The Truths We Hold—For the People – by Amanda S. Green
Two weeks ago, I started my commentary on Kamala Harris’ new book, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey. Since then, she confirmed what we all suspected—she is running for president. Of course, anyone reading the intro to her book would have already known it. The intro and most of the first chapter are not even thinly veiled talking points for her campaign.
“For the People” is the first full chapter of the book. I’m sure she gave a great deal of thought to the chapter title. It refers not only to her work as a law clerk, and later prosecutor, but also to her political posturing as being the people’s candidate. In fact, if you go to her campaign site, the first page you see has a video of her and the caption of Kamala Harris: For the People.
Now tell me this book is anything but a campaign tool for her.
The chapter opens in 1988 on the day Harris reported to the Alameda County Courthouse for first day orientation as a law clerk for the DA’s Office.
I had a sense that I wanted to be a prosecutor, that I wanted to be on the front lines of criminal justice reform, that I wanted to protect the vulnerable. But having never seen the job up close, I hadn’t made up my mind. (TTWH,loc. 160)
Wait, what? She is about to become a law clerk for the DA’s Office and she wanted to be on the “front lines of criminal justice reform”? That doesn’t even make sense. Prosecutors don’t, as a general rule, worry about reform. They worry about making sure the criminals are convicted and do their time. Even remembering that day so long ago, Harris can’t help herself. She has to frame it all into terms that will help push her narrative today.
But it gets better—or worse, depending on your point of view.
Alameda County District Attorney’s Office is itself something of a legend. Earl Warren led the office before becoming attorney general of California and later one of the most influential chief justices of the United States Supreme Court. He was on my mind that morning as I walked past the stunning mosaics in the lobby that depict the early history of California. Warren’s words—proclaiming segregation “inherently unequal”—had taken a long fifteen years to make it to Berkeley, California. I was grateful they had come in time for me; my elementary school class was only the second class in my city to be desegregated through busing. (TTWH, loc. 167)
Suuuure that’s what she was thinking.
Think about the first day you reported for a job you thought might be leading to your career of choice. Were you thinking about what someone else did? Or were you thinking about how you needed to make sure you didn’t screw things up and get yourself fired your first day? I don’t know about you, but I just wanted to get through the day without screwing up too badly. Hopefully, I might even manage to impress those I worked with. But considering judicial precedent and social change? Nope, not even close to the top 10 things I thought about.
As summer interns, we understandably had very little power or influence. (TTWH loc. 173)
Well, duh. What did she expect? They were law clerks, interns. They were there to be quiet, watch what was going on around them and learn. They weren’t there to be movers or shakers. But, being Kamala, she has a point to make and it is to show she was different. She wasn’t going to just sit back and do as expected. The great Kamala is more than your ordinary intern.
The police had arrested a number of individuals in the raid, including an innocent bystander: a woman who had been at the wrong place at the wrong time and had been swept up in the dragnet. I hadn’t seen her. I didn’t know who she was or what she looked like. I didn’t have any connection to her, except for the report I was reviewing. But there was something about her that caught my attention. (TTWH, loc. 178)
Okay, first impressions of this paragraph had me doing a double-take. The first is her use of “individuals” in this context. It implies the police go around arresting anyone they want, without probable cause and without concern for the rule of law. It also shows that she no longer thinks like a prosecutor and probably never did. A prosecutor would use the term “suspects” because that’ what they were.
But looks at it a little closer. Here’s this legal intern, a student, reviewing a case file. Okay, that’s done in some DA’s Office. Once upon a time, I held that same position in another office many, many miles and states away. The ADA you work with will give you cases to review, usually with some sort of assignment attached. You’re to research some point of law or follow up with a cop or witness. But Kamala doesn’t tell us why she was looking at the case. Just that something about the woman caught her eye.
She goes on to tell us about the woman, painting a picture of someone truly in the wrong place at the wrong time. Oh, does Kamala tug at the heartstrings. It was late Friday afternoon which meant the woman would have to spend the weekend in jail before appearing before a judge. Our oh-so-concerned legal intern worried about whether the woman worked on weekends and might lose her job. Or what if she had kids? Would someone take them in or would CPS be called? Did the kids know their mama had been arrested? Oh the horrors! Kamala had to do something.
I rushed to the clerk of the court and asked to have the case called that very day. (TTWH, loc. 181)
Notice the problem here? She goes straight to the court and not to the attorney who told her to review the case. Oops.
I begged. I pleaded. (TTWH, loc. 181)
I’m sure that went over really well with the clerk.
If the judge could just return to the bench for five minutes, we could get her released. All I could think about was her family and her frightened children. Finally, as the minutes in the day wound down, the judge returned. I watched and listened as he reviewed her case, waiting for him to give the order. Then, with the pound of a gavel, just like that, she was free. She’d get to go home to her children in time for dinner. I never did get the chance to meet her, but I’ll never forget her. (TTWH, loc 188)
Oh. My. G*d.
There are so many things wrong here, I’m not sure where to start. This legal intern, someone who has not yet passed the Bar, decides she knows better than the supervising attorney and decides to take action. Again, without discussing it with him or his supervisor. She begs and pleads for a judge to come back to the bench on a Friday afternoon so this poor woman can be released. Then, she proves she is the champion of the victims by getting it all done.
Look, law clerks and interns just don’t do this. Not if they want to keep their jobs and want a hope of ever working for that particular office after passing the Bar.
While I can’t say she stretched the truth here, I do have doubts. As I said above, most interns doing something like this would find themselves getting a come to Jesus lecture they wouldn’t soon forget. You just don’t jump the chain of command like that. Then there’s the judge. If he did agree to sit down and look at the file and listen to her argument, the first thing he’d ask is if her supervisor knew she was there and agreed with what she was doing. Remember what she said earlier. As legal interns, they had “very little power or influence.” So how in the hell could she pull something like this off without having her supervisor involved?
It was a defining moment in my life. It was the crystallization of how, even on the margins of the criminal justice system, the stakes were extraordinarily high and intensely human. (TTWH, loc. 188)
Wait, what? She only then realized it. Had she been living under a rock until then? Had she not paid any attention in law school? She said she’d thought about former Chief Justice Earl Warren when she entered the courthouse that first day on her internship. Had she forgotten all the opinions he wrote she would have studied in her constitutional law or criminal law classes?
Or, as I suspect, was that written with her eye firmly on the Oval Office?
And I knew the kind of work I wanted to do, and who I wanted to serve. (TTWH, loc. 185)
I’ll leave it to you to decide who and what.
The rest of the chapter sets up her bona fides to run for office. Trust me, this chapter, like the intro, is little more than a campaign speech. We learn about her childhood, her immigrant parents, how their divorce impacted her. Then she tells us about her maternal grandparents and their social activism. Oh, she doesn’t miss a beat as she sets the narrative.
There is something about Harris, and this book in particular, that is troubling. I can read anything. Oh, I might want to plant the book against the far wall, but I can force myself to read it. This book is different. I found myself not just skimming but skipping paragraph after paragraph. My brain went into bullshit overload. It recognized what Harris was doing and finally said “enough is enough”.
Unfortunately, there are those who have been and will be pulled in by the emotion she evokes in her stories. They won’t/don’t look past that to see if what she says makes sense. We can’t laugh her off because she does know how to play the game. She is a master at manipulating public opinion. So we need to know what she stands for—other than herself. If that means reading this book, so be it.
Next week, we’ll look at “A Voice for Justice”, the next chapter in the book.
Heaven help me.
(Help Amanda drink enough to keep snarking the unbelievable twaddle that passes for deep political thought these days. We’ll collect for her liver transplant later. Hit her Pourboir jar now! – SAH)