If anyone in the White House hoped officials would steer clear of talking publicly about the special counsel investigation into the Russia scandal, Donald Trump has crushed those hopes.
This morning, the president began complaining
about the Robert Mueller’s investigation via Twitter, and this afternoon, Trump continued to whine
during a White House lunch with television anchors, but he did so an especially striking way.
“I believe it hurts our country terribly, because it shows we’re a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country,” the president said. “And we have very important things to be doing right now, whether it’s trade deals, whether it’s military, whether it’s stopping nuclear.. And I think this shows a very divided country.
Trump added, “It also happens to be a pure excuse for the Democrats having lost an election that they should have easily won because of the Electoral College being slanted so much in their way. That’s all this is. I think it shows division, and it shows that we’re not together as a country. And I think it’s a very, very negative thing. And hopefully, this can go quickly, because we have to show unity if we’re going to do great things with respect to the rest of the world.”
Just think, Trump almost went a day without talking about the Electoral College. Oh well, time to reset the clock.
Right off the bat, the idea that there’s a counter-espionage investigation into Trump’s political operation because he lost is plainly bonkers. The probe began in July 2016, when it was still widely assumed Trump stood little change of winning the election.
What’s more, the idea that this scandal is “a pure excuse for the Democrats” is an odd thing to say the day after Trump’s own Justice Department
announced the selection of a special counsel.
But I’m especially interested by Trump’s subtle introduction of his latest talking point: in the name of “unity,” we should all collectively agree to apply less scrutiny into his alleged misdeeds.
We’re talking about a scandal in which a foreign adversary attacked out democratic process, possibly with the assistance of the American campaign the adversary hoped to empower. The president and his team stand accused of, among other things, obstructing justice, quashing an intensifying investigation into their own misconduct, and lying repeatedly about the entire mess.
In Trump’s mind, none of this is a problem the United States, the health of our democracy, the stability of our legal system, or our credibility on the international stage. Rather, from his perspective, it’s the investigation itself
that’s the problem.
Having a special prosecutor pursue the truth, Trump said, “shows we’re a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country.” It shows “division, and it shows that we’re not together as a country, and I think it’s a very, very negative thing.”
The president may not fully appreciate the ridiculousness of his argument. We shouldn’t have an investigation into the controversy, not because he’s innocent, but because we should “show” that we’re “together as a country.” In other words, the rule of law is nice, but it’s not nearly as important as perceptions about American unity.
Sure, we could pursue accountability for suspected corruption at the highest levels of our government, but in Trump’s vision, it’s far better to appear “unified” – presumably, around Donald J. Trump and his awesomeness.
“It’s a very, very negative thing,” Trump concluded, without saying exactly what “it” refers to. There’s an authoritarian line of thought that says anything that’s bad for the leader is, practically by definition, bad for the country. It’s an argument that has no place in the American tradition, and it’s unlikely to prove persuasive now.