1. A day after Mueller’s first public statement on his report, I conclude, first, that he didn’t punt. His remarks challenged the narrative of Trump and Barr. But he didn’t forcefully advance the ball either. His language was too oblique, lawyerly, neutral, and sparse to do that.
He didn’t have to call for impeachment nor spit fire, but he could have taken advantage of the platform afforded him to elaborate on his team’s investigative findings in a way that would have brought clarity to tens of millions as well as better position Congressional Democrats and a few courageous Republicans to carry out their political and constitutional duties. Had his words been forceful and pointed, they could have also cut deep holes in the false narrative tapestry of Trump, Barr, Fox News, and others to defend Trump’s indefensible actions.
Whatever held him back — his class upbringing and training, his understanding of public service, his lifetime affiliation to the Republican Party, his reservations about the resistance movement and the Democratic Party, his lack of backbone in the face of a vindictive Trump attack machine, his desire to quietly retire, etc. — Mueller didn’t meet the moment, even if he didn’t, to use another sport’s analogy, strike out. A profile in courage he wasn’t.
2. Mueller opened and closed his statement by calling attention to the fact of massive and coordinated Russian interference in our elections. Fair enough; it should be addressed. But that isn’t the main problem facing our democratic and constitutional system. Trump and his gang are. This fact should have figured far more explicitly in Mueller’s statement yesterday.
3. I still like Pelosi’s approach to impeachment. I find that many of the Impeach Now advocates traffic in facile assumptions about the readiness of millions of Americans to jump on the impeachment bandwagon as well as the positive impact of an impeachment process on the elections. Pelosi is right that impeachment is, above all, a political process and thus the case for impeachment has to be built in Washington and around the country. But it isn’t built yet. Politics takes patience as well as boldness. This is a dynamic situation and it will be interesting to see what polls show next week.
4. Why isn’t a rebuke of Trump at the polls next year a powerful repudiation of Trump’s authoritarian mode of governing? Why isn’t it a deterrent to future presidents who might like to embrace his governing style? Does defeat of Trump at the ballot box really pale in impact to his impeachment, especially when the former is far more doable than the latter?
5. “The center cannot hold” has become the favored phrase of political commentators these days. And the results of the European Parliamentary elections have provided fresh meat for this argument as the left and, especially, the right gained ground at the expense of traditional parties.
That said, I would offer three thoughts on this matter. One is changes at the economic level alone don’t explain this phenomenon; two: the experience of each country requires close and concrete examination; and three: any idea that the center (which is a mass trend) is no longer of any political consequence is completely wrongheaded. Such a conclusion would doom our hope of defeating Trump next year. Unity — broad, diverse, and expansive — has to be the watchword in these perilous times.
By the way, here is William Butler Yeats’ poem from which the phrase is drawn. It was written in 1919 and reflects Yeats’ anguish and ambivalence about a world — not least his beloved Ireland — at war and in turmoil.
The Second Coming
William Butler Yeats
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?