Trump, Mueller, and the Glorious Hassle of Justice
Against the backdrop of a watching world, the United States is in the midst of an intense period of self-inflicted investigation and crisis. This past week, Robert Mueller released his much awaited, oft-decried, but constitutionally permissible report into the allegations of election tampering and collusion in the 2016 election. According to the Justice Department and Attorney General William Barr, Mueller practically exonerated the Trump campaign and its operators of any and all allegations of knowingly having colluded with Russian or foreign entities in order to affect the outcome of the 2016 election. The announcement was met with the predictable stereo of responses from the left and the right.
The Trump administration and the president himself lauded the report and its conclusion with glowing rhetoric and a vocabulary of institutional respect that until now had been utterly absent in the president’s public statements concerning the investigation. The left and the president’s detractors, having lost the confidence so often afforded by ignorance, are struggling to articulate a response.
There are enough moral ambiguity and rhetorical inconsistency to go around, as both sides search for political leverage amidst the ever-shifting political landscape. The administration, whose own Justice Department conducted the investigation, has spent the past two years decrying the investigators and critiquing the process. Having declared it the ultimate “witch-hunt,” Trump is now in the position of affirming the investigation’s findings. The president’s opposition, having spent the past two years salivating on the stairs of justice, waiting for the ax to fall, is now in an existential crisis the likes of which we have not witnessed since the morning of November 9, 2016. Both sides seem put-out by the process.
Every administration goes through cycles of investigations and oversight. Our system was designed so that power would check power, branch would check branch. Occasionally, this oversight rises to the level of special and independent counsels and congressional committees tasked with investigating particular offenses and specific allegations. That these investigations occur is a wonderful reminder of both our past wisdom and our continued fallenness. This wisdom saw that because of fallenness, power left unchecked and unobstructed by justice will inevitably bend away from said justice and toward abuse.
The real test is not in the process, but in how we, as Americans, view the process. Both Republicans and Democrats are expressing dissatisfaction in the Mueller report and the process which created it. Republicans have begun to call for an investigation into the investigation, and the president’s own spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has gone so far as to suggest that those who accused the president of wrongdoing and called for an investigation are guilty of treason, a crime “punishable by death.” Apologies are being demanded by those who found themselves cleared by the investigation.
The Democrats, having failed to find Trump’s political kryptonite, are beginning to question whether or not the two years and $25 million spent on investigating the Trump campaign were worth it. They are now perilously poised on the same precipice Republicans were on in the fall of 1998, following the release of the Starr report. Absent a crime by the administration, can a crime still be found and prosecuted for political purposes. One can only hope, for the Democrat’s sake as well as the nation’s, that they take a lesson from history and back away from this particular edge.
The Alternative Universe Next Door
Imagine for a moment that these investigations did not occur. Imagine that a special counsel had not been appointed. Imagine that we lived in a country where there were no checks and no balances. It’s easy if you try. All one has to do is look across the global landscape to see what such countries are like. The absence of investigation and oversight rarely means there is an absence of corruption or accusation of wrongdoing. In fact, often, criminality and abuse flourish in the darkness afforded by the absence of oversight. Contemporary headlines are replete with examples of this abuse. Whether the leader is Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, Mohammad Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, Vladimir Putin in Russia, or Kim Jung-un in North Korea, just to name a few, the world is full of countries absent the hassle of ongoing investigations. However, when there is no system to check the powerful, there is rarely any system to protect the poor.
The world often marvels at our “scandals” and our investigations. In the ’90s, there was no shortage of international commentary that expressed astonishment that our legal system would find a president’s perjury regarding an affair cause for alarm. In the ’70s, few in the international community would have viewed Nixon’s abuses as abnormal; if anything, his behavior would have endeared him to other leaders suffering from similar moral dyslexia. While many in the international community ridicule the self-inflicted hassle we regularly incur, few can offer the stability that our rule of law affords. Our special investigations and our appreciation of the judicial process are part of what makes America special, and the world is better for our example.
The Glorious Hassle
Freedom is the fruit of justice. It is a struggle and a fight and has rarely been achieved in history absent bloodshed and sacrifice. Americans would do well to cherish this messy process of justice. Those who legitimately search for treason are not traitors, and those in power who are absolved following oversight are not due an apology. This is the process, the American process; it is a blanket of justice which covers us all and should be appreciated and lauded, not decried. For while it may rarely be perfect and may frequently be incomplete, we take the process for granted at our peril.
Christians would do well to speak into this time, to laud the process and defend the hassle of justice. For Christians uniquely know the cost associated with freedom, as their’s was only achieved through the ultimate sacrifice of another. Every crime investigated is a nod to the belief that there is an ultimate truth to pursue; every conviction a testament to that truth’s power; and every exoneration an example of that truth’s reality. It may be a mess, but I for one would rather live in the mess of justice than the sterile unjust alternative. It may be a hassle, but it is a glorious hassle.