It seems like everyone is upset over the Mueller report. Some Democrats in Congress insist on seeing the original without any redactions whatsoever. President Trump is angry that it casts him in a negative light, as are many of his supporters. The media is indignant that President Trump’s defenders continue to defend him.
But as for me, I couldn’t be happier. There really is so much to celebrate.
The President’s supporters should be elated, because Trump is accused of no criminal wrongdoing. Democrats should feel vindicated, because the report makes clear beyond a doubt that the internal culture of the Trump administration is toxic. The media should be proud to know that Mueller’s report confirms the investigative journalism of the past two years to have been shown to be mostly accurate, claims of “fake news” notwithstanding.
But most of all, and far more important than anything else, the American people should breathe a sigh of relief, because Mueller’s report confirms that our system still works. We have just witnessed a process of which few governments, now or ever, have been capable: an objective investigation of a sitting Head of State, conducted with professionalism, accuracy, and integrity. The main winners of this whole process are the American people and our civic institutions.
When Robert Mueller was appointed as Special Counsel, both Republicans and Democrats praised the choice. At the time, there was a general sense that something was amiss, and that an independent investigation was needed to examine things. Mueller’s integrity and reputation for nonpartisan straight-shooting made him the ideal choice. At a time of great polarization, Mueller’s appointment was a rare moment of bipartisan consensus.
But the consensus didn’t last long. Slowly, concerns crept in about political bias among some employees of the FBI who had initiated the investigation before the election. One member of Mueller’s team was dismissed from the Special Counsel’s office, and later fired from the FBI. President Trump began to call the investigation a “witch hunt,” even though it was being overseen by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, a Republican and Trump appointee.
Meanwhile, prominent left-leaning media responded with barely concealed scorn for the President. Though their reporting was usually careful and accurate, at times it seemed they could barely conceal their hope that President Trump would turn out to be a crook, a second Nixon. While the Mueller report itself has exonerated the media from Trump’s claims of “witch hunts” and “fake news,” the media nonetheless gave fuel to that fire. Constantly obsessing over every twist and turn of the investigation, nearly always giving pride of place to mere gossip, America’s media can be accused of having insufficiently covered more concrete and consequential news for the last year and a half. Sometimes they seemed desperate to bring Trump down.
Despite all of this noise, and under incredible stress and attacks from all sides, Mueller and his team kept their heads down and worked diligently, like the nonpartisan professionals they are. In a political culture in which leaks and intrigue are the norm, the Mueller team was able to complete its 18-month investigation leak-free. It has set the standard for all such future investigations.
I hope we can take the time as a culture to rejoice that, despite the chaos and hoopla of the moment, integrity in civic life is still possible—perhaps on life support, yes, but not completely dead, and capable of being resurrected. Bob Mueller is a symbol of an older, more honorable generation of American public servants, one for which duty outweighed self-promotion, and objectivity outweighed self-interest. In a political world in which “alternative facts” are bandied about, Bob Mueller holds to a worldview in which, to paraphrase Daniel Patrick Moynihan, we are entitled to our own opinions but not to our own facts. The Mueller report was able to uncover the truth.
Because of the report’s thoroughness and integrity, we must take it seriously. I, for myself, am incredibly thankful that it found that neither Trump nor his campaign actually conspired with the Russians. That would have been a disastrous revelation indeed, for all sorts of legal, political, and cultural reasons. No matter how much one dislikes President Trump, it’s a relief to find that there was no conspiracy.
We must also take seriously the fact that the President was not exonerated from the accusation that he obstructed justice. The President and his administration were demonstrated to be willing to lie in order to protect the Trump Presidency. Most damningly of all, President Trump was saved from a clear charge of obstruction, largely because his subordinates refused to carry out his orders. It’s not a pretty picture. Mitt Romney said he was “sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President,” and I share the sentiment.
And yet, with the Mueller investigation completed, it’s time to move on. Although the conclusions of the report could, arguably, justify impeachment on legal and moral grounds, it would be a foolish and divisive endeavor politically. A significant majority of Americans oppose impeachment. As things stand now, there are not enough willing votes in the Senate to convict and remove the President from office. The country is about to have a presidential election in eighteen months. If we were only six months into President Trump’s term, perhaps impeachment would make more sense. But at this point, Trump’s fate should be decided by American voters at the ballot box, not by a polarized U.S. Congress.
Some will find this conclusion hard to stomach. Some would prefer continuing investigations into the President’s wrongdoings on any number of issues, from his personal tax returns to the activities of the Trump Organization and beyond.
This would be a terrible mistake. It’s vindictive and political in the worst sense, and distracts from more important legislative work. It would so alienate the President from the rest of the American government that any hope of finding common ground on important legislation would be lost. It would be a waste of the last 18 months of President Trump’s term.
Instead, we need to put the report aside, leave judgment of Trump to history (and the 2020 elections,) and move on to doing the peoples’ business. It is not yet too late to salvage Trump’s presidency in the interests of the American people. With courage and resolve, and a significant dose of humility on all sides, the President and Congress can still get bipartisan legislation passed on immigration and infrastructure, among possibly other things. It’s not too late to extend a hand to the president, to convince him that the best way to put the Mueller report behind him is to work in a bipartisan manner to accomplish something significant.
In his insightful book, If We Can Keep It, Michael Tomasky recounts a profound story about bipartisanship. During the contentious debate leading up to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Acts, daily briefings about the progress of the bill were being held outside the office of Republican Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, rather than Democratic Majority Leader Mike Mansfield. Democrats complained. But Mansfield, who was a true believer in depolarization and bipartisanship (who even went so far as to encourage Senators of different parties to carpool together in order to get to know each other better,) explained:
“If the public can see the Republican leader each day reporting on the progress…it will be very beneficial for the country to grasp that this bill was being drafted by both parties even in an overwhelmingly Democratic congress.”
We need something of this spirit now, a spirit which puts the public good above political advantage. Would Democrats be justified in pursuing endless investigations to embarrass the president? Perhaps. But it wouldn’t be good for the country. It would be better, for the country, for Democrats to offer an olive branch to the President, recognizing that there’s work to do, and that it can only be done in a spirit of collaboration. President Trump might not be a man of integrity, but he is the President, and he deserves, at minimum the respect that office holds. We should trust the voters in 2020 to decide if he should stay there.
We should be grateful to Robert Mueller for his excellent work. But we should also follow his example of putting duty to country above self, and above petty political calculation. The Mueller report was important and consequential- but now is the time to move on.