Getting through spine surgery and the impeachment trial

Get well flowers

It’s been an eventful week.  I had to get through both spine surgery and the Trump impeachment trial, and by golly, I did!  These photos show my get well flowers from Jocelyn and Kyle, which smell wonderful.  Here’s what happened.  

Last Wednesday at 5:15 a.m., I checked into Rex UNC hospital for an operation on the upper part of my spine called a cervical discectomy.  My neurosurgeon, Dr. Koeleveld, had determined that the disc between vertebrae C3 and C4 was deteriorated and pressing on the adjacent spinal nerves, and thought this explained the persistent tingling in my hands.  His proposed solution was basically to remove the damaged disc and bolt in a replacement.  

Dr. K was kind, smart, and very experienced, but even so, I  considered the possibility that he was mistaken, or that something completely unexpected could go wrong in surgery and make me a lot worse.  After learning what I could about the relevant biology and technology, I still wasn’t sure I knew the right answer.  But I had a reasonable basis for trusting the doc.  On the theory that that’s about the best you can do, trusting is what I did.

Of course, I was completely unconscious during the actual surgery, but I was groggily conscious not long afterwards.  The nurses and aides were cheerful, kind, and competent.  Dr. K said the operation had gone beautifully, but he wanted me to stay overnight in the hospital for observation.

I had a room to myself with a lot of machines and a painting of a flower.  My bed had lots of buttons to control the position and call for help, and it automatically adjusted when I moved one way or another.  There was also a TV.

It was about as good a day as possible to be stuck in a hospital room — cold and gloomy outside, and with some absorbing reality TV:  the historic second impeachment proceeding against Donald J. Trump, the disgraced former President (DFP).  Watching the  footage of the invasion of the Capitol gave me a new perspective on last January 6th.  At the time, I’d wondered why the Capitol police and others didn’t seem to be putting up much of a defense, but I learned that inside the building, they were plenty busy.  It looked like the battle scenes in Braveheart or Gangs of New York.  Kudos to those brave officers who protected lawmakers and showed remarkable restraint.  If they had not, and had instead used their firearms, there would have been many more deaths.

As a former lawyer, as I watched the video and listened to the lawyers’ explanations, I kept thinking of how the case was being presented, and whether I would have done it differently.  I thought the House Managers’ team was amazingly good — clear, concise, and powerful.  After years of Trump’s craziness and chaos, I was reassured that such competent and caring people were now helping lead our country.  

The DFP’s lawyers were like him:  loud, smug,  disorganized, angry, and apparently shameless.  They showed no hesitation in lying, even when it was completely obvious they were lying.  

As odious as the ex-President’s lawyer’s were, they raised a couple of interesting points.  As part of their hand waving attempts to distract from what the DFP had done, they showed a video montage of Democrats who had said things like “We’ve got to fight.”  Although it was obvious that the DFP’s statements about fighting were in quite a different context and led to serious violence, it was interesting to see how the same words could mean entirely different things.

In recent months I’ve been doing some reading on structuralism and deconstruction, and getting new insights into how language works and how it doesn’t.  The ambiguity of language is, it seems, an inherent property.  We may think we all know what we mean when we talk about fighting, but we actually mean many different things at different times.  If we keep talking, and observing each other’s activities in relation to the words, the degree of ambiguity may lessen, though it probably never disappears.

The DFP’s lawyers also argued that under the Constitution, only current, and not past, presidents could be impeached.  Although the great weight of scholarly opinion goes against this argument, I still thought it had some force.  If the lawyers hadn’t covered it up with layers of bogus arguments and slimey lies, it would have been easier to swallow.

In a way, I hoped that the DFP’s lawyers could give Senate Republicans a reasonable basis to vote for acquittal, which it appeared from the outset they were determined to do.  It’s depressing to think that most of the most powerful Republican politicians in the country are still in thrall to Donald J. Trump and his base.  Whatever their motives (probably including fear, opportunism, and tribalism), it is hard to understand their countenancing a deadly attack on Congress, including on themselves.  

Anyhow, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the House Managers and to the Senate majority who voted to convict the DFP, including seven brave Republicans.  Trump’s shameful betrayal of his office and our country is now clear beyond any reasonable doubt and a matter of public record.  With any luck, any future Trump headlines will be about his business failures and criminal liability.  Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end of our Trump political fiasco, and the start of a saner, more compassionate chapter for addressing our big challenges.

Last night we saw Time, a new documentary on Prime.  It’s about a Black family in which the father is in prison and the mother is determined to get him out.  It’s an intimate and moving story of strength and heroism that opened a new window on the tragedy of our mass incarceration system.  We liked it a lot.