Meanwhile, as the British press is dominated by yet another week of Brexit indecision, America’s own torturous 24-hour news cycle can at least celebrate some form of progress: the culmination of the Mueller investigation.
Last week saw the announcement that special counsel Robert Mueller would be submitting his eponymous report, the product of a two year-long investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. With it came the hope that the Democratic Party’s most powerful critique of the Trump presidency’s corruption might finally have a solid foundation and pave the road to impeachment.
And yet, those dreams of a post-Trump return to democracy – draining the Capitol’s swamp, as the President might term it – might remain consigned to fantasy. On Sunday, US Attorney General William Barr summarised the report’s findings to Congress, concluding that the investigation did not substantiate evidence of collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. In response to accusations that the President obstructed justice, Barr noted that there was no clear crime committed, though Trump is not exonerated either.
Clearly, these findings pose a problem for Democrats seeking Trump’s removal. Collusion had become a byword for everything illicit about the Trump presidency. By pinning it down with tangible evidence, Mueller’s report might have provided the final blow to a president who has seemed untouchable, one who has paraded his way through unthinkable controversies – sexual assault, support for white nationalists, and the denial of basic truths that would destroy any other politician.
At the risk of losing hope, however, it remains important to keep these recent developments in their broader context. First, Barr’s summary of Mueller’s report is, fundamentally, not the report. It is a four-page condensed reading, produced by a man who, supporting Trump, has openly challenged the validity of the Special Counsel’s investigation. Take his interpretation with a pinch of salt – until the full report is made publicly available, no-one can claim to understand the intricacies of its findings. Equally, the Mueller investigation has produced, to date, numerous indictments, most notably of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, both key figures in the 2016 campaign. Meanwhile, there remain several other open investigations into corruption within Trump’s inner circle. These are visible successes for democracy and the justice system that shouldn’t be forgotten.
It’s also important to remember that Democratic strategy hasn’t been confined to blind cries of collusion at the expense of everything else. Last year the party successfully regained the House of Representatives and elected an unprecedentedly diverse Congress. These campaigns succeeded not by simply smearing the president, but by inspiring voters with pragmatic policies – funding healthcare, addressing climate change – that are mirrored in the new calls for a Green New Deal. Success in 2020 can emulate this in the aftermath of Mueller’s report, if politicians keep focusing on the bread-and-butter issues that shape daily life for all Americans.
Finally, to those who seek an end to this presidency and feel it has slipped further out of reach, this pseudo-vindication must not lead to apathy. Even if Trump is cleared of collusion and obstruction, he has still flaunted all rules of presidential (if not human) decency. The alleged Russian scandal would be the tip of an iceberg – take your pick, whether it’s his personal profiteering from his presidency, his nepotism, or proven campaign finance violations.
While Mueller’s findings might seem disappointingly unproductive, the best weapon against Trump will always be active democratic engagement – which means voting, keeping Democratic politicians accountable, and energising them on the road to the 2020 election.
Image: James Ledbetter via Flickr