Discernment. That is what is most needed in a week of news like this one.
Donald Trump won the legal battle this last week. Now he is trying to win the political battle. But the most important questions remain bigger than the legal or even political: They are moral and ethical, and they are about the soul of America.
Democrats and Trump opponents are feeling deflated that the Mueller report didn’t bring him down. And Donald Trump is claiming total vindication and promising retribution and revenge. While no one outside the Justice Department has yet seen Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, the four-page cover letter produced by new Attorney General William Barr reports that evidence was not found that the president engaged in criminal behavior colluding with the Russians, who were earlier indicted for interfering in our 2016 elections on behalf of candidate Trump. On the other big question of the obstruction of justice, Barr quoted Mueller saying, “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
So, Trump isn’t “completely and totally exonerated” as he has said. Whether the call on obstruction of justice was meant to be left to Congress or to the attorney general is still not clear. But before the Congress had been presented with the report, Barr decided there were no crimes committed. This case is not yet closed in the court of public opinion, at least until the Congress has the opportunity, along with the public, to see and study the report and respond to it through legislative channels.
The legal bar to prove “conspiracy” on the part of Trump and his campaign with the Russians was always a high one, and the “collusion” argument could have been dangerously overstated, as Wes Granberg-Michaelson suggested last week on this platform.
Many have lamented how Barr’s decision has already politicized a process that was hoped and meant to be non-political.
But the complicated legal process and the conflicted political situation doesn’t change any of the facts: Donald Trump lied about his business ties with Russia and his hopes for more; Trump campaign aides and allies had multiple contacts with Russians, who also lied about them; Trump welcomed the support of a chief U.S. adversary and downplayed their attacks on our democracy; and Trump has repeatedly shown deference to Russian policy agendas against historic U.S. principles and alliances. We still don’t understand the continual lying about contacts with Russians or what accounts for Trump’s continuing sympathy toward Russia and Putin in particular.
The ongoing and shifting partisan political battle also doesn’t change any other facts of the Trump presidency in terms of the daily legion of falsehoods, the targeting of immigrants, the regular racial and xenophobic speech and behavior in support of the white nationalism growing around the world, as I laid out in last week’s column, and so much more. Barr’s extensive views of presidential prerogatives and power may further accelerate Trump’s tendencies toward executive overreach and autocratic behavior.
The Democrats are demanding to see the full report, but it is not yet clear how much of it or when it will be seen. In the meantime, the Trump administration is trying to use the “no collusion” language and Barr’s opinion to try and take the Russia investigation off the table and pretend like all the indictments and revelations that led up to the report’s completion never happened. Of course, there are many more ongoing investigations, beyond Russia, into alleged corruption on the part of the Trump organization, family, and friends in violation of criminal laws.
At Washington Post, Helaine Olen takes us to what are these deeper issues that still have not been addressed.
Many Democratic diehards came to believe that prosecutors, led by Mueller, could solve the Trump problem in a deus ex machina fashion. That fantasy permitted many to avoid facing the hard truth that Trump’s ascension to the presidency was the logical endgame of a culture that allowed worship of wealth and business success to overtake our society, and not simply the result of a sleazy bargain.
…. The Russia investigation allowed many in our political and media classes to avoid a reckoning with the reality of why Trump was elected president and why he continues, despite clear evidence of ongoing personal corruption in areas ranging from foreign emoluments to using the White House to shill for Trump Organization properties, to maintain a solid base of support. That’s been the real story and scandal all along and will continue to be so until we do something about the epidemic of fraud, greed and lawlessness that has rotted our civic, political and economic cultures.
But given all of the above, the political momentum has clearly changed since Barr’s letter on the Mueller report. Trump’s claim of victory and shifting posture as the victim is changing the political wind. Because Trump's opponents put so much trust in this one process and allowed the bar to be raised to outright collusion, they have now lost the momentum. And the Democrats now find themselves in danger of a perception of overreach. Of course, our elected leaders do need to fulfill their congressional responsibilities of legislative oversight. But they also need to focus national attention on the issues most important to the American people — like health care, good paying jobs, education, the realities of climate change (especially for a new generation), the growing danger of gun violence, protecting our democracy, overcoming our racial divisions — the very issues that determined the midterm elections.
But what are the issues for people of faith, for Christians in particular? I believe going back to the affirmations of the Reclaiming Jesus declaration, are more important than ever. Deeper than getting stuck in the partisan warfare that will only increase during the election season, Christians need to do as they always should — go back to Jesus, believing he actually meant the things that he said. Go back to the affirmations of Reclaiming Jesus, and the rejections they involve. All still hold. None must be forgotten. That will help us to get to the core of the issues at stake in the days ahead. And these are the issues people need to hear from us.
I. WE BELIEVE each human being is made in God’s image and likeness. Racial bigotry is a brutal denial of the image of God in some of the children of God. II. WE BELIEVE we are one body. In Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class.
III. WE BELIEVE how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself.
IV. WE BELIEVE that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives. Jesus promises, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
V. WE BELIEVE that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination. We support democracy, not because we believe in human perfection, but because we do not.
VI. WE BELIEVE Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples. Our churches and our nations are part of an international community whose interests always surpass national boundaries. We in turn should love and serve the world and all its inhabitants rather than to seek first narrow nationalistic prerogatives.