By now you may well have heard or read a hundredy skillion accounts about -- and analyses of -- the Mueller Report on whether Russia interfered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (Yes, it did. Big time.)
Rather, I will say a few words here about what that report demonstrates about the appalling lack of any moral center in President Donald J. Trump. And I'll add a few words about how he seems to differ in that regard from the kind of moral vacuum revealed in former President Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky affair -- and maybe even from Richard M. Nixon's astonishing moral failures.
The Mueller Report, among much else that's disgusting, provides lots of detail about how Trump attempted to obstruct justice (see especially Volume II).
Time and again he asked subordinates to lie or to fire people, including his main target, Special Counsel Robert Mueller. It seems likely to me that one reason Mueller's team decided to leave the question of obstruction of justice to Congress is that the people Trump asked to do the dirty work of obstruction refused to do it. That made it hard to make a legal case for obstruction. Had they done that work for Trump -- had, for instance, White House Counsel Don McGahn followed Trump's June 17, 2017, order to fire Mueller -- the case for obstruction would have been much clearer. (For details of that, see page 85 of Volume II of the Mueller Report.)
(Just as an side, isn't it interesting -- if meaningless, except as a history trigger -- that Trump's order to McGahn happened on June 17, which was the date in 1972 of the Watergate break-in, which ultimately lead to the impeachment and resignation of President Richard M. Nixon?)
The last person I had moral confidence in when he was elected president was Jimmy Carter, and he turned out to be a pretty ineffective leader, though he's clearly been perhaps our best ex-president ever. Ronald Reagan in many ways was a decent human being but he had little clue about the responsibility government has to protect and defend society's powerless, seeing government, instead, as the problem. George H.W. Bush also was a decent man, though not quite as good as Jon Meacham's book, Destiny and Power, made him out to be. And Bush was connected to a long-time political family that sometimes seemed more interested in power than in the public good.
Bill Clinton got a lot right in terms of policy but he had the personal morals of a vacuum cleaner. And George W. Bush, who seems a much better ex-president than he was a president, made egregious moral decisions about war. I'm not about attacking Afghanistan, which was justified for self-defense after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but about invading Iraq based on false -- maybe manufactured -- information. Barack Obama was wrong about several matters, especially drawing a red line in Syria and not sticking to it, but, on the whole, he was at core a decent, moral man who put up with enormous pressures from fools like Donald Trump, whose racist approach to him tried to make Obama appear to have been born outside the U.S.
But Trump is among the most immoral people ever to hold the office of president, and the 400-plus pages of the Mueller report prove it (or, rather, confirm it) page after page after demoralizing page.
This report should be -- but no doubt won't be -- a shocking rebuttal to the 80-plus percent of Christian evangelicals who voted for the man despite the reality that his life has been a living contradiction of nearly all of their values.
I thought Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said it pretty well when he declared himself “sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President.
“I am also appalled that, among other things, fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia — including information that had been illegally obtained; that none of them acted to inform American law enforcement; and that the campaign chairman was actively promoting Russian interests in Ukraine. . .Reading the report is a sobering revelation of how far we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders.” (But notice that it's those kind of immoral people who are attracted to the chance to work for Trump. See Michael Flynn. See Michael Cohen. See. . .)
None of this is to express remorse that Hillary Clinton wasn't elected president. She ran such a poor race that she didn't deserve to win. But Romney's words and my own sense of being appalled at Trump's behavior are legitimate expressions of shock that Russia helped elect an American president who is lacking any foundational sense of morals or ethics.
The moral failure of Hillary's husband, Bill Clinton, was primarily a story of simple lust, which is all Trump's failure would be were it limited to paying off porn stars or models so they wouldn't talk about having sex with him. Clinton was foolish and self-centered in the Lewinsky matter. And his behavior damaged the office of president. But through it all he retained a concern for people who needed help and for the welfare of the country.
Richard Nixon's narcissistic failures and his lust for power that led him to cover up crimes were closer to what we see now in Trump, but even Nixon remained able, in the end, to see his duty to country by removing himself from the Oval Office to allow a truly decent human being, Jerry Ford, to take over.
The Mueller Report, by contrast, confirms what many of us have long suspected -- that Trump is a vindictive, petty, self-absorbed, vengeful man with precious little thought for the welfare of all Americans, for the common good. Worse, people who identify as serious Christians overwhelmingly supported him in 2016 and, for the most part, continue to do so. Again and again I have wondered what it is about the Christian religion that such people don't understand.
All I know is that to learn about this ancient faith and its difficult call to live loving, sacrificial lives, the last thing they should do is ask Donald Trump or pattern their lives after his.
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THE SRI LANKA EASTER ATTACKS
Even Easter was not immune from the sickness of violent extremism. More than 200 people died in various attacks in Sri Lanka. Terrorism like this often is rooted in religion run-amok, religion in love with false certitude. No part of the world seems immune.
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P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about the uncertain future of KC area gay-friendly United Methodist churches -- now is online here.