I have a sense that liberals—some, anyway—hope the investigation by Special Counselor Robert Mueller is going to save us from President Donald Trump.
I don’t mean to blow this out of proportion, and I’m not interested in fighting straw men. But I get this sense from my Twitter feed. And while this is not unreasonable—Mueller is a superlative prosecutor and the president has given him much to work with—I don’t think it’s healthy.
We live in a constitutional republic in which leaders govern with the consent of the governed. All things being equal, the people still have the power to remove this president at the appointed time. It may result in a lot of pain. We may even fail. But that we might fail isn’t the point. The point is that we can try, and because we can try, we can always hope.
That hope, however, must be in ourselves, not on a superlative prosecutor. But how do we do that? One word: politics.
After news broke Monday morning that former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and longtime business associate Rick Gates had been indicted on charges of conspiracy, money laundering, and lying to the feds, the reaction among Trump supporters—and a few legitimate reporters—was that sure, Manafort might be dirty, but the president is clean. After all, there is no mention of collusion in the indictment.
(The guilty plea of George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser, is potentially more explosive than Manafort’s and Gate’s indictments, as Papadopoulos’s actions are the closest we have come to seeing a clear link between the Trump campaign and Russia.)
I will assume that much remains to be revealed, but let’s suppose for a minute that this is correct: that Trump is clean while Manafort and a galaxy of aides and advisers are (or were) in cahoots with Russia. That’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Donald Trump is a lecher of a businessman, has been all his life, and he does not allow morality to encumber his greed. That such a person could find himself surrounded by con men, swindlers and bona fide traitors does not, to me, seem at all implausible. Indeed, it seems dead-on.
So let’s suppose that the president is right: there was no collusion, at least far as he was aware, and in the end, once Mueller’s investigation has concluded, and all the right people have been charged and convicted, it may well be that this president remains untouched.
If that’s the case, and that’s a big if, I’m sure a lot of people, especially liberals, would rend their clothes and gnash their teeth. They would bewail the injustice of it all, seek out corruption, maybe even indulge in a little Deep State conspiracy theory to explain why a superlative prosecutor failed to indict the worst of them all.
While I don’t mind using hard rhetoric to define the boundaries of political debate, liberals should not—in this thought experiment of mine—bewail injustice for its own sake. They should use injustice as a tool of politics. And they should see what’s before them: a president who has surrounded himself, wittingly or not, with con men, swindlers and bona fide traitors.
Remember, most Americans have something better to do than to pay attention to politics. Remember, too, that this investigation is likely going to get very technically complicated once Mueller goes fully public. A lack of focus on the part of voters combined with maximum complexity means most voters will rely on media and their tribal cohort to explain to them what’s what.
At the root of every discussion, however, is this: two men who were essential to Trump’s presidential victory have been charged with the crime of conspiracy against the United States. That stain can’t be removed, no matter what the president says, no matter how much Hillary Clinton is turned into a punching bag.
Remember too that Trump is historically unpopular. He started that way, and that has accelerated as Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s attack has proceeded. And that investigation appears to be gaining political currency. The Public Religion Research Institute released a poll Monday saying nearly half of Americans “believe there is clear evidence Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help the Trump campaign.”
Gallup released a poll Monday showing Trump’s disapproval hit an all-time high of 62 percent. Both PRRI’s and Gallup’s surveys were conducted before Monday’s round of indictments. The president’s approval rating is almost certainly going to get worse.
While I don’t suggest Mueller has made decisions with public opinion expressly in mind, I do suggest he’s sane, and that the political implications of failing to prosecute federal law surely inform his thinking.
One man won’t save us. But our insistence on the rule of law will.