Before dinner, my wife and three-year-old like to play a game.
It starts when Omma (my wife) pours him a cup of milk. As she pours, she marvels at how much there is. “You really think you can drink all this?” she asks.
But when she goes to bring him the cup, there’s a problem. Because there’s so much milk, the cup is too heavy to lift. Like a silent movie actress, Omma dramatically struggles to pick it up. She fake-lifts with both hands as hard as she can. But no matter what, the cup won’t budge.
Our son then reaches over, casually picks it up, and takes a big slurp. “How are you so strong??” Omma asks, incredulous. He laughs.
Here’s the other funny thing about the game: it gets genuinely tiring to pretend that the cup is heavy. I don’t mean tiring as in tedious. I mean tiring as in physically tiring. If you go for it with 100% gusto, pretending that the cup is heavy can feel nearly as strenuous as it actually being heavy.
See for yourself.
Try grabbing the nearest object with both hands, screwing your face into a Sly Stallone scowl, and pretending it’s the heaviest thing in the world and it’s your job to lift it for ten seconds.
Don’t forget to breathe.
Not easy, right?
Our brain tells our muscles to clench for a powerful lift. Our body coils in anticipation of this major exertion of force. Maintaining this pre-lift pose for even ten seconds takes significant energy. For parts of our body, pretending that something is heavy and actually lifting something heavy are the same experience.
Reality isn’t always required for something to be real.
No one understands this better than Donald Trump, who has successfully kicked sand in the public’s eyes about what’s real and what isn’t for three years running.
The latest in Trump’s assault on reality was the release of a four-page memo by Attorney General William Barr that claimed to summarize the Mueller investigation and clear the President of wrongdoing.
The rollout of this memo reminded me of my wife’s game with our son. Trump and Barr pretended the memo was as weighty as the Mueller investigation even though it spent more time reporting meaningless statistics (how many witnesses interviewed, etc) than what the investigation actually said (only four partial sentences from Mueller’s actual report). But don’t worry, we were assured, even though we can’t show it to you for national security reasons, it totally proves the President is super-duper innocent.
The press fell for it. Here's the New York Times front page the day after the memo about the report was published:
Another A1 New York Times headline declared “A Cloud Over Trump’s Presidency Is Lifted.” Cable news chryons said the Mueller Report exonerated Trump (it didn’t, and we still don’t know what it actually says), that the Russia investigation was settled and behind us (it isn’t), and that the President wanted it released in full (no way in hell). All of this about a sketchy summary of a report that no one except Mueller's team and the President's administration have read.
Trump has successfully seeded the public consciousness with a pre-judgement that he's been declared innocent (by himself, the only voice that matters) regardless of what the actual investigation found. Trump’s non-reality space continues to successfully compete with the “reality-based community," as a George W. Bush advisor once derisively described the world of facts compared to the ideology-based, self-serving thinking of that administration and this one.
Trump promises to release the report in the coming weeks, but I'm not holding my breath. More than once the administration has used shifting deadlines to deflect attention from unfavorable stories, discourage opponents from mobilizing, and then do the thing people saw coming all along anyway. I expect continued counter-narratives and even further partial excerpts intended to sow more confusion.
The New York Times and Washington Post reported that members of the Mueller team are unhappy and even alarmed at how Barr has represented their findings. Apparently Mueller’s team wrote multiple summaries of their investigation, some intended for public release. However the Justice Department elected to put out their four-page memo declaring Trump in the clear instead. 🤔
I believe the actual Mueller report will show evidence that:
Trump knew about Russia's hacking before the public did, used it to his advantage, and lied about it (the Roger Stone stuff)
Trump offered Russia sanctions relief and other favors in exchange for business dealings that he continues to lie about (the Michael Cohen stuff)
Trump’s campaign manager shared sensitive information with Russian intelligence that would help with their campaign to beat Hillary during the 2016 election and continues to lie about it (the Paul Manafort stuff)
Trump has used the office of the Presidency to influence the investigation by offering pardons in exchange for favorable testimony (Manafort, Cohen, others)
And possibly more.
I can imagine why Mueller would hesitate to charge these things. It can't be easy to prove a criminal conspiracy when the boss at the center of it is the President of the United States and it's unclear what counts as a crime and what does not. This is uncharted territory.
Mueller’s report likely lays out this predicament, leaving it up to the American people and its political system to decide what to do about it. But that assumed we'd be allowed to see what was found. It assumed that this gang would play it straight.
Instead, the cover up is continuing right in front of our eyes.
Fixing the fix
So what should we do about it?
1) Vote Trump out of office in 2020. More on that in a second.
2) Stop waiting for someone else to address the Trump problem. Too many of us sat on our hands waiting for Mueller and the authorities to solve this. They haven’t. The waiting game is a winning game for Trump. The longer this goes, the more damage he does and the more he becomes normalized.
What does it mean to stop waiting? I keep thinking about South Korea in 2016, when citizens held vigils protesting a corrupt President for six straight months. She resigned. The voice of the people, consistent and respectful, remains undeniably powerful. The million-plus people marching in the UK to stay in the EU shifted that debate.
What does it take to create such a movement in America today? Is there a sign-up sheet where I take my shift sitting-in outside the White House? The people can't keep waiting for politicians to do the right thing.
3) Impeach him (maybe).
I’ve repeatedly made the case that Trump is likely to be impeached and reelected in 2020. He’s the odds-on favorite to win, and I don’t think impeachment changes that.
But if — an important if — it does end up being the case that the Barr memo is yet another attempt to block the American people from learning the truth about how its President came to power, this leaves Democrats with no choice but to impeach.
The Presidency is an office built on precedent. What the last President did tends to continue on with the next one. As far as I’m aware, the Constitutionally sketchy spying programs that the Bush administration created continued under the Obama administration. By then they’d become normalized. They were just another tool in the belt.
If left unpunished, it will be the same with a lot of what Donald Trump is getting away with. Tax evasion, campaign donation violations, money laundering, and outright fraud will become new normals for politicians if Trump is left unchallenged. The idea that the President or any politician should be above any kind of criminal behavior will be hard to defend after two terms of Trump.
Impeaching Trump requires a good reason (of which there are several) and a majority of votes in the House of Representatives (which, thanks to midterm voters, the Democrats have). But impeaching Trump does not remove him from office. For that, 2/3rds of the Senate is needed. There’s no way 20 Republican Senators will vote against him. Impeaching Trump is symbolic. It will not remove him from office. But the symbol is important for future precedent.
Still, impeachment is not an easy call. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll this week, 49% of people wanted impeachment or further investigations of Trump and 47% said impeachment proceedings shouldn’t start and Trump should finish his term. In a poll by The Economist/You Gov in early March, just 17% of Republicans supported impeachment if Donald Trump were proven to have asked Russia for help to win the election. To put this in context, 20% of Americans believe Big Foot is real.
Rubber will meet the road through the legal process. Prosecutors in multiple states and federal districts are pursuing criminal cases against Trump and his organizations, and House Democrats are using their subpoena power to attempt to gain access to Mueller's findings and Trump’s tax returns.
Will Trump continue to successfully flaunt the law or does the law still matter? That question (including whether we see the full Mueller report) could make its way to the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice John Roberts will cast the most important swing vote in American politics since Bush v. Gore.
If Trump loses in 2020, these constitutional questions become moot and the justice system can deal with Trump while America repairs and rebuilds. But who can beat Trump?
I want to once again put in a word for Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He’s far from the only worthy candidate and he remains an extreme long-shot, but I like how he faces off against Trump.
In a race between Trump and Buttigieg, the choice wouldn’t just be left versus right. It would be young versus old. Or, as Buttigieg likes to frame his idea of generational change, young and old working together to solve our hardest problems.
That can be a winning argument. It shifts the metaphysics of the race into a place where Trump is weak and likely to be self-conscious (as the old guy, the no-longer-new thing, etc) into a place where the Democratic candidate is strong.
And it’s not like Mayor Pete is some Fyre Festival-attending millennial. He’s an ex-Marine who comes off as very sober-minded. He has the vibe of someone who’s been pre-old their whole lives. He's probably had monogrammed slippers since he was eight.
I like how his candidacy would shift the race. It creates a new field of competition. That’s the kind of move required to topple Trump.
As usual, we close with a mix, this one called Magic. Click here to listen on Spotify. Here's the tracklist:
1 Deakin, “Golden Chords”
2 Mac Miller, “Small Worlds”
3 Solange, “Jerrod”
4 Solange, “Binz”
5 Delroy Wilson, “Have Some Mercy”
6 The Evens, “Cut From the Cloth”
7 The Cure, “Seventeen Seconds”
8 Tortoise, “TNT”
9 Neil Young, “Organ Solo”
10 Usman Achmad, “Stambul Naturil”
11 Mountain Music of Peru, “Andina-Huayano”
12 JJ Cale, “Wish I Had Not Said That”
13 The Durutti Column, “Otis”
14 Brian Eno, “Here Come the Warm Jets”
Peace and love,