Qui tacet consentire videtur is Latin for “he who is silent is taken to agree.” Thus, silence gives consent. Sometimes accompanied by the proviso “ubi loqui debuit ac potuit,” that is, “when he ought to have spoken and was able to.” The maxim is probably best know as the defense given by Sir Thomas More during his trial for treason and was dramatized in A Man for All Seasons (play 1960, film 1966). If you are not familiar with the event, the play, or the movie, A Man for All Seasons depicts the final years of Sir Thomas More, the 16th-century Lord Chancellor of England who refused both to sign a letter asking Pope Clement VII to annul Henry VIII of England’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and to take an Oath of Supremacy declaring Henry VIII Supreme Head of the Church of England. For his refusal, More was put on trial for treason with Thomas Cromwell as the prosecutor.
In the trial scene Cromwell asks More, “Yet how can this be? Because this silence betokened, nay, this silence was, not silence at all, but most eloquent denial!”
To which More replies, “Not so. Not so, Master Secretary. The maxim is “Qui tacet consentiret:” the maxim of the law is “Silence gives consent.” If therefore you wish to construe what my silence betokened, you must construe that I consented, not that I denied.”
Cromwell then asks, “Is that in fact what the world construes from it? Do you pretend that is what you wish the world to construe from it?”
And More responds, “The world must construe according to its wits; this court must construe according to the law.”
More, relying upon legal precedent and the maxim understood that he could not be convicted as long as he did not explicitly deny that the King was Supreme Head of the Church, and he therefore refused to answer all questions regarding his opinions on the subject. Cromwell brought forth Solicitor General Richard Rich to testify that More had, in his presence, denied that the King was the legitimate head of the Church. More characterized the testimony as highly dubious but to no avail, and the jury took only fifteen minutes to find More guilty. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered (the usual punishment for traitors who were not the nobility), but the King commuted this to execution by decapitation. The execution took place on 6 July 1535.
You might be wondering the reason behind this post and the retelling of this bit of history. It has to do with my personal Facebook account. I rarely, if ever, discuss politics on Facebook. I use it to keep in contact with my family, my friends from graduate school, and various coworkers, past and present. I broke my no politics rule on Monday and shared a Facebook post that I saw on I Should Be Laughing which addressed the question, “Why do liberals think Trump supporters are stupid?”
I knew when I posted it, it would be an incendiary post and anger some of my friends and family. Only a few replied with comments disputing what I had shared. They claimed it was all from liberal media sources. I pointed out that every time a conservative sees a piece of news they don’t like, they try to discredit it by saying its from the liberal media and is fake news. Surprisingly, more of my friends and family liked the post. A few left comments in support. I shared that post because I can no longer be silent about the atrocious behavior of Trump and what he’s done to our country. Qui tacet consentire videtur ubi loqui debuit ac potuit. Trump’s behavior everyday gets more and more unacceptable. I cannot in good conscience remain silent.
George F. Will, who for decades has been at the intellectual center of American conservatism, called for Americans, and especially Republicans, to vote out Trump in November. Will wrote, “The lesson of Donald Trump’s life is: There is no such thing as rock bottom. So, assume that the worst is yet to come.” He had harsh words for Trump, but he saved his true condemnation for the members of Congress who have enabled the President. He wrote in the Washington Post article, “In life’s unforgiving arithmetic, we are the sum of our choices. Congressional Republicans have made theirs for more than 1,200 days. We cannot know all the measures necessary to restore the nation’s domestic health and international standing, but we know the first step: Senate Republicans must be routed, as condign punishment for their Vichyite collaboration, leaving the Republican remnant to wonder: Was it sensible to sacrifice dignity, such as it ever was, and to shed principles, if convictions so easily jettisoned could be dignified as principles, for … what? Praying people should pray, and all others should hope: May I never crave anything as much as these people crave membership in the world’s most risible deliberative body.”
As if to prove Will’s point, Senate Republicans raced to defend Trump’s “law and order” speech on Monday night and his decision to clear out protesters from in front of the White House so that he could stroll across H Street to hold up a Bible in front of St. John’s Church. “You can characterize it the way you want, but obviously the President is free to go where he wants and to hold up a Bible if he wants,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the chamber, told CNN.
He mocked all Christians with his Monday night’s stunt. But, of course, sacredness has never been a concern of Trump’s. He didn’t open the Bible he was brandishing for the cameras, because he had no use for its text. He didn’t go inside the church he was using as a backdrop, because he had no interest in a sermon. To Trump, the Bible and the church are not symbols of faith; they are weapons of culture war. And to many of his Christian supporters watching at home, the pandering wasn’t an act of inauthenticity; it was a sign of allegiance—and shared dominance. And that, my friends, is the saddest thing of all: the fact that their pro-life beliefs, hatred of Democrats, and the notions of Christian nationalism are used to justify everything that Trump says and does. It’s not only sad, but it’s also frightening and disgusting. If people truly want to make America great again, then they must vote Trump and his lapdogs out of office.