Donald Trump and his White House enablers keep insisting they “have no plans” to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Given the administration’s lack of regard for truth, that should greatly concern Americans, each of whom has a stake in the proposition that no person is above the law, including a president.
Even a president elected by a huge majority — unlike Trump — is and must be subject to questions and constant challenge by the public and its institutions: the Congress, journalists, grand juries, the judicial apparatus, activist citizens. That dynamic is the only thing separating a democratic republic from an autocracy.
Unfortunately, for many Americans that crucial proposition breaks down when “their president” is on the receiving end of the scrutiny. Thus, today’s Trump supporters grumble that Mueller’s inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 president election is:
▪ Taking far too long: seven months so far.
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▪ Being carried out by investigators with clear political biases.
▪ Uncovering no wrongdoing by Trump because no wrong has been done.
▪ And distracting their hero from doing even better things for the country.
Think Bill Clinton and Ken Starr: for four years in the 1990s, Starr, a court-appointed independent counsel, expanded an investigation of a small-time Arkansas land deal into a presidential impeachment rife with implications of murder (false), extra-marital White House sex (true), subornation of perjury, lying under oath and bribery.
Clinton supporters complained that Starr’s investigation was taking too long, was politically biased, too much ado about not very much and distracting. Hillary Clinton declared the investigation part of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”
The process ended with a not-guilty vote in the Republican-held Senate, but the most important takeaway is that the process was completed; no short-circuits, no presidential intervention, no preemptory pardons.
In both investigations, some investigators held (or hold) political views different from those of their targets. Each of them held (or holds) political views of one sort or another because they have spent time thinking about values: what matters to them, what matters to others and what matters, period.
The bottom-line questions are what value one attaches to truth, to demonstrable fact, and whether one’s respect for truth outweighs one’s political preferences.
People who, above all, respect and value truth protect the legal process. In return, the legal process protects them. That synergism, although often rough-cut, is the product of established procedures, checks and balances, rules of evidence, an adversarial nature and ethical canons the accumulated weight of which minimizes individual biases and maximizes the chance of a just outcome.
People who have not spent much time thinking about ultimate values but nevertheless wander into public life, often with borrowed or inherited biases, cannot accept that such a neutral process exists. To them, every process not owned by them is “rigged” against them.
It is as yet unclear if our public life is approaching a dangerous tipping point where the majority of people or the bulk of influence would be on the negative side of that equation. Certainly the moral pliability of the current Congress, the calculated campaign to discredit Mueller, his team and the FBI, and the continued enabling of Trump’s flaws are scary characteristics.
We cannot yet know what Mueller will uncover — or if, in fact, there is any connection to uncover between Trump’s campaign and the Russian intrusion. But any short-circuiting of the process would be an ominous sign for every American.
Davis Merritt, Wichita journalist and author, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.