The Mueller Report is finally out, and with its release, a collective dream is over: Donald Trump is not going to be impeached.
While the full text of the report remains under lock and key, the four-page summary released by Attorney General William Barr (a Trump appointee) was a blow to liberals, moderates and “Never Trump” conservatives who spent 22 months waiting with bated breath for a discovery that Trump colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election.
Whether Trump obstructed justice — by firing former FBI Director James Comey, among other things — appears to be up for debate.
But even if the report presents further avenues for investigation by Democrats, the most seismic charge that Mueller’s investigation could have produced — conspiracy with Russia and thereby, treason — has not materialized. We have known, for a long time, that the Trump campaign was at least open to assistance from the Russian government (recall the once-secret meeting in Trump Tower, for example). Trump even went so far as to invite that assistance when he infamously asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's emails — but only rhetorically, Republican leaders insisted.
But veritable treason is the only imaginable charge that might have compelled Senate Republicans to hold Trump accountable and support impeachment proceedings. And that’s a pretty big “might.” Trump’s approval ratings with Republican voters are sky high, and they’ve actually been rising this winter: in a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Trump is at 88 percent among Republican voters. And that was before Barr's summary and Trump's false declaration: “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION ..."
This bodes well for the Republican Party, which has adopted a path of protectionism when it comes to circling their wagons around the president. The lingering question of whether Trump obstructed justice is opaque enough for McConnell and Co. to dismiss as a partisan ploy by Democrats who gambled the Mueller report would find conspiracy, and lost.
There is some truth to this. For Democrats and others who oppose Trump, the Mueller probe was a great white hope that “the system” still worked and could take down someone like Donald Trump. And thus, in the minds of many, Mueller came to represent a "reset" button that could be pressed to undo Trump’s presidency and restore things to the way they were.
The public speculation and anticipation that trailed Mueller’s investigation reached heights that would have been funny if an aspiring autocrat like Trump wasn’t making policy decisions. Self-described legal experts and Beltway insiders became Twitter celebrities by publishing thread after thread that analyzed Mueller’s every move.
Mueller himself — a standard issue G-Man — was romanticized as a crusader of justice and democracy: Vogue dubbed him “America’s new crush” back in 2017. And just a few weeks ago, NPR reported that elderly Trump critics were anxious about whether or not they would live long enough to read the Mueller report!
In the end, the Mueller report proved that the system did still work, but not in the way that many people were hoping.
Donald Trump’s presidency is the logical result of a system in which wealthy white men enjoy a cushier brand of justice than the rest of us. Trump never even sat down for an interview with Mueller or the FBI because — I'm not kidding — his attorneys worried about his ability to tell the truth. Try getting away with that if you're a person of color or someone with modest means who's under investigation by the feds.
Even the people who have been indicted by Mueller are getting off easy compared to the thousands of people who've done jail time thanks to decades-old "tough on crime" policy. Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager whom Mueller indicted for financial fraud, was sentenced to just seven and a half years in prison. That alone is an indictment of our justice system, which upholds the interests of men like the president while condemning the less fortunate.
Imagine if we had taken the energy spent obsessing over the Mueller investigation and put it into creating a system (and in a broader sense, a nation) that applies the law with equal measure to all. Imagine if millions of cynical and demoralized people believed in the efficacy of politics, because we had a system that holds the powerful accountable. Imagine defeating Donald Trump on the ballot in 2020, instantly making him more vulnerable to ongoing investigations.
Donald Trump’s presidency is the logical result of a system in which wealthy white men enjoy a cushier brand of justice than the rest of us.
In some ways, it’s a relief that the Mueller investigation is over because its conclusion is a tough but essential reminder that Mueller was never going to save us. The onus to not only remove Trump from office — but to unrig our justice system — is on us. Holding the ruling class accountable for foul play would have a watershed effect for America. It could generate political will for going after dark money in our elections and to root out efforts to disenfranchise voters through voter ID and restrictive registration laws. Those things helped Donald Trump become president, but tackling them was never Robert Mueller's job, nor his goal.
I'd argue that the Mueller fandom was a reflection of how removed from politics and activism most Americans are. Many of us were willing to entrust America’s future in the hands of the one special counsel while we sat back and watched the Mueller affair unfold like the latest UK crime series on Netflix, but you know, local.
Maybe now that the show is over, we can finally get back to work reclaiming and rebuilding our country to better reflect justice-oriented values. That is, and shall remain, our job.