The Smoking Quid Pro Quo

The Smoking Quid Pro Quo

By the time you read this, everything will have changed again—but a girl can only work with what she’s got, and what I’ve got are words.

True to character, I’ve been fascinated by the use of language—hilarious, heartbreaking, and most of all revealing— during this whole Ukraine-gate horror, this hubristic trap self-created by Trump that bodes to be what will finally bring him down.

Leave aside for the moment how pundits are busy ”unpacking” the layers of corruption, or how Trump loyalists are “doubling down.” Take, for instance, the most common words used this past week by Republican members of the House and Senate when cornered by the press asking them to describe their reactions to this latest violation of law and betrayal of country by their Beloved Leader. Disturbing is the most commonly used word, barely edging out troubling.

Mitt Romney was disturbed. Ben Sasse was troubled. Well, at least that—while others scurried past reporters, studiously silent. Lindsey Graham was his sassy little Southern self, claiming it was another nothing burger. It makes you wonder what these guys would find distressing or even dare I say worrisome, not to speak of hair-on-fire hyperventilating incredulously appalling. They’re not always so understated. Remember how just yesterday they were collaborating in denunciations of the disgusting hordes of toddler criminals and nursing-mother gang members trampling across our borders, how they thundered that this was an infestation, an invasion, a threat to our way of life?

This is a chance for the Democrats to choose their words with calm accuracy, a path Pelosi at least has taken care to follow. All they really need do is quote the Whistleblower’s complaint and Inspector General’s Report in the riveting power of each document: plain-spoken words that incriminate Trump almost as much as his own do.

But I really want to celebrate a simple adverb that all in itself addresses those who are so troubled and disturbed that they try to claim, in the teeth of the phone-call-transcript evidence, there was no Trump statement clearly threatening to withhold defensive weapons for Ukraine unless his extorting ask for a favor was met. No quid pro quo.

Ah, but there is, though.

Other English majors, also more at ease analyzing the scansion of a Spenserian sonnet than accustomed to decoding documents affecting national security, will understand that this is a bit of a thrill for me, especially because in the days since the transcript went public, no one seems to have pointed out the importance of this single word. Surely someone has, but if so, I must have missed it—and I’m a news junkie who reads and watches everything she can.

Whether or not I’m the first to point this out, though, it warrants pointing.

The word comes just after the hapless Ukrainian president says, “I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps. Specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.”

Then Trump responds, “I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it.”

Sure, earlier in the call Trump complains that help for Ukraine hadn’t been satisfyingly reciprocated, and later he reiterates more of the same. But the key, the nail in the coffin, the smoking quid pro quo resonates from the one word “though.”

I would like you to do us a favor, though.

Although and though both mean “in spite of” something. A sampling of synonyms would be however, nevertheless, nonetheless, despite, and the like. Yes but would also work, as would the longer on the other hand. Although and though are subordinating conjunctions, meaning that the clause they introduce is a subordinate clause, which needs a main clause to make it complete. In the case of though, though, the subordinate clause is a caveat that qualifies, overturns, and can virtually negate the main clause, forcing it into dependence, making it rely on the subordinate clause for its full meaning.

For example:
Main clause: He offered her a lift;
Subordinate clause: she chose to take a taxi, though.

We need defensive weapons.
I’d like a favor, though.

Trump helpfully blurts out additional self-damning evidence every five minutes, and god only knows what’s hidden in that secret server—so this humble contribution of mine may not mean a lot. But it tickles me that so much can hang on a single word, that though we live in a world of emojis, grammar and vocabulary have value after all, and that an adverb might save the Republic.