The most serious betrayal of the United States by a senior pubic official since the Civil War took place in full view of the public and was confirmed by a thorough investigation. That is what history will see – a corrupt president betraying his country.
And our tortured semantic and process debates about how to handle this will seem absurd in the face of those facts. Some of that is due to efforts to pervert the narrative to protect the president. Some of that is due to institutionalism run amok. Some is just feckless.
But the facts won’t change, whether the president acknowledges them in a Tweet or not, whether Robert Mueller floats hides an indictment behind a memo and punts the responsibility for acting on it. What remains open and will be closely scrutinized not only by history, but by would-be enemies and those with future designs to attack our system, is whether we respond to the facts of the case as they demand and hold the betrayers accountable or whether we sink into a self-indulgent if pious-sounding political debate to mask our inaction.
Right now, as someone who has lived and worked in Washington for over a quarter century, that is where it seems we are headed. No one will be held accountable. There will be no meaningful punishment for this egregious betrayal.
Our enemies will get what they wanted many times over. Their accomplices at the highest level of our government will get what they sought. Future attackers and their would be accomplices will get the green light to do it all again.
Cable television shows will get months and years of stem-winding debates. And politicians on both sides will get heaping portions of righteous indignation to channel into their next campaigns. Only justice, only what is right, will go unserved.
The powerful at home and abroad will prosper as they tend to do. Our institutions and hopes for them will be forever diminished. And if you do not think that is where we are headed right now, you are not paying attention.
It doesn’t have to be so. But it would take great courage and an appetite for personal professional risk few seem to have to take it on and produce another outcome. No, there will be fig leaf investigations. There will be the illusion of action.
And then there will be elections and a call to “move on.” Only we can never move on from damage of this sort unless its causes are acknowledged and reversed. That not only means holding wrong-doers accountable. It also means fixing what is broken in our system.
It means rejecting once and for all the very un-American conclusion that a sitting president cannot be indicted because that means if he or she is protected by politics from conviction in the Congress (it takes only 34 votes to do that) then that means presidents are above the law.
And if there is one shocking conclusion the case of Trump’s betrayal of his country demands we see it is this: as of now, in the situation we are in and ones like it, the president is beyond the reach of justice. He is a king. He is what the American Revolution was fought to reject.
With his backdoor coronation comes the further empowerment of his courtiers and their close supporters, a new aristocracy who have already placed themselves above society and its rules in terms of their economic fortunes and who grab power and prerogatives daily.
It is an irony that as the GOP warns of the threat of socialism, they usher in the liberty-sucking, justice-defeating realities of veiled monarchy and oligarchy. No doubt this too will produce a great deal of indignation and heated discussion on TV shows and Twitter and behind the scenes the scramble will be on to join the empowered & adjust to the new reality and someday we will have enough perspective to see what we have lost & how our inaction killed it just as surely as did the greed, corruption and plots of our enemies and their enablers.
(Note: If you think I overstate when I refer to an oligarchy, I refer you to the past 40 years and a USA in which today the bottom 50% own 1% of the wealth and the top 10% own 70%…or the recent tax cut which benefitted only the rich and powerful…and on…and on).