Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Science Fiction/Double Feature

“Man Who Spent Last 2 Years Drawing Pictures Of Trump And Putin Making Out Beginning To Realize Just How Wrong He’s Been”
—Headline in The Onion, March 25
“‘There Was No Collusion, We’re Really Just That Stupid’ Confirm Americans”
—Headline on the satirical Irish newspaper web site Waterford Whispers, March 27
In my previous post a few weeks ago, I wrote about the different through which filters people see things, how two different reasonable and intelligent can look at the same event or piece of information and draw entirely different conclusions about it. The funny thing is that, when it comes to politics, neither of those two reasonable and intelligent people sees the other one as either reasonable or intelligent.

Last time I discussed the different paradigms—movies is a better metaphor for me—through which people in the UK and Europe see Brexit. Now let’s revisit the United States, which is more divided in the way people see reality than I can ever remember. Or does it just seem that way? No, I think it really is that way. And nothing exemplifies this better than the ongoing narrative of President Trump and Russian collusion. Not only has that not changed since Robert Mueller finished his long-awaited report, which was summarized by William Barr, but it looks unlikely to change no matter how much of the actual report itself gets released. Maybe if the whole thing were released unredacted? I’m guessing not, and there is absolutely zero chance it will get released without redactions anyway.

So we will continue along as a two-movie society. Democrats and other never-Trumpers are living in a movie that is a pastiche of All the President’s Men and The Manchurian Candidate. Every piece of information unavailable to them is proof positive that the president is the center of a nefarious, treasonous conspiracy protected by one of the widest-ranging coverups of all time. Trump supporters, meanwhile, are living in a movie with elements of Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View and half the oeuvre of Oliver Stone. In their world, there is an implacable campaign of major influencers in the corporate mainstream media, the Democratic Party and the federal bureauracy out to subvert any exercise of democracy that does not fit in with their own plans for the country.

At one time it looked as though Mueller’s findings would reconcile these views. Despite regular verbal attacks from the president, the special counsel looked like it might be the one thing with the credibility and authority to put this particular division behind us. Ha. It’s like the time in the primary debate when Democrats lambasted Trump for not saying he would accept the results of the election—and then they didn’t accept the results of the election. Now, after saying that Robert Mueller would settle the collusion issue, they say that he hasn’t settled the collusion issue.

Here is what I wrote fourteen months ago: “We have gotten to a really interesting—and kind of scary—place in the whole Trump-Russia drama. There are basically only two places to go from here. If, after all this time, Mueller and his team come up with clear and incontrovertible evidence of subversion of the electoral process, they will justifiably be seen as heroes. If, on the other hand, it turns out that all their time and resources were spent on something inconsequential—or merely trapping a few individuals in ‘process crimes’ that only arose out the investigation itself—while handicapping the first year or so of a duly elected administration, then it will look to many like Mueller and the FBI themselves were participants—witting or otherwise—in the subversion of the electoral process.”

I wrote that with a completely open mind. If Mueller had reported that Trump or someone working for him had laundered money and paid Russians to pull dirty tricks in the election, I would have been appalled but not gobsmacked. It was a possibility that appeared at least credible. If, as he seems to have done, Mueller exonerated the president of collusion, I was not going to find that impossible to believe either. What about obstruction of justice? We will get further detail on that, though probably never as much as the Democrats want. So far it appears the only such indictments have been for actions unrelated to the Trump campaign and presidency. Curiously, Barr’s summary says Trump is not exonerated on obstruction, which is kind of curious since prosecutors never “exonerate” anybody. The closest you ever get to an exoneration from a prosecutor is to not be charged, so I’m guessing there is some venting in the report about the president’s lack of respect for the special counsel’s authority. It will be interesting to see if the released version of the report gets into detail about which team members advocated for and against charges. Will it break down along party lines, thereby showing that even Mueller’s office was riven by the same political forces afflicting the rest of Washington?

Was I at all prescient in writing that, given the apparent result of the Mueller findings, “it will look to many like Mueller and the FBI themselves were participants—witting or otherwise—in the subversion of the electoral process.” Well, yeah, kinda—if by “many” I was referring to people who already felt that way about Mueller and the FBI. That might also include whoever is left in the theoretical persuadable middle. You can count me in that category.

Based on what we know now—and this is always subject to change upon receipt of new information—it looks like the FBI and the special counsel, wittingly or unwittingly, wound up working as a de facto opposition research arm of the DNC and the Clinton campaign. Does that mean that the investigation was not worthwhile? Did not some good come out of it because it answered burning questions and put people’s minds at ease that the democratic process was not subverted by the Trump campaign? That might have been true if the investigation had actually settled the question for the vast majority of the country, but it looks like it hasn’t. So no, if political factions are going to go on believing only what they see in their own particular movies regardless of whatever new information is turned up, then it was just a waste of time and money.

And that also means that, yes, by spying—sorry, I mean, conducting surveillance—on one political campaign based on flimsy information provided by another political campaign, the FBI under James Comey actually did more to subvert the democratic process than anything President Trump has so far been shown to have done. That doesn’t make Donald Trump a better president than he has ever been. It just makes the FBI a whole lot scarier than it has ever been.