneys for believing, silly fools, in values uncongenial to alligator tears. And it's true. There isn't a crime inscribed in their statutes, for such loathing of the public trust; and there shouldn't be. It would be a tyranny over the mind of man, which Jefferson so presciently detested, and it would moot the prospect, as well as the living reality of trust. These attorneys, these officers of the Court, are openly soliciting a jury of Virginians to betray themselves.

Even if this tactic should succeed today - as it might, given our storied resistance to Federal embarrassment, our denying flair for splitting phantom hairs - there is, always, History. Who could want to say, this had happened? Clio only knows the virtues, she can not summon them. Can those who govern as if trust were dead, really take it with them, against the likelihood of a Virginian's being born, any moment?

Michel de Montaigne
  Citing Lucretius
We Taste Nothing Purely
Shakespeare's Montaigne:
  The Florio Translation of
  the Essays, A Selection
John Florio, translation
Stephen Greenblatt and
  Peter Platt, editors
New York Review Books, 2014©

The estimable and complete
Donald Frame translation,
1957, is restored to brilliant
company in NYRB's recent,
self-recommending issue.

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