Watching Rudy Giuliani dance with disgrace as the loser president's lawyer pressing claims of fraud in the 2020 election, I thought of a fictional attorney played by Paul Newman in the 1982 film, "The Verdict."
Newman received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his role as Frank Galvin, an alcoholic attorney. Galvin sobers up just enough to represent the plaintiff in a medical malpractice case. The facts are on his side, but the rules of evidence work against him. Feeling his case hopeless, Galvin makes an emotional plea to the jury.
"So much of the time we're just lost," he says. "We become tired of hearing people lie. ... We become weak, we doubt ourselves, we doubt our institutions, we doubt our law."
There's more to it, but that's the part I offer as relevant today. The feeling of being lost, having existential doubts, is what brought Newman's Galvin to mind.
That the once-admired Giuliani continues to make ridiculous claims, that his client tries to overturn an election he lost, that most of the Republican leadership still abides this subversion of our democracy — and in the midst of a horrible pandemic — an American can feel lost.
But there's no reason to. The facts are clear: Joe Biden won the election.
And, despite President Donald Trump's relentless efforts to create an alternate reality — despite the quackeries, lies and conspiracy theories that live in the right-wing sphere — most Americans are still capable of discerning facts from foolishness.
Some believe it's a waste of time to argue with Trump supporters. But I don't think those of us who follow news that flows from mainstream media — those of us who count on core journalism for information about our world — should give up the fight.
And I say that because, on the fringes of Trump's support, are Americans who know the jig is up.
They've seen in the pandemic what happens when the nation's chief executive refuses to trust the experts and take charge of a crisis. And, though they might not be candid with pollsters, they know that accusations of fraud in the election have been invented.
I distinguish Trump's base — people who seem immune to facts and logic — from those who voted for the guy because they always vote the party line or because they liked that Trump cut taxes and regulations.
Those people are capable of discerning fact from fiction. They do it in their lives every day. They respect doctors, scientists and, yes, even their lawyers.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan did not vote for Trump — he voted for Ronald Reagan, a dead Republican, instead — and he has taken hits from extremists who challenged his executive orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But he remains a popular figure because most Marylanders, and most Americans, appreciate a competent leader or at least the effort to be one.
Since Trump's election, we have wasted too much time — and, in the pandemic, too many lives — on denial and quackery.
That's not America.
Most Americans admire smarts and defer to the brightest people around them. Most of us still believe in education, science and general expertise, from the doctor who replaces your knee to the plumber who replaces your sink.
One thing I've never understood about the yahoos who won't wear masks and who deny climate change: If you admire and trust expertise in plumbing and cabinetry, why not believe expertise in epidemiology and atmospheric science? Why would you ignore the advice of a woman with a degree in virology but trust the advice of a mechanic who says it's time for new spark plugs?
Americans need to remember their raisin'.
Remember where you came from and what you were taught to respect, if not with a lecture, then from mere observation: Knowledge. Smarts. Skills.
Teachers, coaches, librarians, your family doctor and dentist, the guy who did your parents' taxes, the local farmer, postmaster and school nurse — all these people had some kind of education and devoted their lives to being good at what they did. People make cracks about lawyers, but we go to them for advice about all legal matters of life, from wills and leases to criminal defense.
And I'll tell you something: Lawyers get smeared as a sleazy lot, but those I've personally known in Maryland over a long journalism career would never do what Giuliani has been doing for Trump. Those I've known are sharp, serious, interesting, well-read people who care about their profession. I've known prosecutors, defense lawyers, civil litigators, corporate counsel. I can't think of one who would stand in front of a microphone and say ridiculous things.
In Baltimore, with our world-famous medical institutions, I've interviewed medical researchers, including two Nobel laureates and a doctor whose work in developing countries saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
I've spoken with brain surgeons, diplomats, economists, physicists, climatologists, historians, architects, cops, chefs and horse breeders. It's the glorious part of being a journalist, calling up an expert who shares their knowledge directly with you, and you're often wowed by the experience.
That's the part of America we ought to be celebrating: Education, knowledge, skills, applied science, expertise in all fields. But to get there we need to get past the president who lies, back to reality and back to an agreed-upon set of facts. We can do it. All is not lost.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Dan Rodricks is a long-time columnist for The Baltimore Sun.
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