Ours is an age of egregious excess, of tearing everything apart to set everything right and then hiding from reality when everything gets worse. So it is that we’ve got a president often acting as if he is still host of a TV reality show that is, at least, high in its ratings, and a special counsel who figures the guy has to go even if that means justice has to go, too.
“This is not the way our democracy works,” said Hillary Clinton in a campaign debate after Donald Trump said he might not accept the outcome of the election. “We’ve been around for 240 years. We have had free and fair elections. We’ve accepted the outcomes when we may not have liked them. And that is what is expected of anyone standing on a debate stage during a general election. He is denigrating — he is talking down — our democracy.”
Well, we see elections contested all the time, as in the recent midterms, and democracy is not necessarily denigrated. But suppose there’s a presidential election, no evidence of campaign wrong-doing is found and yet every other trick in the book — even felonious leaking of classified papers— is used to deny the winner his rights.
Phony means to a possibly chaotic, unjustified end is the real denigration of democracy, especially when the fight is between the high-and-mighty and rule of law. Clinton knows where she stands, hints at running for president again, goes on money-making tours with her husband and can at least count on him to show up at the rallies.
To bring the anti-Trump frenzy together in an organized attack, a special counsel was needed to investigate whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to beat Clinton. Not just anyone would do. What was needed was someone who was a friend of an important witness, had a steely, gotcha temperament and would happily spend millions, use discredited tactics and thereby intervene fundamentally in the rightly focused conduct of the presidency for a year and a half.
And so we come to Robert Mueller.
A former director of the FBI, he had demonstrated his qualifications when some of its agents were in search of terrorists and acted without probable cause in collecting scads of personal data on private citizens. Keep your mouths shut, these folks were told, and Mueller informed Congress there had only been one or two such abuses when the real number was about 3,000. He held himself accountable.
He also violated separation of powers by authorizing the search of a congressional office and refusing to return ill-gotten material despite urgings from congressional leaders and the attorney general.
The Russian collusion may yet take center stage, but the latest, most threatening move in the Trump investigation is to let us all know that he served his campaign with hush money sent to two women who had served him sexually.
The thing is, it can be a felony not to have reported the expenditures, although these sorts of errors are often pretty much ignored, as in something noted in a National Review article. The Obama 2008 campaign paid a relatively slight penalty for $2 million worth of transgressions.
But restraint is hardly a Mueller mantra. Through the instrument of sentencing threats, critics say he may in effect have bullied or bribed officials into deals about what they say about Trump and friends. Constitutional experts such as Alan Dershowitz also point to how he has twisted client-attorney privilege in such a way that the only privilege belongs to those wearing a prosecutorial grin.
Trump has triumphed with some excellent policies, has fought back with some terrible ones, is losing some good people and still comes across as ignorant, irresponsible, narcissistic, vulgar and bigoted. He hardly seems prepared for the barbarians at the gate. The issue is whether democracy can stand up against denigration.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at email@example.com.