CAFE Insider Newsletter #24: Laughter at a funeral & tears at a comedy show

CAFE Insider Newsletter #24: Laughter at a funeral & tears at a comedy show

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Dear Reader,

Last week’s episode of CAFE Insider got a lot of reaction; especially the part where my esteemed colleague Anne Milgram couldn’t get through reading a quote from former Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein’s resignation letter without bursting into laughter. Most people found Anne’s laughter infectious, and we’re considering adding a special segment to the podcast where each week, we challenge her to hold it together as she reads one ridiculous thing or another that’s emerging from Washington. Joking aside, this week’s focus is on the importance of humor, especially in tense and testing times when the challenges we face as a nation are “no laughing matter,” as one listener wrote in.

It’s true that the stresses on our constitutional system are dead serious, but there can be laughter at a funeral and tears at a comedy show. As I write in Doing Justice:

Laughter and jokes in some environments, say, in a high-stakes trial or in an operating room or on a military mission, may seem horrendously off-key, inappropriate, and disrespectful. I hope that is not always so. The reason? Every pressure cooker needs a release valve.

It may not be a proven scientific principle, but I firmly believe that the more intense the work environment, the more need for levity and comic relief. It can be gallows humor or bathroom humor or simply the ability to laugh at your own mistakes.

I often note that humor was and remains to be fundamental to the culture at SDNY, the U.S. Attorney’s Office I led for close to eight years. Practiced in its highest form, humor is an outlet for hardworking people who deal with hellish human conduct on a daily basis. With liberty at stake and justice on the line, it’s easy to think that a prosecutor’s face should always be locked in a grimace; that cracking jokes in that environment is misplaced. But that is the opposite of the truth. Laughter is key.

It is in strenuous situations when perspective and proportionality and humanity are urgently important. If you can laugh at what life hurls at you, even in the crucible of a courtroom, then you’re more likely to have decent judgment generally. One worries about the people who take themselves too seriously, who can’t laugh at themselves, who can’t laugh at the crazy predicaments in which us humans find ourselves.

Slowness to laughter, especially at yourself, suggests an arrogance that is a bad quality in anyone. But it’s a particularly bad quality in people who are making decisions about other people’s lives. To be able to laugh at yourself and to see the humor in life suggests an understanding for how people interact. It shows empathy.

To laugh with people is to bond with them. To make a joke is to disarm them. All of this is at play generally in life, and it shouldn’t be checked at the door when you enter a law enforcement office or a courtroom or the Oval Office.

Humor promotes humility. It is a way of making people understand you are just a human being too, whether you’re a prosecutor, a judge, or the president. Humorlessness, on the other hand, correlates directly with pomposity and, I believe, also with failure.

So let’s stop for a moment and meditate on the importance of laughter in our lives and maybe even crack a few jokes.

My best,

Preet

FIND HUMOR

NANTUCKET, MA – JUNE 24: Mike Birbiglia speaks onstage at “Late Night Letters” during the 2017 Nantucket Film Festival – Day 4 on June 24, 2017 in Nantucket, Massachusetts. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for Nantucket Film Festival)

 

In honor of mental health awareness month, it is worth noting that the tumultuous political climate of the Trump era is correlated with a national spike in anxiety levels, according to empirical studies by the American Psychiatric Association. Some have dubbed the phenomenon: “Trump anxiety disorder.”

The Trump administration’s divisive and inflammatory rhetoric has indeed left the nation considerably more partisan and polarized. Politics, it appears, is even infecting our relationships with friends and family. Rather than stressing out over the daily political fodder, let’s keep our sights on the bigger picture and make an conscious effort to find humor where we can.

Research indicates that humor can help people’s psychological and physical well-being. In Psychology Today, mental health researcher Adi Jaffe writes:

Although scientific studies into humor are relatively new, research over the past thirty years does suggest that humor matters and the act of laughing can have a positive impact on mental and physical health. It can relieve pain, strengthen the immune system, help people cope with or distract them from stress, connect them with others, and effectuate positive emotions.

How can you inject more humor into your life? Attend a live comedy show or watch one on Netflix. Join a laughter therapy group (yes, these exist!) or spend time with friends who have an upbeat or positive attitude.

A good place to start? Mike Birbiglia’s stand-up comedy shows on Netflix, like “Thank God for Jokes” (2017) and “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” (2013). And check out these videos on YouTube: “Mike Birbiglia Stand-up” and “Mike Birbiglia – This American Life – Live at BAM.”

What’s the last thing that made you laugh so hard that it made you cry? Write to us at letters@cafe.com to share your stories!

INDICTING POTUS

Takeaways from Episode 25 of the CAFE Insider:

In 2000, the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) issued a memo that reaffirmed the conclusion of the earlier 1973 OLC memo stating that a sitting president is constitutionally immune from prosecution because the process would “undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions.” A president is subject to prosecution, according to the memo, “only after he leaves office or is removed therefrom through the impeachment process.”

OLC opinions are not law, but they are considered binding on the executive branch unless disavowed by the Attorney General or the President. This indictment policy poses a dilemma because it could allow the President to escape prosecution altogether if the statute of limitations runs out by the time the president leaves office.

The statute of limitations is the time limit for filing charges against a defendant, and most federal criminal offenses—such as obstruction of justice—carry a five-year statute of limitations. If Trump wins reelection, it is not clear that the statute of limitations could be paused while he remains in office.

The 2000 OLC opinion does, however, reference a few methods to address this loophole:

  • Indictment under seal—meaning it is kept confidential, including from the president and the public—within the limitations period, which would stay—or halt—the prosecution while the President is in office. There are concerns that this approach could run afoul of the 6th Amendment—the right to a speedy and public trial—and given the target of the indictment (the president!), it would be “very difficult to preserve its secrecy.”
  • Enact legislation that would explicitly pause the statute of limitations from running with regard to offenses committed by the President during or prior to tenure in office. Last Friday, House Democrats introduced a bill—“No President is Above the Law Act”—which intends to accomplish this. However, this bill is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, and even less likely to be signed by Trump.
  • Invoke the “equitable tolling” doctrine, which pauses the statute of limitations “in the interests of justice,” and indict the president once he leaves office. Equitable tolling is used sparingly and remains an untested legal theory in the criminal law context, especially with respect to circumstances involving the president.

If you haven’t already, listen to “Indicting POTUS

*Please note, you may now manually add your unique Insider Podcast feed to your favorite podcast app. Here are the instructions.

THIS WEEK ON STAY TUNED

Valerie Jarrett is this week’s guest on Stay Tuned. She served in the Obama administration as Senior Advisor to the President and oversaw the Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. Jarrett is the author of Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward.

In this sneak peek at the interview, Jarrett explains why President Obama sought out opposing opinions:

The act of somebody pushing you and disagreeing with you only refines your argument. You might not ultimately agree with them, but you will feel more strongly about your case if you’ve looked at it from the other viewpoint.

Don’t forget to listen to this week’s episode. It drops this Thursday, May 16

FOLLOW

Want a good laugh? Follow Thoughts of a Dog @dog_feelings, an account with more than 2.54 million followers that’s sure to make you smile.

That’s it for this week. We hope you’re enjoying CAFE Insider. Reply to this email or write to us at letters@cafe.com with your thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

That’s it for this week. We hope you’re enjoying CAFE Insider. Reply to this email or write to us at letters@cafe.com with your thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

— The CAFE Team

Tamara Sepper, Carla Pierini, Julia Doyle, Calvin Lord, and Vinay Basti

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