Although many may disagree, I think that there is a better than even chance that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team will present genuine evidence of wrong doing by the President and/or his aides. Assuming for a moment that this prediction is accurate, each of us citizens will have to assess – critically and impartially – whether the evidence is sufficient, in light of our national value system and the rule of law, to warrant Mr. Trump’s impeachment and/or the conviction of his associates. I consider Republican Senator Barry Goldwater’s advising President Nixon that based on the tapes’ evidence, he would vote to impeach Mr. Nixon, one of America’s finest moments — provided by someone that was an American first, a Republican second.
In making our individual assessments as citizens, we will need to think critically. We need to work to get accurate information. Too many of our people spend all their time in propaganda silos. We need to not only passively absorb information, but to assess its quality – in part, by assessing the motives behind the purveyors of the reports.
I am concerned that among the significant hazards we will face as this process unfolds are the shows that purport to be news. I once heard a liberal commentator call Fox News “comfort food for the Right” – and he’s correct. Fox stirs up its viewers’ emotions by telling them what they want to hear: “It’s all the Left’s and Democrats’ fault.” What the liberal talking head didn’t say is that MSNBC has made itself “comfort food for the Left.” MSNBC, like Fox, stirs up its viewers’ emotions by telling them what they want to hear: “It’s all the Right’s and President Trump’s fault.”
Why do these outlets do this? For the money. I don’t suggest that their senior managements are not respectively fundamentally liberal or conservative, but they exaggerate any point to stir up their constituencies because they’re in the entertainment business. Like ESPN and the Hallmark Channel, they give their viewers what they want to see (nobody wants to see a wrestling match on the Hallmark Channel). The alt-right and far-left sources are even more dependent on feeding their followers what they want to hear – fair or not.
Too many of our politicians are now no better. I think that Americans of all political persuasions mostly agree that what has come to drive too many of our representatives over the last decades is not what’s good for America, but what will keep them in their hallowed jobs (if they lose, they again become regular folks like the rest of us). What keeps them in office is … campaign money. Unfortunately, the most partisan rich on both sides primarily fund these campaigns. As we’ve seen over the last year, a disturbing – to me, terrifying – number of our politicians will spout virtually anything, will denigrate anything, in favor of a particular partisan view – for their good, not ours.
No matter whether we’re liberal or conservative, we’re letting them – the cable TV networks, the social media blasts, the politicians – anaesthetize us with what we want to believe. When visiting a car dealership, how much more prone is one to believe the salesman when he says, “I’m giving you a really good deal,” when you want that car that he’s selling? When you have two or three models/dealerships in mind, how much more objective are you? When those salesmen say, “It’s a great deal,” how much more likely are you to say to yourself, “This guy is just selling me because it puts money in his pocket.”? In politics as in car sales, why should our people uncritically accept the word of somebody whose livelihood is directly tied to telling them what they want to hear? Those of us with a few years behind us are painfully aware that many times, the person that tells us what we don’t want to hear … is right.
None of this is particularly controversial. What follows might be.
What makes us best able to exercise and protect our rights as citizens? I would submit that freedom of the press, fair criminal justice mechanisms, and a respected independent judicial system are paramount.
The Press first: Although I have little good to say above about TV cable and social media outlets, I believe we need to trust in reputable newspapers. A newspaper’s lifeblood is information, not entertainment. While local papers necessarily specialize in reporting on community affairs, we Americans are fortunate to have three great national publications: The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. On their opinion pages, obviously two skew liberal and one conservative. That said, on their news pages, each can be wrong – but each has too much at stake to intentionally deviate from the truth.
The Times has been the chronicler of the American experience since 1851. At bottom, it cares most about its tradition for comprehensive accuracy. By maintaining its tradition, it will survive Mr. Trump as it has his 31 immediate predecessors. The Post most cares about maintaining quality commensurate to the Times. In its last historic dispute with a President about the accuracy of its reporting, the Post was correct, and the President was lying. The Journal’s readers demand accuracy to effectively run their businesses. Although the Murdoch family controls both the Journal and Fox News, the family obviously understands that Journal readers are seeking information, while Fox News viewers are seeking entertainment.
I would offer that it doesn’t matter which of the three a citizen chooses to follow – but the citizen needs to carefully read the news accounts of one to competently assess the Constitutional challenges that our nation may soon face.
Prosecutors and Law Enforcement Agencies Next: I have found the Right’s recent attacks on Mr. Mueller and the FBI to be extremely disappointing and dangerous.
Putting aside the facts that Mr. Mueller is a Republican, that he was appointed FBI Director by a Republican, that he was appointed to his current post by an official of the Trump Administration, that no credible anti-Trump motive has been attributed to him, and that his team has already obtained two guilty pleas, place yourself in Mr. Mueller’s position: What would be most important to you if you had to discharge his duties? For me, the enormity of the importance of the task would immediately extinguish any personal feelings, pro or con, I had about the President, his aides, or his policies. Since the way I performed this task would be my legacy — the first line in my obituary — what would drive me wouldn’t be the result, but whether History (and my grandchildren) would be able to look back and say that I had performed my responsibilities competently, impartially, honorably, and honestly. If that reaction resonates, why would one think that Mr. Mueller would feel differently? I would suggest that only absolute partisans are unable to attribute other than partisan motivations to others.
As to the FBI, I am concerned that we have become so toxic and tribal that only winning matters – that either side is willing to try to make “black equal white” if it suits its particular narrative. While one can certainly argue that James Comey made missteps as Director, presumably even the President’s most ardent defenders recognize that Mr. Comey’s announcement, 10 days before the election, that he was reopening the Clinton email investigation helped Mr. Trump and harmed Ms. Clinton. This was clearly not the action of a Clinton/Democratic loyalist. At a larger level, I would submit that any citizen that pauses to reflect will recognize that people attracted to positions at the FBI place a high store on law and order – generally Republican inclinations. To think that the FBI is populated with politically partisan liberal do-gooder Democratic loyalists defies everything that those of us with a bit of gray in our hair viscerally know to be true. I believe that we would be best served by letting the FBI do its job, and objectively assess the evidence it gathers.
Finally, our Judicial System: Given my lifetime as a lawyer, Mr. Trump’s treatment of Judge Curiel in the Trump University case – in which the President challenged the Judge’s impartiality simply because of his Mexican heritage — fills me with the deepest foreboding (from more than one perspective). In this context, the damage that the President and his defenders could do, purely for partisan advantage, by impugning the standing, integrity, impartiality, and competence of our court system and of the judges hearing any cases involving members of the Trump Administration, simply can’t be overstated. Lawyers know that the vast majority of federal judges – whether appointed by Republicans or Democrats – are competent, diligent, and try their best to “get it right.” The fact that a judge rules against a litigant doesn’t mean that the judge is wrong or biased. Our judicial system is the envy of the world – which is why the Russians, the Chinese, and others who don’t adhere to our values invest here. They know that despite the differences in our respective political systems, they’ll get a fair shake in our courts. I have seen a commentator on the Right question our Grand Jury system through which prosecutors, including Mr. Mueller, secure indictments; in fact, the Grand Jury system was established in the Fifth Amendment as an additional protection to shield citizens against unfair prosecutions. Finally, any citizen with common sense will readily realize that a system that some feel is too lenient on defendants – many of them indigent – won’t be unfairly harsh on individuals with millions to spend on excellent defense lawyers and a cohort of people pressing their innocence.
In High Crimes and Misdemeanors, written in the late ‘90’s regarding President Clinton’s behavior while in office, conservative pundit Ann Coulter argued persuasively that the Founding Fathers considered grounds for impeachment in the American system to be primarily related to a moral standard, not necessarily linked or limited to legally criminal behavior, and that the bar for impeachable behavior was pretty low – that the official “simply behave amiss.” The argument can fairly be made that according to the standard Ms. Coulter outlined, a number of the undisputed actions that Mr. Trump has taken while in office would be grounds for impeachment. President Trump was validly elected in 2016. Should he be impeached? Should any of his associates claiming innocence be found guilty of crimes? Today, I … have no opinion. Although it will be up to members of Congress and juries to make the official determinations respectively regarding impeachment and criminal culpability, I’ll form my own opinion when, based upon reports provided by reputable news sources, I’ve had a chance to critically consider any evidence presented by our competent and honorable prosecutors and law enforcement agencies and the fruits of any judicial due process conducted through our envied court system. I hope all of our citizens, regardless of political leanings, will do the same. The future of our nation may depend on it.