It’s Mueller time at last. The Special Counsel completed his report on Friday, and Attorney General William Barr submitted his findings to Congress on Sunday afternoon. Though we’ve yet to see the full report, the initial news seems positive for the Trump administration. Barr’s four-page letter claims that Robert Mueller “did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” Conservatives promptly celebrated, as did Trump, who claimed in a tweet that he’d been exonerated by the report.
For months, liberals and never-Trumpers alike had longed for a more dramatic conclusion to the Mueller investigation. Now it looks like they expected too much from the Special Counsel, and forgot that the path to justice is often circuitous. The investigation’s limitations were clear from the start, but that did not prevent it from occupying pride of place in many imaginations.
The t-shirts, the prayer candles, the protest signs, book-length tweet storms: they all look like symptoms of a kind of civic religious fervor in retrospect. The norms would hold — indeed, must hold, or so many seemed to believe. Mueller would provide Congress the tools it needed to take down Trump and our national nightmare would be over at last.
This was always a fantasy, dependent on the whims of a Trump-appointed attorney general and limited by the reasons for Trump’s victory. It’s early yet, and we may ultimately conclude that Barr sidestepped his legal responsibilities by dismissing evidence that Trump obstructed justice, as Marcy Wheeler argued on Sunday afternoon. But even if the DOJ had decided to pursue new indictments, we would be left, still, with political problems the government is in no position to resolve. As damaging as new indictments would be to Trump’s chances for re-election, they would not strip away the white nationalism that made him president. The Russian government did not plant racism and jingoism in American hearts.
Thus, Barr’s inaction does not alter the bedrock facts of our situation. It does not rebut the case for impeachment. The Mueller investigation had proven to be a story of legitimate importance months ago; the probe produced indictments that reveal profound corruption at the highest levels of power. Whatever the full text of the report shows, it won’t diminish the urgency of our political crisis. We already knew that Trump had likely committed tax fraud, that corruption infects his inner circle and his administration. More to the point, we already knew that he was a bigot whose temperament, antipathy for the poor, and hostility to the human rights of immigrants made him unfit for the office of president. The Mueller investigation did not concern itself with those matters. The FBI was never in any position to rescue Americans from the full threat Trump poses to their liberties.
So we occupy the same position today that we did on Friday. Even if the report had somehow led to the removal of Trump from office, the forces that made Trump president would persist. America would be just as unequal and as violent as it’s always been, damaged by the same inequalities that our norms failed to prevent and even helped to flourish. Change will not come from the pen of Robert Mueller, but through mass movement and electoral change. There’s no point in waiting for a savior.