The Dershowitz conundrum

Photo: Alan Dershowitz by Sage Ross

Famous lawyer Alan Dershowitz is all over cable TV defending Trump and talking about why special counsels like Robert Mueller are a bad idea. Now his pals on Martha’s Vineyard won’t invite him to their cocktail parties — and his defense of himself is ripe for ridicule.

Who’s behaving badly here?

Here’s some of what Dershowitz wrote in The Hill“:

The divisions have gotten so bad that many on both sides refuse to speak or listen to those on the other side. Either you are for Trump or against him, and that is all some people need to know to make judgments about you.

I know this because I have experienced this firsthand on Martha’s Vineyard. I am not a Trump supporter nor am I member of the Trump administration. I have strongly and publicly opposed his immigration policies, ranging from the travel ban that was upheld by the Supreme Court to the zero-tolerance policy that led to the separation of parents and children at the border. I oppose other Republican policies as well. I voted for, and contributed handsomely, to Hillary Clinton.

But I have defended Trump’s civil liberties, along with those of all Americans, just as I would have defended Hillary Clinton’s civil liberties had she been elected and subjected to efforts of impeachment tor prosecution. My book, “The Case Against Impeaching Trump,” could just as easily have been the case against impeaching Hillary Clinton. Indeed, I wrote such a book about Bill Clinton, “Sexual McCarthyism: Clinton, Starr, and the Emerging Constitutional Crisis.” I am opposed to appointing a special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and I was against it for Trump. I am a liberal Democrat in politics, but a neutral civil libertarian when it comes to the Constitution.

But that is not good enough for some of my old friends on Martha’s Vineyard. For them, it is enough that what I have said about the Constitution might help Trump. So they are shunning me and trying to ban me from their social life on Martha’s Vineyard. One of them, an academic at a distinguished university, has told people that he would not attend any dinner or party to which I was invited. He and others have demanded “trigger warnings” so that they can be assured of having “safe spaces” in which they will not encounter me or my ideas. Others have said they will discontinue contributions to organizations that sponsor my talks.

Let’s be clear about Alan Dershowitz. He is a publicity hound. It’s no coincidence that he once wrote a book called Chutzpah, which basically means bravado or arrogance. He wants you to read his latest book. He defends some of what Trump does and believes the special counsel shouldn’t be investigating him. His defense of Trump’s rights has gotten him dinner invitations at Mar-a-Lago, which he brags about.

Here are some questions worth asking about this:

  • Should Dershowitz be saying these things? Yes. I want to hear the argument against special counsels from a distinguished lawyer.
  • Should CNN and other cable networks be putting him on television? Yes. He’s a qualified representative of one point of view.
  • Does he get to say he’s not a Trump backer? Sure. He defends some of what Trump does and criticizes other parts. He is not a sycophant or follower.
  • Is it OK to uninvite him from your cocktail party and shun him in public? If you want. He’s free to say what he wants, you’re free to stop being friends with him.

If I were having a party and I had the chance to invite Alan Dershowitz, I would. What a fascinating conversation would follow.

Dershowitz says that Bill Clinton was unfairly harassed by a special counsel, Richard Nixon did not obstruct justice, and Trump could not have, either. There is no need for special counsels. I’d like to know: can a President do anything he wants? If not, how are we supposed to hold him accountable?

The country is divided into liberal and conservative camps. Dershowitz wants to be in both. I’d like to know: Why is this so impossible these days?

The people he talks with on cable are engaged in partisan politics based, in many cases, on lies and distorted narratives. I’d like to know: Why is he comfortable as a supporting actor in these narratives?

I’d like to know: is anything more important to him than his view on civil liberties?

To get answers to these questions, we’d have to talk. I’d have to listen, and so would he.

I have a simple principle:

If you disagree with me, I will respect you.

If you insult me, I will not.

So long as you don’t insult me, I’m not going to boycott you, shun you, or call you names. I’ll be listening. I may reject your arguments, but I won’t reject you.

Who gets invited to cocktail parties on Martha’s Vineyard doesn’t matter to me. How we run the country does. So I’ll be listening to smart people, not matter what “side” they are on.

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  1. “Discussion” means actually **listening to** and considering views presented by the other. In the current political climate, it’s more important than ever to hear/read fact-based, carefully thought out, arguments for and against each side. We’ll get past the current paralysis of polarity and better deal with social/political complexity only when we understand the reasons (practical, intellectual and emotional) underlying a viewpoint, and recognize that the “opposition” sometimes makes valid points. Such understanding requires…..discussion.

  2. I don’t think it’s possible to find a better example of a “First World Problem.”

    No, Alan, the Martha’s Vineyard Ferry is not the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

  3. This is wise and fair:

    “If you disagree with me, I will respect you.

    If you insult me, I will not.”

  4. Dershowitz is a publicity hog. And he relishes being on Fox news, and claims he is merely defending 45’s civil rights.

    This extends, apparently, to dining at the White House and bragging about it by sharing the menu.

    One can defend the president’s civil rights, as a general principle, without breaking bread with him. The only difference between 45 and a ruthless dictator is…us. Dictators-and those who support and consort with them-deserve to be shunned.

    P.S. Thank you, Isaac, for your comment. Spot on.