Donald Trump and Robert Mueller.
Now, as its conclusions are made public, those who expected the president to be damned are left disappointed. Trump, meanwhile, can claim victory.
Inevitably things aren’t quite as simple as all that. For one thing, the special prosecutor’s report – as summarised by the Attorney General, William Barr – is equivocal about whether Trump acted to obstruct justice. It does not exonerate him, but nor does it conclude that he committed a crime.
And while Mueller did not establish that either Trump or his campaign team conspired with Russia during the presidential election campaign, Democrats are likely to push for more details about whether he was unwittingly compromised.
Ultimately, for as long as the full Mueller report remains unpublished, questions are likely to swirl – such is the polarised nature of US politics in the Trumpian age. Nevertheless, the outcome is patently good news for the primary resident of the White House, for whom a second term in office must have become eminently more likely this weekend.
Of course, he overdid things a bit with his analysis of the report, tweeting: “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!” But as presidential tweets go, that is closer to the mark than his opponents would like.
And in a way, this has always been the potential danger for those who placed so much faith in Robert Mueller’s ability to find a smoking gun that could link Trump to the Kremlin. In the event that no such gun existed (or could not be found), Trump’s insistence that the whole exercise was no more than a witch hunt would suddenly appear well-founded.
Ambiguities and caveats aside, the president has won the day. He will now spend the next eighteen months telling the world that the only conspiracy in town was the one to which he was subjected by assorted establishment critics – and which failed.
The Mueller report will, therefore, not be the means to bring down the president, but a long-lasting distraction from his actual awfulness.
After all, Trump’s presidency deserves to be harshly judged irrespective of whether he colluded with a foreign state during his election campaign. He has coarsened the language of political debate; he has rallied nasty, nationalist sentiment by his attacks on immigrants; he is a msogynist and a conspiracy theorist (even putting Mueller to one side); he has given voice to the kind of regressive conservatism that promotes base instinct over progressive ideals.
Perhaps worst of all, Trump has effectively become the global champion of climate change denial. David Attenborough, the greatest environmentalist of the age hit the nail on the head when he said: “What do you say to him in the face of what is visibly happening – the climate of the United States of America – it’s perfectly clear. There are none so blind as those who will not see.”
With climate change surely the most urgent challenge facing the world, we have in the Washington hot seat a president who refuses to accept the science behind not just the theory but the reality. Having withdrawn the US from the Paris Agreement, Trump sees more votes in promoting American coal than in leading the charge away from the burning of fossil fuels.
But when the next election comes round, will any of this matter? On the campaign trail Trump will be the man who the establishment tried to bring down with its lies, its fake news, its failed inquiry. Why believe anything else they say about him?
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