Monday, February 6, 2017

Thomas More & Donald Trump


The current situation, with Trump's selective ban on immigration, the courts' overturning the ban, and Trump's subsequent whining and name-calling ("so-called judge") reflects an ignorance of law that is disturbing in a president. What we have seen  recently is an example of the Checks & Balances that the writers of the Constitution provided for presidents like Trump who would overstep their authority. Instead of celebrating the working of the Constitution, Trump has thrown yet another tantrum.

I'm reminded of this scene in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, which as a play won a Tony Award for Best Play in 1962. As a film in 1966 it swept the Academy Awards: Best Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Best Costume Design; Best Actor for Paul Scofield, who played Thomas More; Best Director for Fred Zinneman; and Best Picture.

The scene I'm thinking of features some snappy Socratic dialog between More, who was Henry VIII's chancellor who famously refused to sign the paper that granted Henry's divorce, and William Roper, More's politically ambitious son-in-law. Roper, like Trump, would cast the law aside to suit his own political agenda, but More has a wiser and deeper respect for the law:

MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

MORE (Roused and excited): Oh? (Advances on ROPER) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you-where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? (He leaves him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast-man's laws, not God's-and if you cut them down-and you're just the man to do it-d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

—Thomas More in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons.