A high school English teacher used quizzes to determine whether we truly read the book assigned that week or only consumed the CliffsNotes summary. It was Cliff’s failure to mention the pince-nez glasses of a character in Dickens’ “Hard Times” that pegged one of us as having surrendered to the temptation to shortcut our education. An oath was taken to never again assume hundreds of pages of important detail could be boiled down to a synopsis. That held till now.
We’ve skimmed Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Mueller report based on what Barr self-describes as an “initial review,” in which he also admits his “review is ongoing.” Those who insist on public release of the underlying report profoundly underestimate the time Barr saved us by compacting into a few pages what he describes as the product of 19 lawyers, 40 FBI staffers, 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants and 500 witness interviews.
Robert Mueller’s caution that he was not exonerating Trump of criminal obstruction of justice need not cause us to question Barr’s conclusion that Trump is innocent of any wrongdoing. Nor the fact that one of Mueller’s prosecutors just told a federal judge that the special counsel grand jury was “continuing robustly” in its work. Think of the paper that would have been saved if only the Ken Starr [self-described “sexually explicit”] report on President Bill Clinton’s wrongdoing had been summarized in a few pages by then-Attorney General Janet Reno, perhaps with a stick figure graphic or two.
Starr shaded his findings in blue, the old independent counsel law using a low “substantial and credible” evidence standard in finding Clinton’s repeated lies and obstructive conduct over what Bill considered his private peccadillo to be impeachment-worthy. We’ve now learned from the much wiser Barr that obstruction need not always be naughty and to give our poor presidents the benefit of the doubt. Perchance because of the virtual public stoning she endured in the 1990s, White House intern Monica Lewinsky, co-star of the Starr report, recently tweeted in response to a “what if” about that report being buried like the Mueller one: “If. [Expletive-deleted]ing. Only.” Agreed.
There were no CliffsNotes available for our history classes, so we do seem to recall that the American Presidency was never entirely free of scandal. There was that Richard Nixon guy, the Teapot Dome Scandal that tainted Warren G. Harding, the corrupt cabinet of Ulysses S. Grant, etc. Why not join hands at last and embrace the American tendencies to take short cuts, jump to conclusions and turn a blind eye to venality when it involves the highest levels of government? The rest of the world surely could agree that immediate gratification is the most American of virtues. We not only want MAGA, we want it now.
OK, Mueller apparently did find Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Don’t worry your pretty little head about whether Mueller actually exonerated Trump or simply found there was not enough evidence to convict Trump criminally of conspiracy. The more than 100 contacts between Trump people and the Russians, and hundreds of lies Trump and his peeps told to cover up such entanglements, need not distract us. Lower your standards. Perhaps just rotate which country interferes in our elections or grant more seats at the table. Let Iran decide who wins the electoral college in 2020. Allow China, North Korea and Syria to openly endorse favored candidates in the Democratic primaries. No biggie.
We’re approaching a 250-year run for this experiment in democracy and [apart from Native Americans, enslaved people and the like] it’s been great. Sure, American life spans are no longer increasing, but at least we know we aren’t socialists or victims of that incessant hope and happiness that those Danes, Norwegians and Swedes have fallen prey to. Sad!
It’s time to accept that our role in history and the world going forward will be to serve as the Taco Bell of modern democracies. The meat of liberty turns out to be a beefesque slurry of things that taste even better than the (#boring!) 100 percent real thing. Crack open a Mountain Dew and let worries such as secret campaign contributions, efforts to make it harder to cast a vote and a skyrocketing budget deficit be overwhelmed with that unmistakable sugar and caffeine high.
Generations of Americans fought and died for a government of the people, by the people, for the people, but that was then; this is now. Modern America is Uncle Sam’s nephew who has no idea how hard Sam worked to achieve his wealth but is having a damn good time squandering the inheritance now that there’s no adult left to stop us. The many other empires that collapsed in days gone by surely did so because they were not as special and immortal as America.
Move along from the Mueller report — nothing to see here, folks — and don’t trouble yourselves about all those unpleasant questions it surely raises. By the time historians shame us by suggesting that we got the government we deserved, we’ll all be gone and the great-grandchildren can try picking up the pieces. Oh, the stories they are sure to tell about us, the Gratification Generation.