“The Supreme Court hears Trump’s claim to ‘absolute immunity.’ The justices are considering whether the former president must face trial on charges that he tried to subvert the 2020 election.” — New York Times, 4/25/24

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Hwaet! It has been over three years since Grendel smashed into our Capitol, rampaged through our Great Hall, and killed our heroes who bravely stood against him. At the time, Beowulf proposed to slay Grendel forthwith, but our wiser angels of paralysis prevailed. We have spent these three years asking witnesses what happened here in front of our very eyes, while Grendel has stalked the country groaning at high volume, mounting a plan to return to the Capitol and demolish our institutions for good.

Today, at long last, Grendel comes before this Tribal Council to stand trial. My fellow Councilfolk, we all saw Grendel do it, and he does not deny that he did it. In fact, it delights him to remember doing it. He even admits that smashing and slaying in the Capitol is a punishable offense.

But Grendel has been studying the finer points of statecraft, and has raised an important question that goes to the very heart of justice: Should a healthy commonwealth punish a violent attempt to destroy our way of life? Or should Grendel—when all points are weighed carefully in the final analysis—get another pass? Hear me out, O Council.

Holding Grendel accountable to the law will set a dangerous precedent that those who seek to seize the government with violence shall be punished, no matter how high their claim to strength or fame. Does that precedent sound identical to what was already the law? Yes. So is it a new precedent? No. But would it fundamentally alter the fabric of our weal? Not even a little.

The point is that all the marauders we have hanged and all the cowards we have drowned in the past were not willing, in the way Grendel is, to wipe us out completely if he doesn’t have his druthers. As the Code of Valor teaches “A big enough threat, a bed ye shall wet.”

Grendel has raised another point rooted in functional policy considerations: If he is not above the law, then the King must also face the same unbearable situation of being accountable for crimes. If the King should even slightly botch the administration of a pagan sacrifice, then he would be stalked and hunted by his “political rival,” who would punish the mistake by biting the King’s head asunder from his shoulders.

Put another way, if we apply the laws to Grendel in a fair and just way, he will use our laws against us in bad faith, which seems fair. If Grendel is not immune from our laws, then we are not immune from his claws. If you hold Grendel accountable and kill him now, then he will eat you on the basis of some technicality. But if you set him free, he will find a different reason to eat you.

As our King will admit, the threat of legal consequences can be distracting. For example, Grendel’s attack upon our citadel was much less brutal than it would have been had Grendel not been wondering if Beowulf would throw the book at him. In this way, the law makes the powerful think twice about using their power for corrupt and violent ends. Is that a good thing? Yes. Is it what Grendel wants? No. Do we have to sacrifice our values to feed Grendel’s lust for domination? That is the question we keep facing year after year, and if we make the sacrifice one more time, I am sure it will finally satisfy him.

Some in this Council may wonder—does Grendel really need absolute immunity? Yes, he does. Our customs are wholly alien to him. He howls in revulsion that he should ever be governed by something outside his appetites. And there are so many laws—he can scarcely take a step without violating six of them. Everything he does—from sleeping naked in the mud to grabbing Hrothgar’s donkey for a snack—is illegal. Whatever he sees, he covets; and what he covets, he grabs. He must be immune from prosecution, because if he is not immune, he will be prosecuted.

If the Council is hesitating to let Grendel devour the law itself like he devours reptiles in the bog, then perhaps you could just think about it for a long time? And come back with your decision in a few months, after Grendel has mounted his next attack?

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Grendel Should Not Have Rampaged Through Our Capitol, But Slaying Him Will Only Further Divide Our Clans