Donald Trump’s public relations lawyer Rudy Giuliani put on a performance for the ages this past Sunday, reminding me of no one so much as the fox in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Hold on while I explain.
Trump often obfuscates to fend off charges leveled against him. If you can cloud the issues sufficiently, you can sometimes get away with anything. In the words of one commentator, “deflect, distract, deny.” Giuliani appears to be the major Trump surrogate using this strategy.
Tom Toles boiled Giuliani’s arguments down to their core in a recent cartoon. He has Giuliani telling a television interviewer,
It never happened!
If it happened, Trump didn’t do it.
If he did it, he wasn’t aware he did it.
If he was aware, it wasn’t a crime.
If it’s a crime, you can’t punish a president for doing it.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
This time it may not work, however. As a career prosecutor observed to MSNBC’s Joy Reid over the weekend, Donald Trump is panicking because he’s facing a new situation. In the past, he has always used money to wriggle out of trouble, but Special Counsel Bob Mueller and the Southern District of New York won’t be bought off. They smell a crime and are inexorably chasing it down.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight features three hunts by a disguised Green Knight. As I read the poem, the Green Knight functions as the Lord of Death and he always gets his man (or woman). The fox proves wilier than the deer or the boar:
Often he reverses over rough terrain
Or loops back to listen in the lee of a hedge;
At last, by a little ditch, he leaps over the brush,
Comes into a clearing at a cautious pace,
Then he thought through his wiles to have thrown off the hounds…
However, as more and more hunters and dogs enter the scene—as more and more charges arise (Russian collusion, illegal hush money payments, misappropriation of inauguration funds, misappropriation of Trump Foundation funds, emoluments violations, foreign campaign contributions, obstruction of justice)—Trump and his family must be feeling increasingly fox-like:
Such harsh cries and howls they [the hounds] hurled at his head
As all the cliffs with a crash had come down at once.
Here he was hailed, when huntsmen met him;
There they cried “Thief!” and threatened his life,
And ever the harriers at his heels, that he had no rest.
Often he was menaced when he made for the open,
And often rushed in again, for Reynard was wily;
And so he leads them a merry chase, the lord and his men…
Come to think of it, all of Trump’s indicted (or soon to be indicted) associates fit into one of the poem’s three animal categories. Think of the deer, who are blindsided and succumb without a struggle, as figures like George Papadopoulos and possibly Michael Flynn. Both men confessed right away:
At the clamor of the quest, the quarry trembled;
Deer dashed through the dale, dazed with dread;
Hastened to the high ground, only to be
Turned back by the beaters, who boldly shouted…
At each bend under boughs the bright shafts flew
That tore the tawny hide with their tapered heads.
Ah! They bray and they bleed, on banks they die,
And ever the pack pell-mell comes panting behind…
Then there are boar figures who fight to the bitter end. Count Roger Stone among these and possibly Jerome Corsi. But I award them a boar rating only if they are genuinely willing to “take a bullet” for the president, as Michael Cohen once claimed he was. If they are simply angling for a presidential pardon through boar-like behavior, then they may actually be foxes:
Men then with mighty bows moved in to shoot,
Aimed at him with their arrows and often hit,
But the points had no power to pierce through his hide,
And the barbs were brushed aside by his bristly brow;
Though the shank of the shaft shivered in pieces,
The head hopped away, wheresoever it struck.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what form the resistance takes. The Law, whether man’s or nature, ultimately prevails:
And they took Reynard the Red
And stripped away his hide.