Ben Franklin’s favorite bird — stuffed with high crimes and misdemeanors
The turkey, Benjamin Franklin felt, should be America’s national bird.
Philadelphia’s dear old sage is making a comeback this holiday for other reasons as we baste the bird for Thanksgiving — or impeachment.
You can’t turn a corner in the Capitol without hearing someone speak Franklin’s adage, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
That’s what Franklin said upon emerging from the Constitutional Convention, to a woman’s anxious query about what kind of government emerged from the ether.
This woman’s spirit is alive in Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Leading the impeachment inquiry, she’s now basting the House bird, stuffed with high crimes and misdemeanors.
Franklin is still Philadelphia’s most beloved citizen. His spirit dwells on the river, the parkway and Independence Hall. He founded the University of Pennsylvania: one more connection to the here and now.
President Donald Trump brags about attending the university’s Wharton School of Business, though there’s no transcript to show for it.
Perhaps Franklin foresaw “keeping the republic” would one day come under threat from within. He wrote down classic American advice to be thankful for, some dozen virtues for business conduct, fair play and life. (See, he thought of everything, not only electricity.)
Franklin was America’s first self-help author and a student of character — or the lack thereof.
Here goes. One of his virtues is silence. “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.”
Clearly, Franklin had Trump’s thousands of tweets in mind. Rarely do they elevate the national lexicon and form a more perfect union. Too often, they demean others in a potent public dis-“coarse.”
Distinguished diplomats, critics and opponents find themselves under fire. Pelosi herself was called “as crazy as a bedbug.” Classy.
But nobody has time to respond to presidential insults or false claims from dawn till dark. Nor can reporters question their truth in the moment. Tweets are a one-way street.
Truly, Trump’s tweets should be treated like the turkey’s gizzard — not fit for consumption.
Moderation is another. “Forbear resenting injuries.” Letting go of grudges, along with “hoaxes” and “witch hunts,” would cleanse the palette. Trump should try it sometime.
Burning rage at those who stuck to the truth — that Russia did, in fact, interfere in the 2016 election on his behalf — is what got Trump into the fix he’s in now.
The House inquiry centers on his urging a foreign power, Ukraine, to investigate political rival Joe Biden and his son.
This was Trump’s counterattack, part of a plot against Ukraine, an ally. He stoked a “fictional narrative,” in Russian expert Fiona Hill’s words, that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election on Hillary Clinton’s behalf. Oh, he told the new Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, it was “horrible.”
That July 25 call was a turning point of the Trump presidency. Yet that Thursday was not so different than any other, just his way of doing business, adding the sauce of state power to personal gain. In this case, he withheld $391 million that Congress approved for military aid.
Presidents are usually changed by the solemn nature of the office. By contrast, Trump has changed the nature of the presidency, made in his psyche’s image, a white whale of anger.
As Trump recently explained to a group of students, the precious parchment of the Constitution means, “I have the right to do whatever I want.”
Franklin also recommended industry. Be always employed in something useful. Roughly translated, that means not spending Oval time clearing convicted war criminals like Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher. It’s bad for military justice and morale to oust the Navy’s top official over it.
Nor should a president spend hours in a foxhole at “Fox and Friends” in a shooting match at the fourth estate. The free press is in the Constitution, too.
“Use no hurtful deceit.” This is the virtue of sincerity, which speaks for itself.
We have an American custom of the president pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey. (Franklin didn’t invent this.) A light-hearted ritual.
But laughs left Washington since Trump took over the festering heart of government. He started the year with a bleak winter shutdown.
Come next November, voters had better not pardon the Turkey-in-Chief.
Jamie Stiehm is a nationally syndicated columnist.