What's Tony Thinking

Why I’m Okay with the Mueller Report


I should qualify my “I’m okay,” by saying that I’ve not read the report. But then few have.

I have seen the Barr summary and listened to a fair bit of commentary.

Yes, I’m disappointed. A real “smoking gun” would have been thrilling. But I was also dubious from the get-go that one would be found.

“Collusion” is a high bar. It would require a level of organization and direction that I’m not sure characterized the Trump campaign.

We do know, though Trump apparently does not, that Russia did meddle extensively in our election. Moreover, they meddled on behalf of Donald J. Trump. In another time, that alone would have been serious enough.

But direct, explicit, verifiable collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian dis-information agents? Not demonstrable.

So I’m disappointed, but not surprised.

And why might I be okay with the outcome (thus far).

First, I do think it is much preferable to defeat Donald Trump at the voting booth in 2020 than to have an impeachment drama/ trauma that extends for months and months.

We are not in Nixon territory. That was fifty years ago. We can’t get off on a technicality. We have to face the tough issues, including those that motivate Trump and his base. Nixon was Machiavellian, but he was in the mainstream political world. Trump is a different thing altogether, someone who personifies basic questions about who we are as a nation, a people.

Electoral defeat of Trump, if it can be accomplished, will be cleaner, clearer and compelling. It demands Trump’s opponents make their case to the American people.

There’s the challenge. Do the Democrats have that capacity? Will they come up with a viable candidate/ ticket? One that can win. Can they do it? I don’t know.

Second, even though Trump doesn’t play by the rules, I’m glad Mueller did and does. In other words, I’m glad he wasn’t a political hack who would come up with reasons for indictment/ impeachment when it was a politically-motivated stretch. The old saw from your mother, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Though the glee of Trump and his team is a bitter pill to swallow, it is better than wondering if the special investigator’s report was a political put-up job.

Third, the Trump Presidency is, I’ve long believed, a moral test for America and for the American people. Our test continues, with no easy way out. We are not let off the hook by a special counsel’s investigation. We must rise to the occasion.

And fourth, it is possible that Trump’s “victory” here may pave the way to a more significant defeat. Life and history have a funny way of flipping and surprising us. Life is full of irony. This “win” could turn into a defeat in some unexpected way.

To return, however, to my main argument — long ago I learned the useful term “ad hominem argument.”

It means that you don’t debate the issues, you attack your opponent, the messenger not the message. You impugn his/ her character. You generate rumor, innuendo and guilt-by-association. You foster hatred for this other. All of this is the stock-in-trade of Donald Trump — but that doesn’t make it right.

Ad hominem argument has been condemned by philosophers and ethicists as crass. But it is so much the norm today that we hardly aware that this form of argumentation is a debased one.

A generation ago the Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray said, “A good argument is a great achievement.” Ad hominem attacks on your opponent are neither great argument nor a great achievement. A good argument is one that debates the issue, the matter at hand, without reliance on personal attack and insult.

Critics of Trump and Democratic contenders need to avoid ad hominem attacks and focus on the compelling issues.

David Brooks made a similar point in his column today. Here’s Brooks,

“The  nation’s underlying divides are still ideological, but we rarely fight them honestly as philosophical differences. We just accuse the other side of corruption. Politics is no longer a debate; it’s an attempt to destroy lives through accusation.”

Brooks also sees a glimmer of hope in all this.

“The ray of hope is that out on the campaign trail voters rarely ask about the scandals du jour, which obsess the cognoscenti. Most of the Democratic presidential candidates spent the last few months trying not to talk about Russian collusion. They have found a vein of voters who would rather focus on the substance of our historical moment: What motivated so many Americans to vote for a presidential candidate they knew was untrustworthy? How do you provide affordable health security? Is China a mortal foe?

“The Democrats won the 2018 midterms by focusing on the issues, not collusion. For most voters, politics is about their lives, not a self-righteous TV show.”

So, yes, release and scrutinize the Mueller Report. But unless there’s more than we know so far, move on from hating on Trump as sufficient in itself to the critical questions of policy and governance, norms and values. Defeat him on that ground, which is the ground where most people live.






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