Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Political Notebook: About that ‘summary’

This week, the filing of the Mueller Report, and the letter summarising it from Bill Barr, has dominated the news in the USA. It will for a few days more days, too, before the summary becomes fully weaponised by the USA’s rightwing. Which makes this the perfect time to look at where we’re at. Consider this a sort of reader on what the rightwing doesn't want people to know or think about.

It now appears to be as bad as we thought

In my post yesterday, I pointed out some reasons why Barr may have been economical with the truth about what the Mueller report really says. Naturally, I’m not the only one who’s suspicious.

John Dean, who was White House Counsel to Richard Nixon, suggested that Barr’s word choices may have been an attempt to “put a little lipstick on something that might’ve been fairly ugly.” He wasn’t alone in this view. On Slate, William Saletan explained “Bill Barr’s Weasel Words” in detail. He’s right—actually, they both are.

Washington Post columnist Dana Millbank suggests that “William Barr has made this a win for Moscow”. Clearly the problem, once again, is Barr’s curious word choices. Sean Illing at Vox added: “A former prosecutor explains why Barr’s hasty obstruction conclusion should raise red flags”.

It was never just about collusion

The biggest bit of deliberate disinformation coming the rightwing is that somehow the alleged contents of the Mueller Report “exonerates” the current occupant of the White House when it does no such thing. Jumping off from that absurd claim, Republicans then leap to declaring that Democrats have “nothing” against the current occupant.

Oh, really?!!

“For many of his critics, Trump is still ‘unfit’ to be president”, writes Eugene Scott for The Washington Post. He wrote, “Anyone viewing Mueller’s report as the end of concerns about Trump’s fitness for office are showing a lack of understanding about his critics’ actual concerns about Trump’s presidency.” That’s absolutely correct: There is so much about that man that makes him fundamentally unfit to occupy the White House. In fact, here’s another reason, something we just today: “Trump asked aides to cut federal funding for Puerto Rico: report”.

Frank Bowman pointed out what “What the Left Got Wrong About Robert Mueller”:
Robert Mueller was never going to save us from Donald Trump. He was certainly never going to indict a sitting president of the United States. Indeed, given the narrow scope of Mueller’s charge—to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” and any “matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation”—uncovering evidence beyond a reasonable doubt of an underlying crime was always a long shot. It was extraordinarily unlikely that he would find that Trump or high-ranking members of his presidential campaign “colluded”—or, to use the better and more precise legal term, conspired—with the Russian government to fix the 2016 election.
Exactly so. Which is why it’s true that “2020 Democrats’ Strategy of Restraint on the Mueller Probe Was Wise”. But it was also never going to be the focus, anyway, unless Mueller had called for indictment, maybe, which, obviously, was never going to happen, no matter what.

It’s also worth noting, as Vox put it, “What we already know Mueller found”.

The battle lines are drawn

While it’s true that “Washington politicians spin competing storylines on Mueller report”, the obvious important thing is that the only one side will be using Barr’s summary as a weapon: “Trump and his allies plan to use Barr’s summary of Mueller report as a cudgel against critics”, because, well, of course they will. That’s politics.

Republicans have already started to trying and use Barr’s questionable summary as a weapon: “Pelosi defends Schiff after Republicans call for resignation”. Then, too, “Some conservatives say the end of the Mueller investigation is the beginning of new investigations — of Democrats”. Sure. Whatever. Oddly enough, the fine individuals mentioned in the story are never—ever—interested in investigating anyone for anything if they’re Republican. Just so we’re clear about their true motivation: Partisan politics, and nothing more.

Republicans are playing partisan political games, of course, and a pretty stupid one, really: We have nothing other than Barr’s questionable summary to go on right now, and they know that, which is how we can tell it’s all a game, something just for their base, and nothing more.

Is the division unbridgeable?

As if playing partisan games over Barr’s questionable summary wasn’t bad enough, or politicians of both parties trying to score political points as best they can without either side having actually read the report, there’s worse: The bitter and toxic divide in the USA’s politics may be permanent. That’s a subject in itself, but Zack Beauchamp, a Senior Correspondent for Vox, mentions an important aspect of this in “Robert Mueller and the collapse of American trust”, writing:
…this reflects a collapse in trust in two core American institutions: politically independent federal law enforcement and the free press. This lack of faith, combined with a concomitant rise in partisanship, means that virtually every major political event is interpreted through a partisan lens. There’s no political institution widely accepted as being neutral anymore; instead, Americans judge the quality of the country’s leading institutions based on how favorable each one’s outputs are to their political interests.
Is there a way forward? On this issue, yes, and it’s stupidly simple: Release the entire report and the evidence it’s based on. Without that, the two sides can never be at peace. Republicans, even ones who know better, will continue to use Barr’s questionable summary as if it’s the final word, and Democrats and Independents will continue to be very suspicious of it—and rightly so. There’s absolutely nothing else that can ever put this issue to bed, not even investigations by House committees, because Republicans will always dismiss them.

As for whether the partisan divide itself can be bridged and healed, the odds are clearly against it, and it would be impossible if the current occupant manages to hold onto power next year. But that subject is another page in the Notebook.

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