The members of the Adam Schiff Appreciation Society are now called to order.
But first, a trigger warning.
Do you enjoy calling the Democratic California congressman “Shifty Schiff” or “Liddle Adam Schiff” or “a deceitful little weasel”?
If so, this space will not be a happy place for you today. For your own well-being, please adjourn now to the Sports pages or to a YouTube replay of the Super Bowl halftime show.
If you cheered when President Donald Trump tweeted that Schiff is a “very sick man” who “has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!”?
If you laughed when the president called the congressman “little Adam Schitt” or accused him of treason?
If you applauded when you heard about the Arizona man who threatened to kill Schiff (perhaps, as was reported Tuesday, because of something he saw on Fox News)?
Please, for the love of your own blood pressure, get out of here ASAP.
If, on the other hand, you’re one of the many Americans who in recent days have thought, “Thank God for Adam Schiff,” then stay awhile for our post-trial appreciation.
I’m writing this on Tuesday, a day before the president of the United States will almost certainly be acquitted in his impeachment trial. It won’t matter that even some of his defenders acknowledge that he used his political office to help him get reelected.
That spectacle is over, my fellow Americans, and we’re left to pick up the litter along the road to November’s election.
But first we owe Schiff a thank-you.
Even during this fractious, dispiriting trial there have been occasional moments of exhilaration, even beauty. Those long days in the U.S. Senate chamber have provided an education in American history and ideals, in how our Congress works, or doesn’t. Many of the most encouraging moments were brought by Schiff.
Before the trial, Schiff, who’s 59, wasn’t much recognized outside his Southern California congressional district. Once described by Rolling Stone as “mild-mannered, judicious, vegan,” he was, at best, more widely known only as a talking head, almost always wearing a neat blue suit, the nerdy guy dispatched to one wonky news show or another to represent Team Democrat.
But as the lead prosecutor in the impeachment trial, Schiff summoned a different side of himself. He stepped up to the front of that big, wood-paneled chamber and, time and time again, displayed the force of his eloquence, intelligence, logic, passion, persistence and valor. He laid out complex information clearly. He often spoke with no script. His words were made more powerful by the contrast they presented to the gleefully crass president on trial.
“Schiff made me proud to be American,” I heard someone say.
He made lots of us feel that way.
Even one Republican Senator, James Inhofe, of Oklahoma, remarked, “Schiff is very, very effective.”
In the end, of course, he wasn’t effective enough. Republicans, who hold the majority in the U.S. Senate, couldn’t be persuaded to convict Trump of abusing his power or obstructing the investigation into his dealings with Ukraine. Only two Republican senators defied their party to vote in favor of witnesses at the trial.
“History will not be kind to Donald Trump,” Schiff warned them in his final remarks before the final vote. “If you find that the House has proved its case, and still vote to acquit, your name will be tied to his with a cord of steel and for all of history. But if you find the courage to stand up to him … your place will be among the Davids who took on Goliath.”
Goliath wins, for now. We move on. November and a new election will be here soon, and, to use the language of Trump’s lawyers, the people will decide. Unless, of course, we’re sabotaged by Russian bots or nefarious schemes that won’t be uncovered until later.
How this trial is remembered by future generations isn’t known yet, but it’s a safe bet that when it’s recorded for posterity some of Schiff’s remarks will be highlighted in the official record.
His reminders that a single vote can change the course of history will be there. So will his reminder that “real political courage doesn’t come from disagreeing with our opponents but from disagreeing with our friends.” So will his exhortation that “truth matters.”
For all of that, and for being a good representative of the subset of Americans who believe as he does, we thank him.
This piece was originally published in the Chicago Tribune.