Who Can Save Us From Ourselves?

There has been a temptation among progressives to see Robert Mueller's Russia investigation as a silver bullet, the answer to all of our problems.  

Some particularly hopeful progressives have long seen Bob Mueller as the secret weapon that will end the national nightmare that is the Trump Administration -- sort of like how some people say not to worry about climate change, because technology will solve the problem for us.

Bob Mueller, of course, is not omnipotent. When it comes to Donald Trump, I have long subscribed to Carl Sagan's wisdom: "There is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves." The United States got ourselves into this disaster, and it's up to American democracy to get ourselves out of it.

There are a band of Twitter activists, led by the likes of Louise Mensch and Claude Taylor, who, according to McKay Coppins at The Atlantic, "feed their followers a steady diet of highly provocative speculation, rumor, and innuendo that makes it sound as if Trump’s presidency—and, really, the entire Republican Party—is perpetually on the verge of a spectacular meltdown." Most of the speculation and conspiracy is about Russian involvement and Trump campaign collusion (also known as treason) in the election. There have been hints (and outright exclamations) that Trump and the acolytes in his orbit (Kushner, Manafort, Flynn, Don Jr., Bannon, etc.) would be in prison soon -- like really soon (months before any indictments were handed down). These Twitter activists would write things like #PresidentHatch, alleging that not only was Trump going down, but Mike Pence and Paul Ryan were going with him. They got a lot of things very, very wrong.

There's a serious danger in activists believing Bob Mueller can save us. The Russia investigation, and any timeline associated with it, is completely out of our control and not subject to grassroots organizing. There's an argument, notably made by the team at Pod Save America, that said Russia can only serve to distract us from the destructive policy agenda of the Trump Administration and the chaos it has orchestrated, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Instead, we should be focusing on stopping the unending efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which was the real fight for awhile. Now, the fight is over the astoundingly, unspeakably awful "tax reform" bill that no one has read, gives massive tax breaks to the wealthy, and will add billions (or perhaps a trillion dollars) to the national debt. That, according to the argument, is where the energy of the grassroots ought to be focused, to move members of Congress who are susceptible to public pressure. That's a compelling argument to me.

But today, something truly remarkable happened. General Michael Flynn, who worked for President Obama and just a few months ago was a National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, announced he would plead guilty to one count of lying to the FBI. Brian Ross of ABC News is reporting that Flynn will testifying that Trump instructed him to contact Russia sometime during the transition, before he was sworn in as president. Amazing. Flynn joins George Popadopoulous in pleading guilty to a charge born from Mueller's investigation; Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have been charged. Slowly but surely, the Russia investigation is turning into a lot more than a liberal fantasy or "fake news." There's a lot of smoke, a lot of deception, a lot of obstruction, and a lot lies. I'm not sure what happens next.

It seems very unlikely to me that this won't get closer to Trump before Mueller's work is done. But it also still seems like you and I won't be having much of an impact on Bob Mueller's work -- but we might be able to inspire a couple of Senate Republicans to regain their common sense. That seems to be the more important play right now. 

Donald Trump as President of the United States is without a doubt a test of the strength and endurance of American democracy. It very well may be coming to a head soon, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared. But we're not there yet, and until then, we've got to keep playing defense.