That is the question.
Robert Mueller, who just sicced a federal prosecutor on Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, is out of control. Like many federal prosecutors, he is puffed up by his own self-righteous arrogance, one fueled by the unaccountable and unrestrained power he’s been given in our supposedly democratic republic. Forget all the “integrity” and “professionalism” encomia from the bipartisan, deep-state mutual back-scratchers. Mueller represents one of the greatest threats to our political order: the abuse of power under cover of law.
But the question is not whether Mueller deserves to be fired and disgraced. He obviously should. The real question is whether Trump should pull the trigger.
Most of the advice from mainstream Republicans is telling the president to back off. The Wall Street Journal summarizes their counsel: “Firing Mr. Mueller wouldn’t stop the investigation, though it would cost him Republican support and probably guarantee his impeachment if Democrats take the House in November.” Instead, ignore Mueller and line up some more achievement to lay before the voters.
Another argument for patience is that numerous investigations are currently underway looking into the conduct of Obama’s FBI and DOJ regarding their handling investigations of Hillary Clinton’s private email server and family foundation. There are also continuing Congressional investigations into these and other matters. Keeping his head down will make Trump less likely to steal any media thunder from the bombshell revelations that may be unearthed by these investigations in the next few months.
Patience will also allow the long-simmering anger of the people––fuming over the blatant corruption and double-standards in the kid-glove treatment of Hillary Clinton despite her more egregious violations––to heat up even more. The Mueller investigation so far has yielded penny-ante process crimes that have little to do with the prosecutor’s charge to investigate Russian “collusion,” a made-up crime designed to cast as wide a net as possible over the president’s business. Most people can see the glaring contrast between these petty beefs and the special treatment given to Clinton and her aides in regard to their more serious violations. Voters can also easily recognize the contradiction between searching the home, office, and hotel room of the president’s lawyer for information about payments to a porn star, and letting Cheryl Mills, herself a possible subject of the investigation into the illegal email server, accompany Clinton during questioning while enjoying attorney-client privacy privileges.
Moreover, the indulgence given to Clinton’s behavior when Secretary of State and a candidate for president––endangering classified information on her secret server; purchasing opposition research from a foreign agent in order to smear her opponent in the presidential campaign; facilitating the sale of U.S. uranium resources to a Russian company in exchange for speaking gigs for Bill and donations to the Clinton Foundation–– is part and parcel of the Obama administration’s weaponization of federal agencies against its political enemies. And the insult to the injury is that no one has been held accountable for these gross violations of the Constitutional order, and the endemic corruption of the oath “public servants” take to uphold the Supreme Law of the land.
Ordinary people may not have the right college degrees, but they know when someone uses connections and influence to get away with crimes that they would be prosecuted for in a second. The can spot hypocritical double-standards, especially when they are applied so blatantly. And they don’t like it. Restraint from Trump and continued policy success should help Republicans tap into that righteous anger come November. Trump should heed the cautionary tale of the disaster that followed Richard Nixon’s firing a special prosecutor, and let the Mueller investigation collapse under the weight of its own partisan corruption.
On the other hand, Trump so far has succeeded by doing what conventional wisdom says can’t be done. Throughout the primary and general campaigns, he used insults, demeaning nicknames, salacious innuendos, and crude jokes, any one of which the consultants and experts said would doom him. He insulted ex POW John McCain, a third-rail in American political symbolism, and never missed a beat. He survived various revelations like the Access Hollywood tape and a slew of “bimbo eruptions” from disgruntled or disappointed paramours. His tweetorrhea provides endless opportunities for assault from the apoplectic media, whose criticisms in their sheer volume and juvenile hysteria rebound from Trump onto themselves.
Where recent presidents of both parties carefully cultivated a sober and judicious demeanor and manners befitting their Ivy League credentials and high-minded gravitas, Trump improvises and free-associates, using a limited vocabulary of superlatives for himself and insults for his enemies. In a political world as enslaved to rigid orthodoxy and conformity as a Women’s Studies conference, Trump is Jeff Spicoli and John Blutarsky, “Mac” McMurphy in a world of Nurse Ratcheds, those boisterous, anarchic, audience-pleasing deflators of smugness, pretension, hypocritical decorum, and unearned arrogance.
Most important of all, Trump has been more successful in his first year than any president since Ronald Reagan. The economy is booming, more tax-money is in people’s pockets, jobs are plentiful, wages are going up, unemployment is low, and growth-strangling regulations cut back. Foreign leaders who once flattered Obama as they picked his pocket are right now trying to figure out how to handle the mercurial, unpredictable showman who upsets all the fossilized diplomatic protocols and foreign policy dogmas.
So, it might be tempting to roll the dice and do “what can’t be done” yet again, confident that the electorate––pleased with continued economic good news, sick of shrill lectures from readers of fake news, and angry over Democrat shills who sneer at the average Joe’s guns and God––might be delighted to hear The Donald’s trademark “You’re fired!” unloaded on the sanctimonious swamp-critter Bob Mueller. Who better represents for many normal folks the deep-state minions who feel entitled to ignore the rules and restraints the rest of us follow?
But let’s not be hasty. History is full of repeated successes that in the end collapsed in failure. The Carthaginian general Hannibal won every battle he fought except the last, and ended his days in exile hiding from a vengeful Rome. Napoleon’s near-perfect string of victories finally ended in the snows of Russia and the plains of Belgium, and the Emperor died on a cold island in the middle of the Atlantic. For modern politicians, events, to paraphrase British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, are what every politician should fear the most. Don’t forget that before Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008, John McCain was leading Obama in the polls by three points. Right now, Trump is facing important decisions on Syria, China, and the Iran agreement, any one of which could be a political IED.
Finally, a permanent truth of human experience is that success breeds hubris, and nemesis always punishes those who become too arrogant. And the stakes are high for the country as well as the Republicans. We are facing a midterm election that could shape the second half of Trump’s first term for the worse, and perhaps set the stage for his defeat in 2020. The president is facing calumny, obstruction, and visceral hatred of an intensity unprecedented in modern times. His own executive agencies are filled with saboteurs, his own party harbors fifth columnists who prefer bringing down the president rather than see his policies succeed, and the media have grown addicted to the ratings generated by their non-stop orgy of hate. We have little room for error as we try to return our country to its foundational principles of equality before the law and the separation of powers.
Whatever Trump does with Mueller, let’s hope he takes into account how much is at stake in the next two elections
Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, a Research Fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, and a Professor of Classics and Humanities at the California State University. He is the author of nine books and numerous essays on classical culture and its influence on Western Civilization. His most recent book, Democracy's Dangers and Discontents (Hoover Institution Press), is now available for purchase.
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