Famed Harvard professor and defense attorney Alan Dershowitz was defending himself Wednesday night before a packed room at the Katharine Cornell Theater in Tisbury.
Answering questions from moderator Judy Crawford, as well as anyone who wanted to chime in, Dershowitz said his intentions were never to support the actions of a damaging and virulent president, despite what many Chilmark natives and buddies (or former buddies) of Dershowitz have come to believe.
“All my life, I have defended people who I fundamentally disagree with,” Dershowitz said, during the event sponsored by the Vineyard Haven Library. Instead, Dershowitz said, he is a stalwart defender of the U.S. Constitution, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.
“I’m opposed to his position on guns, I’m opposed to his position on healthcare, I’m opposed to his position on taxation, I’m opposed to his position on a woman’s right to choose abortion, I’m opposed to his position on gay rights,” Dershowitz said.
Dershowitz made national headlines July 2 when an op-ed was published in the Hill, where he complained about being shunned from parties on Martha’s Vineyard because of his public comments about President Donald Trump’s constitutional rights.
His comments set off a Twitter firestorm that had #marthasvineyard trending with people mostly unsympathetic to his plight. Others expressed some cynicism, noting that Dershowitz had a book being released on July 9, “The Case Against Impeaching Trump.”
On the Katharine Cornell stage, Dershowitz said President Trump does have the constitutional right to pardon, fire, and pull out of the Paris climate agreement. The only ways a president can be impeached, according to Dershowitz, is if he commits treason, bribery, or a high crime or misdemeanor. “I believe people are trying to prosecute him [Trump] for acts that are protected by the constitution,” Dershowitz said.
He told a story of when he was a young lawyer and defended the rights of Nazi extremists to march in Skokie, Ill.: “I’m not defending Nazis, I’m defending their right to march, I’m against censorship.”
Dershowitz said that it is his job to uphold the Constitution, despite the face or voice that he is defending. “I didn’t like O.J. Simpson; I really hated Leona Helmsley,” he said of his past clients.
“I don’t think I am different from the doctor in the emergency room when a patient is wheeled in and he’s a mafia gunman, or a terrorist. Does the doctor say, I can do more good for society if I just overdose him or let the scalpel slip? No, you have to do your job; I do my job.”
Dershowitz told the audience one thing he always imposes on himself and others is the “shoe on the other foot test.” “Every single argument I am making, I would have made on behalf of Hillary Clinton,” Dershowitz said. “I wish Hillary Clinton had gotten elected for a lot of reasons. She would have been a much better president. I would have much preferred to have written a book called ‘The Case Against Impeaching Hillary Clinton.’”
Dershowitz shifted the blame to Trump, saying that he is the cause of the increased polarization of the country, and his rhetoric has set a low bar for what is considered formal debate. “Who is responsible? Donald Trump; he has brought down the level of discourse in this country,” Dershowitz said.
Dershowitz called himself a quintessential liberal, and insisted that he is far more liberal than most of his critics: “I will not be accused of being illiberal by people who are far less liberal than I am; I’m not going to get into a contest of who is more liberal.”
Crawford asked Dershowitz if people who don’t listen to him are really small-minded, or if it’s possible that he is using inflammatory language, and some Island folks are having a hard time getting past that.
“Look, I was born provocative,” Dershowitz said. “Maybe I didn’t realize enough how emotionally people are invested in opposing Trump. I was talking to their minds when I probably wasn’t sufficiently in tune to their heart, their soul, and their emotion.”
Dershowitz said that, as a professor and a lawyer, he is used to speaking “brain to brain” with people, and admits that he may have provoked some anger in those who feel strongly about the matter.
He encouraged people to have open dialogue with him, instead of shutting him out of their lives. “Let’s assume I wake up one morning and I am actually a Republican, and I even voted for Donald Trump. Would a true friend end a relationship over that issue?” Dershowitz asked.
He said people have the right to have grievances, just as he has the right to have his own opinion. “Let’s at least sit down and talk about it,” Dershowitz said. “I actually love to change my mind.”
According to Dershowitz, he passed the shoe test, but he questioned whether his critics on Martha’s Vineyard can pass.
“If Hillary Clinton was elected president, and I was saying exactly the same things, they would be building a statue of me on the porch of the Chilmark Store, and I would be the hero of Martha’s Vineyard,” Dershowitz said.