In the interest of engaging in democratic deliberation with my fellow American citizens, here are my thoughts on yesterday’s special counsel indictments of Paul Manafort, et al.:
1. The presumption of “innocent until proven guilty” is an important component of liberal democracy. The evidence presented yesterday certainly is damning for those specifically indicated. To my knowledge, though, there is still no clear evidence that Donald Trump was directly involved in the events described in the indictments. There is, however, more than sufficient evidence (in my view) to warrant Mueller continuing to aggressively pursue his investigation, including the possibility of knowledge on the part of President Trump during the campaign regarding the actions of his campaign manager and other advisers.
2. While the indictments yesterday are important, I am watching much more closely President Trump’s reaction in coming days and weeks to Mueller’s investigation. Any objective assessment of the evidence strongly indicates that Trump has shown a willingness to ignore, weaken, and constrict democratic norms and institutions for his own advantage. He’s already fired James Comey for (in his own words) investigating the Russia issue. Will he do the same with the Mueller investigation? Will he blanket pardon anyone indicted in the investigation? If so, this would be a key test of the strength of our democratic institutions in the United States which operate, for the most part, on the “honor system.”
3. A key question is also how Congress is reacting to these events. If President Trump were to use his power to issue these blanket pardons and/or eliminate the Mueller investigation, what would be the response of Congress? Would they act as a “check and balance” to preserve our liberal democratic norms and institutions, or would they turn a blind eye in an attempt to secure legislative goals of tax cuts and health care reform? I always thought that they would do the former, but they’ve shown a terrifying willingness to do the latter.
4. On that same note, I continue to be strongly disappointed with the gap between rhetoric and actions on the part of Congressional Republicans in terms of their commitment to liberal democratic principles. The GOP has traditionally been a proud defender (however imperfectly) of liberal democracy both at home and abroad. When push comes to shove, though, they’ve (so far) sadly chosen legislative priorities over defending our system of government. (Notable and honorable exceptions include Senators John McCain, Ben Sasse, Jeff Flake, and a few others.)
5. Continuing on this theme, imagine a hypothetical where Hillary Clinton had won the election and a special counsel investigation had indicted her former campaign manager for money laundering, tax evasion, etc. and a campaign foreign policy adviser for meeting with a Russian professor to get damaging information about the Trump campaign. How would Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Fox News have responded? How closely does that match how they *did* respond yesterday? Hypocrisy is always to be found in electoral politics, from Democrats and Republicans alike, but this is a whole new level of willful inaction.
6. In my view, Congressional Republicans are declining to aggressively “check and balance” the president to defend democratic norms and institutions in our country because they’re betting that a critical mass of their voting bases in their states and districts agree with President Trump’s actions and priorities. Public opinion polling tends to support that conclusion. I encourage my Republican friends to contact your congressional representatives and let them know that while you agree with them and support their fight for tax reform, abortion restrictions, health care reform, etc., you are NOT supportive of the President’s continual attacks on our democratic systems (free press, free speech, rule of law, etc.) and that you will NOT vote for them for reelection if they do not more aggressively “check and balance” the president. This might jeopardize their ability to get tax reform or other legislative priorities. I encourage you, though, to consider that defending our system of government is a higher priority. Without a strong liberal democratic government, it will not in the long run be possible to have the freedom to debate about tax reform, health care reform, etc. Our government is worth fighting for.