The Mueller investigation has come to a close, finding that they could “not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
After two years of being told constantly — emphatically — that collusion between Russian agents and Donald Trump’s campaign was a foregone conclusion, Republicans would be well within their rights to demand redemption.
But if redemption, and leadership, are on the GOP’s agenda, they should take this opportunity to go after a much bigger prize:
For years the nation has heard ad nauseam about the virtues of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and how he would prove what we all knew: Donald Trump colluded with Russia to circumvent the American electoral system and cheat his way into the White House.
Only, it’s not true.
The exhaustive investigation led by Mr. Mueller has come to a close without finding the silver bullet long anticipated by the entirety of the Beltway media and the political establishment.
Despite the investigation having hit the proverbial dead end, the next moves are completely predictable. Democrats will shrug it off (“it was never important, of course. Look squirrel!” they’ll say) and Republicans will pounce.
Trump has months of campaign speeches already written for him — by the fake news that despises him.
You can see the President now, strolling to the podium at a packed rally with a newspaper under his arm.
“I have here, the Washington Post from July 16, 2018,” he’ll say with a wide smile as he loudly unfolds it. The crowd will thunder their disapproval and scream at the reporters in the back, hunched over their laptops, cringing as they prepare for what comes next.
“Do you want to hear what they had to say about me?” he’ll ask, rhetorically, as the crowd breaks into a frenzy.
“’Trump just colluded with Russia!’ — that’s what they said a year ago! Then the investigation they begged me to start — so they could take me down, let’s be clear, that’s what it was about — Mueller’s investigation, it didn’t find anything!” he’ll yell into the microphone.
And this will continue, day after day, in city after city. Since the media was so certain that Trump cheated to win, the President could pick an erroneous headline a day for years and never run out of material.
That’s what we all expect because that’s what happens in the day-to-day course of American politics today. The stakes are too high for anything less than bare-knuckle brawling.
Even in the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln commented, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Clearly President Lincoln never had Twitter.
The Washington Post is already fanning the flames with a homepage article declaring, “[t]he closing of Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation has opened the door to fiercer political fights over the president’s judgment and power.” Politico is ready for the next phase as well, reporting that “Dems begin searching for post-Mueller strategy”.
In the midst of this on-going swarm of moxy and hubris, an increasing share of Americans are done with it. According to Gallup, Americans’ “trust and confidence” in the federal government to handle problems is the lowest they have ever recorded, going back to the 1970s. Globally, American government leaders have an image rating about the same as Russia (ironically) and less favorable than China.
Much has been made about the crisis of leadership in today’s politics. In this moment, where their opponents find themselves as extended as Wile E. Coyote after running off a cliff, Republican leaders have an opening to revive the art of statesmanship.
What if Republicans did not leverage the Mueller investigation to demand apologies daily for the next two years?
What if they didn’t engage in the petty fight for clickbait scraps that online and cable news scavenge for every day?
What if the GOP didn’t call out every media organization and demand protracted self-analysis of how they allowed themselves to be so voraciously, ignorantly wrong? (Granted, the media in large part was wrong — and should take a long look in the mirror before Tom Hanks narrates another ad bemoaning the “darkness” killing democracy.)
What if Donald Trump and every Republican down to dog catcher took a moment to say “This is done, we’re moving forward, and have work to do for the American people.”?
A thoughtful response — acknowledging the victory with grace and dignity — would leave CNN with dead air. The pages of the New York Times would be blank. Professors in Berkley would cancel class.
Imagine the panic as the campaign teams of all 75 Democrats running for president realize that they’ve been outmaneuvered and have to scramble to both appeal to their angry, motivated primary base while preparing for a positive, substantive general election campaign?
Granted, maybe these expectations are a bit too lofty. An era of statesmanship is as antiquated as operating a lemonade stand without a license. Things like that just don’t happen these days.
It is said that statesmanship conveys a quality of leadership that organically brings people together. There have been few moments in America’s history when we had a greater need for that kind of leadership than we do today.
We can’t all be a president or a senator, but we can be a statesman to our neighbors and friends.
For this moment, that might be enough.