With the Mueller report completed but remaining unknown to Congress and the nation at large, we sit in a purgatory. Where some Americans sees proof positive of a witch hunt, and other Americans see a cover up of gross criminality, the truth probably lies somewhere in between those two poles. I thought I’d share some of my musings on the limits of what we know and why none of this so far should be surprising.
I apologize for any belaboring of points below. I expect some people won’t like or don’t want to agree with some of what I say here. However, I have harbored many of these thoughts about the Mueller investigation pretty much all along and feel my observations here would not be complete without expressing them.
The first part of what I want to discuss lies in the nuts and bolts of the investigation and how things work. The kind folks at Torchlight Media felt it worthy of publishing over there, so I have to ask you to follow the link below to read that part before continuing on with the rest of this blog. Thank you.
Torchlight Media article:
Second, I want to discuss some hard realities. It’s pretty clear I have no love of the idea of Trump as president. I felt dismay and deep concern when the 2016 election results came out. Given Trump’s presentation, his policy blunders, and his administration’s huge toll on the social fabric of this nation, fantasies of some deliverance from his presidency, whether by finding his election illegitimate, his resignation, or impeachment, tantalizes and seduces. However, people need to accept the harsh truth that those are just fantasies. Sorry to break the news, but it does not matter whether we are distraught by the thought. Trump’s was legitimately elected, and, as president, he is not going anywhere.
There were many, many factors that lead to Trump’s election. Had any one of them not been in play, Trump may have lost, and Hillary Clinton won in 2016. The Americans now lamenting Trump’s presidency need to acknowledge that some of them played a role in that. Clinton was far from perfect, but she also labored under the effects of a decades long smear job, some of which was at the hands of other Democrats. The result made her appear so unpalatable that some liberals believed they had legitimate reason to vote for anyone but her. Others could not look beyond or forgive Bernie Sanders’ loss of the nomination. Others chose not to vote at all, convinced that either Clinton did not care for them, such as some younger voters, or that their vote did not count, such as several voters across the spectrum. Given the narrow margins by which Trump won key states such as Michigan, that last assumption turned out to not necessarily be true. Some just simply thought that their vote was unnecessary, the thought of Trump winning too preposterous to imagine. Remember all those “me in 2016 vs. me in 2018” memes? Complacency then has yielded to urgency now.
Whether we like it or not, it wasn’t just Trump’s base that mattered on election day 2016. Liberals, progressives, and independents also have some share in Trump’s presidential win. As the day after the election dawned, a sense of buyer’s remorse began. It has only grown in the days and years since. We have to recognize that frequently life doesn’t give you a mulligan. This happened. While Russians and folks in MAGA hats played their part, that would not have been enough to elect Trump had other folks not also played their part by voting “ironically” or not voting at all. We don’t get to walk away from our responsibility for our part in this, whatever it may be. We don’t get a do-over on this just because the Russians got involved, or Trump idiotically can’t help but say the wrong thing and blunders about in trying to cover up his questionable acts. No matter how much we may want all of this to go away.
The idea that there will be some magical deliverance from Trump and what he has wrought is a tantalizing fantasy. So tantalizing, in fact, that people now are bending over backwards to try to make something out of the Mueller report that does not appear to be there. It’s the “fly the flags of all nations” approach, as I call it, where every argument in the book is thrown at the results someone doesn’t like, as if that will make the results come out different this time. The media reported, and people saw, all the troublesome information about how Trump and his campaign conducted themselves, and folks now insist that has to be criminal. When forced to face that something can be shady as f%ck without being criminal, then they say the laws have to be wrong and the standards of proof too high. Folks make wild speculation about damning evidence they have little reason to believe exists. Where the once described Mueller as a paragon of integrity, they now decry him as always having been a Republican stooge. They assert that other investigations are sure to bring about Trump’s impeachment and removal in the next year or so. And so on.
If and when we get the fuller version of the Mueller report, we need to be receptive to it being just what it is, no more and no less. We have to be prepared for it to offer us more shady details of Trump-world without offering any further means of deliverance from the Trump presidency than we have now, including no path to impeachment. We need to let go of the seductive fantasies and accept that, once Trump was elected, there was …
NO EASY WAY OUT
Despite the unknowns of the Mueller report at this point, we can learn lessons beyond those of procedural expectation. Several folks oversold the Mueller investigation to the public, and a large part of the public seems to have bought into it, even as others urged caution, all in the hopes the Mueller’s report would magically create an exit ramp to Trump’s presidency. However, we need to accept there is no easy undoing of presidential election results.
In addition to the reasons noted in my Torchlight Media article, the Mueller report was never likely to have resulted in Trump’s impeachment due to the nature of impeachment itself in the modern day. Impeachment is and should be a hard road to take. Like any kind of criminal indictment and trial, the impeachment process involves discovering something requiring investigation, investigating it (including related subpoena or other fights potentially having to go up to the Supreme Court), gathering evidence, assessing that evidence against the law, and determining if charges are merited, all before impeachment could be brought, and the Senate trial could even begin. The accused has to be given a chance to know the charges and mount a defense. Then the impeachment trial has to take place, witnesses heard, evidence presented, and the matter deliberated upon.
From start to finish, that usually spans a long period of time. A presidential term lasts four years. For impeachment to likely occur and a president removed in that span of time, something serious would have to come to light at the outset of term. Then the matter would have to be simple enough to investigate and prove quickly, e.g., nothing so complicated as a conspiracy between a foreign government, its agents and intermediaries, and candidate’s campaign.
An impeachment would not be worth undertaking at the later stages of the term. It’s divisive and distracts from other legislative and election efforts of both the incumbent and the challenging party. Thus, impeachment, if it happens at all, is more likely to take place at the beginning of a president’s second term, after an investigation has had time to bear fruit and with time for the trial to take place and still have an impact.
So, as upsetting though it may be, Trump was never likely to face impeachment during his term in office. With as corrupt and self-dealing as Trump and his administration have been, that says something truly horrible about the protections in our governmental system. It seems a first term president can get away with an awful lot without really facing impeachment or other consequences for his bad acts, even should he commit impeachable offenses.
Perhaps though that’s because impeachment was meant as a secondary line of defense. The first lies with an informed, conscientious electorate. While Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election, as I mentioned previously, Russia’s actions were only a few of many “but for” factors in the outcome. But for Hillary Clinton’s failure to court states like Wisconsin and Michigan, she would have won the election. But for low voter turnout due to dislike of both candidates and belief that the electoral process means individual votes don’t really count, Trump would have lost. Etc.
Regardless of Russian interference, Russians did not cast Americans’ votes for them. Americans could easily have fact-checked misinformation spread by both the email dumps and the social media campaign in 2016. However, many did not or chose not to care about the results. In the end, Trump was legitimately and legally elected President of the United States, not by Russians, but by votes cast by Americans of their own volition, despite plenty of information that should have led them to believe Trump was a terrible choice.
The first defense to not having a man like Trump in office is not some mystical special counsel investigation followed by impeachment, but instead to see through the lies and bombast and not vote him into office in the first place. It means picking the best candidate available, because there is no perfect candidate. It means voting every single election, no matter how preordained the outcome may seem.
In the lead up to the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, concerted campaigns of misinformation and fear aimed at swaying votes to leave the European Union could be fact-checked and disproven by the public prior to the vote. Despite that, leave votes prevailed by a narrow margin. On the morning after the election, the buyer’s remorse began sinking in, with top trending Google searches inquiring about what Brexit and the EU really were.
The lead up and immediate aftermath to Trump’s election were similar. Easily fact-checked misinformation and fear-mongering was bought, and, while Trump did not win the popular vote, he did legitimately win the election. Afterwards, a sense of buyer’s remorse set in: first with those who had not wanted him as president but had aided in that coming about with how they chose to vote or not vote, then with those who have since increasingly come to regret trusting all the lies, misinformation, and bombast. Driven by despair of Trump or that despair coupled with our own contributions in bringing this to pass, our fantasies and hope for some early deliverance from Trump were born, just as many now in the United Kingdom vainly hope for some magical deliverance from the consequences of the Brexit vote.
However, unlike the UK and Brexit, the United States citizens already have the benefit of a regularly scheduled out. We have a chance to correct our presidential election mistakes every four years, whereas, when the U.K. voted for Brexit, the populace never had chance to leverage a do-over vote. Which brings us back to another reason the facts and analysis behind Mueller’s investigation are important to the American populace. The citizens need to know any troubling information Mueller uncovered, even if the shady activity is not impeachable. That way the voters can duly exercise that first defense again and vote Trump out. To get that information, we have to apply pressure and wait. Until then, we are left with an unexplained bastard verdict and the resigned awareness of no easy way out.