DID YOU KNOW “hereby” is a special word, because it signifies the speaker is about to accomplish some action simply by uttering the sentence that follows it?
“I hereby claim this land and all its riches in the name of his Majesty, King James the First,” said Governor Ratcliffe in Disney’s “Pocahontas.” Thus, the land he stood on was claimed. The moment Ratcliffe spoke, before he had even planted his flag in the soil, he created the British settlement of Jamestown out of nothing but “hereby” and a verb.
We are not quite sure President Trump understands the concept.
“I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice” investigate whether the Obama administration spied on his presidential campaign, Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday — at least his fourth attempt as president to pull off a “hereby.”
It does not quite work, though, does it? Trump hereby demanded an investigation as soon as he sent the tweet, but confusingly, he also said he would not demand the investigation until Monday, “officially,” whatever that means.
It is as if Ratcliffe had officially claimed Jamestown for the king, then added he would not officially claim it until he had finished dinner.
Twitter had fun with this.
The hashtag #IHerebyDemand was still going strong Monday morning, even as the Justice Department presumably waited for Trump to officially demand the investigation he already hereby demanded the previous day.
Speaking of hereby, Trump at least spelled it correctly this time.
The president previously attempted to “hereby” an investigation into existence more than a year ago — at the time demanding one into his Democratic rivals, Charles E. Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.
He had to write three separate tweets before he got the formula right — “hear by,” “hearby” and, finally, “hereby.”
Then Trump discovered hereby demanding something does not necessarily mean anyone is going to thereby do it. There is as yet no sign his administration formally investigated Schumer and Pelosi for appearing in old pictures with Russians.
Trump had a bit more success with wordcraft during his presidential campaign, where he announced he was “hereby revoking the press credentials of the phony and dishonest Washington Post.”
He was upset at the time over The Post’s political coverage, and particularly a story about Trump’s apparent suggestion Obama could be complicit in a mass shooting.
That time, his “hereby” worked perfectly. Post reporters were indeed barred from Trump’s campaign events after the tweet. The Post’s executive editor called the revocation “a repudiation of the role of a free and independent press.”
Trump lifted the ban before Election Day, and while he has occasionally threatened to strip news outlets of their credentials as president, he has not “hereby” done so — nor is it clear he could, given the Constitution’s protections of free speech.
This brings us to one final point. In the movie “Pocahontas,” Ratcliffe’s claim on the land is opposed by the people who already live there, and the governor eventually goes back to England in defeat. The historical settlement of Jamestown did not go particularly well, either.
In other words, a “hereby” only goes so far. There is a difference between actions and words — regardless of whether they are official, or hereby delayed until tomorrow.