On Beyond Mueller. Step 1: Acknowledge the feelings

Bummed. Ticked. Perturbed. Aghast. Disgusted. Deflated. Demoralized. I have been to the thesaurus and found it packed with words that fit the occasion. After trying on a bunch, I’ve decided to go with dismayed. A bit antique but doubly apt: it signifies sudden disappointment along with diminished clarity and confidence – exactly my two top reactions to the end of the Special Prosecutor’s investigation and the findings so far conveyed to us by the Attorney General.

I don’t know about you. I had hoped for better. Not just hoped. Expected. With reasons. Let me recap a few:

  • Paul Manafort’s frantic efforts to “get whole” with one of Putin’s favorite oligarchs;
  • The polling data that Manafort passed on to an FBI-certified Russian intelligence asset;
  • The instructions from an unnamed senior Trump campaign figure to have Roger Stone reach out to Julian Assange;
  • The Republican platform going soft on Russia a week after release of the Clinton emails;
  • The reported visit of Michael Cohen’s cellphone (if not Cohen himself) to Prague, a known hub of Russian hackers;
  • The ridiculous number of ill-explained meetings and contacts between Trump people and Putin people;
  • The endless lying.

What were they working so desperately hard to hide? Nothing as tidy as a straight-up deal to trade Russia-sanctions relief for Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. I got that. But clearly there was a heap more bad stuff to unearth – another big swath of criminality if not a single foul deed. And surely the Special Prosecutor and his team, with all the witnesses they had turned and the records they had gathered, would know a lot and tell us a lot of what they knew. That was my wishful if not magical line of thinking.

I confess to (in hindsight) an unhealthy interest in Trump-probe minutiae, partly attributable to too many hours spent in the back alleys and basement corridors of the case with the three amiable co-hosts of a podcast called “Mueller She Wrote.” But as they say in Author’s Acknowledgment Land, any mistakes are my own.

A big one was the habit of filling the void of Robert Mueller’s silences with imputed powers and virtues. Presented with the bullet points of his life story, I discounted his service to the two George Bush Administrations and the rock-ribbed Republicanism that won him his assignment, and grabbed on to his reputation as a straight-shooter who loved to put bad guys behind bars. Coming from the polar opposite end of the spectrum of New York City privilege, our Special Prosecutor, I felt sure, would see Donald Trump as a blight on the moral landscape, and his presidency as a national disaster. Guided by a duty to history and not just by a narrow legal mandate, Mueller would conclude his probe with a decisive flurry of indictments and disclosures, setting the Trump crowd on its heels and supplying the Resistance with fuel and momentum for a final push to victory. That is the vision that must now be shelved.

Yes indeed, we still have the actual Mueller Report to look forward to. Even with redactions, its hundreds of pages could turn out to be damning – possibly in themselves, possibly in the leads pursued by others. And if, for the sake of argument, there was “no collusion,” that idea will still have been the crowbar that opened many boxes of dirty secrets. Mueller & Co. may turn out to have been playing a sounder long game than we can yet see – with better results than the country would have realized from a dramatic announcement propelling us into a nasty fight over impeachment.

Let us hope so. But let us take a moment, first, to summon our inner child and give voice to our pain. For that purpose, I recommend “Robert Mueller Hits the Dusty Trail,” the Colbert show’s mashup of the windup of the 1952 movie “Shane,” when, as Alan Ladd rides off toward the hills, the 10-year-old Brandon DeWilde begs him to “come back” and deal with all the unanswered questions and uncompleted investigations.

A good cry will serve us well. Then we can get to work and face the fact: there will be no savior. It’s on us.


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