Well, politically this last week has been… interesting. I’m sure it surprises no one that I have been looking forward to the release of the Mueller investigation and that I am firmly supportive of a public release. IF the investigation deal with any highly classified materials of course those portions should be redacted prior to release, and I do actually understand the Republican push to be able to look at and judge contents before any public release of materials. When it comes to the office of the President and the general function of the government, particularly where it touches military, foreign, and covert operations, there are some things that simply cannot be made public safely. We’ve reckoned with this as a country multiple times now. I support Snowden, but Wikileaks is dangerous.
However, while I am deeply interested in the question of how Russian intelligence was able to interfere with our electoral process (whether or not they actually altered the outcome of the election, at this point, simply does not matter. What matters is that they were able to spread information and to steal information and our basic democratic process is under threat as a result), I really wouldn’t have cared if it had come out that Trump had colluded. Why? Well, for one thing, my opinion of the man could not get much lower. He occasionally does things that I appreciate, he often does things that seem to play to his base but which seem naive, and he occasionally does things that I outright dislike. His personal moral compass is repugnant. His public style is dangerous. I am firmly in the camp that things that his behavior suggests a mental decline, and frankly, at his age, I don’t think we can or should hold that against him. Ultimately the thing about Trump which frightens me the most is his fear of difference. It doesn’t seem to matter if that difference is religious, racial, sexuality, or political, the man seems deeply incapable of genuine empathy. So, while he plays lip service toward empathy in moments of tragedy, he cannot and does not understand the concerns needs and fears of those who are unlike himself.
With that said, why would I care about him colluding with Russia? Well, the obvious reason, and the reason many of my fellow liberals were hoping for a positive Russia Collusion result from the Mueller investigation (I can’t call it a probe… that’s too closely related to alien abduction for me), is that such a conclusion seemed most likely to be able to galvanize Congress to move toward impeachment. But the push for impeachment has been politically impossible and socially inadvisable for a long time. Deep down I think a lot of us have known that. Maybe we haven’t been able to admit it to ourselves, but the reality was always in front of us. Politically, even safe Democratic seats might be threatened by the energy an impeachment move would produce in the Trump base and the Republican party more generally. These last two election cycles (the mid-term and the 2016 presidential election) have proven the importance of energy as a driving force in election outcomes. Analysis after the Kavanaugh confirmation was spot on when it pointed out that the country’s attitude toward sexual assault is still contentious enough that trying to block Kavanaugh was enough to motivate the Republican base. Although the mid-term was still a Democratic success, it may have been more of one had Kavanaugh’s confirmation not turned into such a national debacle. So our Democratic representation is in between a rock and a hard place. To stay popular in the eyes of Democrats and Liberal Independants they must repudiate Trump. Talk of impeachment has remained popular basically up until the release of the Mueller report, and may become more popular again. Yet talk of impeachment, or worse, real pushes to begin the process, anger and energize Conservatives across the country. And when it comes to productively using anger and energy, Conservatives are quite simply more skilled than Liberals are. (Expect to see me diving into this more in other posts).
So how is all of this related to obstruction? Simple. Now that Russian collusion is out of the picture, obstruction of justice just doesn’t have big enough teeth. One of the Trump family’s greatest strengths is manipulation of the media. Donald Trump himself has always been adept at this. He is, after all, the man who made the Trump brand one of luxury and success even as he wandered from one business failure to the next. Even as he became, at times, a kind of national joke (see the Simpsons caricature of Trump) he kept himself and his brand in the public eye. Trump has always known that having public attention can be used as a means of generating capital, and he has always been good at making those transactions valuable. While Ivanka is almost undoubtedly the most gifted of his children in carrying on that legacy of media skill, even Don Jr., now famous for his inflammatory interactions with media, serves the family interest in his public appearances and announcements. Between Fox News, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, campaign rallies, and even freaking Twitter, Trump has created a successful means of discrediting factual news reporting. All four of his arms of communication emphasize their own veracity in the face of contradiction and attack the reputations of all other means of communication. The New York Times is ‘fake’ and ‘failing’ until it reports on something Trump likes. The Mueller investigation was a disgrace, until Trump could spin the report to exonerate himself, and then suddenly Mueller himself is an “honorable man”. Laid out like this Trump’s media strategy may seem laughable. “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” and “Late Night with Seth Meyers” take advantage of the natural humor in these self-contradictory exchanges almost every night. And late night TV hosts should be given credit for taking these issues seriously and addressing more than just the comedy. But, for those whose confirmation biases make Trump’s favored media sources seem more credible (and that is a LARGE percentage of the country), the Trump media strategy works.
Obstruction of Justice, particularly if that obstruction was levered against the Mueller Investigation itself and nothing else, would not have enough popular appeal to be a politically acceptable strategy. As much as I hate to agree with anything Mitch McConnell says (and this is physically painful to write), he was pretty much right when he warned Democrats that Impeachment was not a good strategy for gaining greater political power. Worse, obstruction has been so discredited as to be a moot point for… well… I’d say at least a year. This is not to say that Mueller should have ended his investigation sooner. I’m actually quite happy with the timeline for a number of reasons. For one thing, Mueller’s willingness to take a long time is an indication of his dedication to the task. He was going to do it, and he was going to do it right. He also managed to preserve his reputation in the face of strong criticism. Not bowing to the pressure to end the investigation is impressive. He released the report, although I sure this is coincidence, at one of the least politically fraught periods we’ve seen since Trump was first elected. Frankly, this may be the most politically calm period the United States has seen since Trump first announced his candidacy. Sure, the Democratic press for 2020 has already begun, but avoiding an election cycle would be impossible. And while there are ongoing crises that we should be paying attention to (the children being held at our border come to mind), frankly, as a country, we aren’t. We have the attention span of squirrels when it comes to long term complex issues, and we’ve proven that humanitarian horror doesn’t extend that attention span much.
For the moment, let’s ignore Mike Pence and pretend that removing Trump from office could somehow be a good move for policy in the United States. Say he had a moderate VP who would be pretty okay with maintaining the status quo. There would still be widespread unrest from the people who voted Trump into office in the first place. Impeachment would largely confirm, for the people feeling left behind and left out as the country is modernizing and changing, that the ‘liberal elites’ don’t care about them and won’t listen to them. Right now, it would be outright dumb to try and remove Trump from office. Not because he isn’t harmful, he is, not because he is a skilled President, he isn’t, not even because he is good for the people who feel most left behind, because he isn’t, but because impeachment would drive us further apart. If our differences seem irreconcilable now it would be as nothing to what would happen after Trump is forced out of office.
So. Where does that leave us? It ain’t pretty. Russian interference remains critically important for national security, but doesn’t mean shit in politics. Trump is incompetent and harmful, but he needs to remain in power for the sake of social stability. And we have reached a point where there is almost no choice but to allow Trump to continue to expand the power of the President and to be, himself, a man above the law while in office. All of this is fundamentally contrary to the ideals of our Founding Fathers, and we must be watchful and take advantage of any and all opportunity to shift our culture back toward those ideals.
I’ll be honest. The United States I imagined as a kid doesn’t exist. Maybe it never did, but it certainly doesn’t now. We are a divided people. We are a cruel people. We are a violent people. We are an ignorant people. All. Of. Us. Individually I don’t think any of us meet those descriptions. I have conservative friends I have liberal friends I have friends who don’t understand or care about politics. All of them are good. All of them have the potentially to be great. But, as a society, we can no longer call ourselves good, we can no longer call ourselves great. This Presidency has proven to me, as perhaps nothing else could, that if we move forward with intention and long-term strategy, as the Republicans and Libertarians have for a long time, we still might become better than we now are.
That’s what I’ve got. It’s not much. But it’s a whole lot of hope in a real dark place. We can still be better. We can still be more. We’ve just got to be intentional and thoughtful in how we get there.