Minor usage error aside, U.S. Rep Adam Schiff wended his way in Trump’s impeachment trial from one stirring statement to the next.
U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff’s remarks to the United States Senate during the impeachment trial were replete with striking examples of well-crafted discourse—some of which aspired to the level of poetry. He also made use of various techniques for driving home a point that, in most other venues, likely would have brought him victory.
For example, Schiff demonstrated the efficacy of co-opting the words of your opponent and repeating particular words or phrases when, on January 22, 2020, he used White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s directive to the media to “get over” President Donald Trump withholding military aid to Ukraine until the Eastern European country investigated Trump’s pet (and unsubstantiated) theory that its operatives, and not those of Russia, hacked the Democratic Party’s email server in 2016. Schiff also co-opted Mulvaney’s assertion that U.S. government officials “do that all the time with foreign policy,” that “[t]here’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.”
After playing the clip of Mulvaney making those statements, Schiff asked, “The only answer to presidential misconduct is, ‘We just need to get over it?’” He continued:
What are we going to say with the next president? What are we going to say with the president who’s from a different party who refuses the same kind of subpoenas, and the president who says to you or his chief of staff …, `Just get over it. I’m not doing anything different than [what] Donald Trump did. Just get over it. He asked for help in the next election. I’m asking for help in the next election. Just get over it. We do this kind of thing all the time.’”
Schiff then delivered the blow:
People are cynical enough as it is about politics, about people’s commitment to their good, cynical enough without having us confirm it for them … I think [this] is a gross abuse of power. I don’t think that impeachment power is a relic. If it is a relic, I wonder how much longer our Republic can succeed.
With those words, Schiff gave us pause.
But I have to admit that the word nerd in me winced when, a moment later, Schiff made a common usage error: “In late August, President Trump learned about a whistleblower complaint that was winding its way through the intelligence agencies on its way to Congress.”
The more correct phrase in this context is “wending its way.”
To wend means to go or proceed in a specified direction or to a particular place, though not necessarily by the most direct route and not quickly. It also means to pursue or direct (one’s way). When something is wending its way, it is gradually making its way from point A to point B. Schiff meant that the whistleblower complaint was proceeding slowly through various agencies to end up at the legislature. Thus, he should have said that it was wending its way.
Here are two examples of correct use of wend: (1) “As the legislation continues to wend its way through Congress, industry leaders continue to debate the issue.” (2) “On this warm sunny day, the hikers decided to wend along the coastal trails.”
To wind, on the other hand, means to curl or twist, or change direction, and not necessarily to reach any particular destination. A vine, for example, might wind around a pole, or a hare might turn and wind to escape a fox in pursuit.
It was a minor error on Schiff’s part that could not detract from the power of his commentary.
Consider his lyrical explanation of the purpose of impeachment, where he again used repetition to great effect, while bringing to mind the works of the English author, Rudyard Kipling, the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, and the English rock and roll band, the Rolling Stones:
[The Founding Fathers] knew what it was like to live under a despot, and they risked their lives to be free of it.
They knew they were creating an enormously powerful executive, and they knew they needed to constrain it.
They did not intend for the power of impeachment to be used frequently or over mere matters of policy, but they put it in the Constitution for a reason: for a man who would subvert the interests of the nation to pursue his own interests; for a man who would seek to perpetuate himself in office by inviting in foreign interference and cheating in an election; for a man who would be disdainful of constitutional limit, ignoring or defeating the other branches of government and their coequal powers; for a man who believed the Constitution gave him the right to do anything he wanted and practiced in the art of deception; for a man who believed that he was above the law and beholden to no one; for a man, in short, who would be a king.
With those lines, Schiff reminded us of Rudyard Kipling’s harsh lesson for those who fall too much in love with power in his 1888 tale, The Man Who Would be King, and he turned Robert Burns’s 1795 sung poem, “A Man’s a Man for A’ That” (i.e., “for all that”) on its head. In his poem, Burns rues the inequality among men and compares the false greatness of the strutting lord to the true greatness of the poor, humble man of faith: “The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor/is king of men for a’ that.”
In what 1969 song did the Rolling Stones use the phrase, “practiced in the art of deception?” That would be, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Apropos the quality of Schiff’s impeachment trial arguments, we might add to the title: “Even When You Should.”
About the author:
Savannah Blackwell is a former news reporter who covered government and politics in San Francisco for more than a decade and is now Of Counsel at Renne Public Law Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @SavannahBinSF.