'Stubborn Things,' and the Chauvin Trial

Consider two contrasting quotes on how reason and passion relate to truth in a society.

The first is (or once was, anyway) quite famous amongst Americans, spoken by Founder John Adams during his defense of the British soldiers accused of murder in the Boston Massacre of 1770:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

The second is from a figure of whom few alive could claim ignorance.  As Jonah Goldberg relates in his book, Liberal Fascism:

[Adolf] Hitler mocked those who believed that arguments and reason should trump the naked power of the people. When four renowned economists sent Hitler a letter disputing his socialist schemes, Hitler responded, “Where are your storm troopers?  Go on the street, go into folk meetings, and try to see your standpoint through. Then we’ll see who’s right -- we or you.” [Emphasis added]

Here are represented two arguments -- one for, and one against, the practical and moral supremacy of a society where truth and justice is informed by reason and evidence rather than the passions of a mob.

In his life, John Adams knew the weight of his actions in defending the British soldiers whom his community wanted nothing more than to see hanged.  In Adams’ appraisal of the evidence, the British soldiers were not murderers, but were acting in defense against a violent Bostonian mob.  There was an immediate propaganda war which  ensued for several months, with a British commission’s report titled “A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance in Boston in New England,” and a Boston committee (with aid of Adams’ famous cousin, Samuel) providing an official account that branded the event for the quarter-millennium that followed, “A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston.” 

Adams earned no love, at the time, from his community for taking up the cause of the hated soldiers’ defense in the trial that occurred several months later.  But he heroically committed to the task, anyway.  He successfully petitioned the judge to host the trial in a different venue, believing, probably correctly, that the impartiality of a local jury ruling upon the guilt of British soldiers who’d killed Bostonians would be compromised. 

Adams later referred to this choice to successfully defend the soldiers as “one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country. Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches, anciently.”

When it comes to an individual’s guilt or innocence, when his life hangs in the balance, it is better that facts and evidence should inform our reason, Adams argued, even when the evidence leads to judgements which may not satisfy our collective passions.

That’s one vision of what justice in America is meant to be, and it’s an idea that is clearly enumerated in the Constitution.  What we’re seeing today around the Chauvin trial appears to be the other -- that the passions and naked power of the people, as represented by loud populist rhetoric and violent mobs, should be the true arbiters of truth and justice.

Today, we all know that it’s virtually impossible for Derek Chauvin to receive a fair trial in Minneapolis.  But we are holding the trial in a city that is held by the mob anyway. 

And we all know that the de facto storm troopers promoting the BLM cause will set the city alight if the trial doesn’t produce a judgement that Chauvin is guilty of having murdered George Floyd.  As the Daily Wire reports, model and BLM activist Maya Echols told the world in a now-removed video, “if George Floyd’s murderer is not sentenced, just know that all hell is gonna break loose. Don’t be surprised when buildings are on fire. Just sayin’.”

More prominent activists in the news media, like Christine Emba at the Washington Post, also desire to see Derek Chauvin punished, and openly admit that they’re not interested in the facts or evidence of the trial.  Emba says that this could have been that “moment of national catharsis” that politicians and pundits “begged for” after the political riots of last summer that left many dead, countless injured, and $2 billion in property damage (read: terrorism).  Instead, it’s “a mere background to more of the same.”  “More of the same,” she implies here, is the institutional protection of a racist white police officer.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters has now brazenly admitted that, regardless of the facts being introduced and weighed in the balances of our justice system right now in Minneapolis, she is “looking for a guilty verdict.”  And if she doesn’t get a “verdict that will say guilty, guilty, guilty,” then she says that activists “got to get more active” and “more confrontational” in the streets to “make sure that they know we mean business.”

Celebrities, the media, and politicians are openly proclaiming that they are not interested in facts or evidence, only the retribution that they passionately seek.  All this is predicated upon the suggestion that the Chauvin trial serves as America’s reckoning, and the supposedly racist Chauvin is to be sacrificed as a stand-in for a supposedly racist America and its supposedly racist police infrastructure.

It requires repeating that the incident in question had nothing to do with racism.  No one has been able to produce a single convincing piece of evidence to suggest that Chauvin’s actions were motivated by Floyd’s race.  But this is not the point.

There were those in 1770 who wanted to make the Boston Massacre trial a referendum on the British policy of quartering soldiers in colonial homes.  But Adams heroically ensured that the trial was about the guilt or innocence of those individuals for the crime of murder, refusing to allow them to be punished as stand-ins for the British government’s policies.

Derek Chauvin should be tried for the crime of which he is accused, not as a stand-in for the mob’s presumption of America’s racism in policing.  And unlike Christine Emba, many Americans have been watching the trial, and have paid attention to the evidence.  Reasonable doubt appears to have been presented, and, “if the verdict were based solely on legal merits,” writes Andrew Branca at Legal Insurrection, there is “more than enough reasonable doubt to be unable to vote guilty.”

Ultimately, though, this is up to a jury of Chauvin’s peers to decide, and Branca suggests that the “political and social dynamics” may be enough to “drive this train clear off the rails.”

So, the question is -- can the facts be “stubborn things” in America when witnesses who support Chauvin’s defense have pigs’ heads and blood slathered on their former homes as a threat, or when legions of anti-American BLM and Antifa storm troopers stand ready to attack innocent Americans and burn down the jurors’ city, and countless other American cities, if the mob doesn’t get the lynching it desires?  More importantly, if we no longer live in a country where facts can be “stubborn things,” and where the passions of a violent mob have supplanted facts and evidence, in what kind of country do we now live?

We may need to brace ourselves and be prepared to speak loudly in defense of facts and evidence, and in favor of reason over passion, because are likely about to discover the answer to both those questions.

Photo credit: YouTube screengrab (cropped)

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