The release of the summary of findings by the Special Counsel has left much of the country in stunned silence. For two years, millions of voters have kept hope alive that the term of Donald Trump would be cut short by a type of avenging angel in Robert Mueller. They are now left with a reality that is still difficult to process: Donald Trump is likely to finish his term as President of the United States. There I said it.
Cable programs that have spent years airing assurance of criminal prosecutions seemed at a loss for words. Indeed, it is difficult to process. Matthews are going through what is a familiar process. It is called the stage of grieving. Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross famously laid out the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Judging from the responses on Sunday night, we are still a fair distance from acceptance.
For much of the last two years, many voters have been in open denial. Denial is easy when it is a collective effort. Voters quickly tuned into channels that reaffirmed their greatest hopes for prosecution or impeachment. This echo-chamber audience buoyed the ratings of MSNBC and CNN where viewers were assured by legal analysts that the evidence against Trump was overwhelming and that Mueller to set things right. As Kübler-Ross explained, people will often start by cling to a false and preferable reality.
That took an effort on collusion. From the outset, the entire theory of collusion was a bit wacky. For months, legal analysts spoke of collusion like it was a defined crime. It took months to get commentators to acknowledge that there is no such offense in the criminal code. The notion was that the Russian would collude with Trump or his family or aides to hack computer systems and then arrange for the leaking of the information through Wikileaks. One has to have a tad more respect for Russian intelligence to believe that they would place themselves at risk by colluding with Trump or Trump Jr. or a circus clown like Roger Stone. Why would they put themselves one tweet away from utter destruction? In the same vein, it made no sense to schedule a meeting in Trump Tower with half the world’s media downstairs to hold one of your secret meetings. Add to that the fact that they did not know who was going to be at the meeting and did not actually turn over the promise evidence of criminal conduct by Hillary Clinton.
Many people still seemed stuck on denial. On Friday, it was revealed that the Special Counsel had decided that he would not bring down any additional indictments. Some of us stated that this clearly indicated that Mueller had rejected the allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Nevertheless, on Sunday morning, House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff was still claiming that there was ample existence of collusion even if no one seemed committed a single criminal act of collusion. Even before the summary was released, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) declared that “very little credence” should be put in what Barr is saying. Others like MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid and panelist Eli Mystal noted that Barr’s approach to the summary “feels like the seeds of a cover-up are here.” As for Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, he has doubled down on both obstruction and collusion.
Many people however are past denial and moving quickly to anger. MSNBC Chris Matthews exclaimed “How can they let Trump off the hook?” Over the last year, such anger has increased as filing after filing failed to mention collusion and even stated that no Trump campaign member knowingly dealt with the hackers or trolls in Russia. Despite these lengthy “speaking” indictments, anger simply augmented the denial. For those of us pointing out the absence of key elements and evidence, we were denounced as Trump supporters even through our columns generally denounced Trump for his conduct. Either you were all-in on the guarantee of criminal prosecutions or you were a Russian boot-licking troll for Trump. This anger rose to a crescendo when key figures from Michael Flynn to Paul Manafort were charged with things far removed from any collusion-related crime.
Nevertheless, there was considerable advantage in keeping this anger alive. Democrats ran on the expectation that they would seek impeachment after the midterm elections. Media virtually banished all other news to cover legal analysts explaining how new disclosures would easily satisfy the standard for prosecution or impeachment.
As 2018 turned into 2019, the bargaining stage began. Voters began to accept that Trump might not be charged but he would at least be impeached. Mueller was now portrayed not as a prosecutor but investigator who would give the goods to Congress for a swift and satisfying impeachment. After all, many Democrats rallied voters on the pledge of impeachment and Democratic leadership continued to insist that Trump was committing impeachable offense. As I wrote before the midterm elections, impeachment was always a cynical ploy for power. Democratic leadership had no interest in impeaching Trump and no intention to do so. Why bring about a Pence Administration in which he could unite the country just before the 2020 election? They want a wounded but living Trump in the White House not because it is necessarily good for the country but it is manifestly good for them.
With the release of the summary, many have shifted to the argument that, if collusion is a dry well, surely there can be relief in collateral crimes being investigated in New York and various congressional committees. Indeed, a recent poll showed support for impeachment of Trump falling, even among Democrats. Instead, many critics will be satisfied with further investigation even if they do not likely mean impeachment or prosecution.
As soon as the midterm elections were over, the Democratic leadership revealed the greatest bait-and-switch in history. Pelosi announced that impeachment was no part of their “agenda.” The members who were howling before the election about impeachable offenses now insisted that it would make no sense since the Republican Senate would not go along. That was depressing enough, but then people had to read this chilling line: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” That was followed by a finding by the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General that there was insufficient evidence of obstruction for a criminal case. In other words, your Trump condition is terminal.
We are now at the final stage were people begin to accept the inevitability of the final result. With Mueller not finding collusion or serious criminal acts, the two years of misleading and overhyped theories of criminality have come crashing down. Democrats can walk away with their added seats and the media can walk away with the added ratings, but voters are left with the painful reality to cope alone.
Of course, if prosecution or impeachment is unlikely, for many there is little to live for. Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was not particularly helpful on bedside manner. She assured patients that such death is “neither frightening nor painful, but a peaceful cessation of the functioning of the body.” However, rest assured, there will be no cessation of the function of one body. The House committees will continue to investigate and suggest that they could yet impeach . . . all the way up to the 2020 election.