President Trump and his sycophantic band are now marching to a repetitive martial tune of ‘no collusion, no obstruction.’ That tune was penned by William Barr, acting more like President Trump’s personal attorney and spin doctor, rather than the position he was appointed to, the Attorney General of the United States. No matter how disingenuously Barr construes Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s meticulous and judicious report, Barr is unable to completely whitewash the facts contained within. Between Mueller’s report and other sources there is enough information to make one gobsmacking conclusion: the apparent saving grace of an act of conspiracy and treason by the Trump campaign, was an act of omission, failure, or just plain incompetence, depending on your perspective. Then the Trump campaign followed up their incompetence with acts of mendacity intended to blanket the original saving error. Both acts highlight the depravity at the core of the moral and ethical vacuum that is the Trump orbit. That depraved core is, of course, President Trump himself. Trump’s depravity, unprecedented except in ancient myths, biblical stories and literature, renders him unfit to hold the office of President. And it is even worse than that, yet all hope is not lost, as will be explained below.
Even if no more damning information emerges there is proof, between the Barr summary, the Mueller report, The Washington Post (What we know about the Trump Tower meeting, August 7, 2018, by Phillip Bump), and other sources, that the Trump campaign considered and explored assistance from Russians. The Barr summary notes that there were “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.” While we don’t know the nature, nor can we say how the Trump campaign responded to most of the offers, we do have reliable information about the series of events leading up to and including the infamous Trump Tower meeting.
In that case Russians got word to the Trump campaign that they could deliver information which was damaging to the campaign’s only real challenger for the presidency. In other words, Russians offered to help the Trump campaign undermine the integrity of our most important democratic institution, free and unfettered elections. What did the Trump campaign do? They gleefully scheduled a meeting with the Russians. That meeting occurred. After the meeting became public, the campaign variously denied it and equivocated about it. Without wading into the swamp and weeds of whether this amounted to criminal conspiracy, every American should be disquieted.
The facts show that the Trump campaign had no ethical qualms about accepting information proffered by America’s most prominent foreign adversary. Nor did the campaign have qualms that the information was expected to aid Trump’s bid for the Presidency by harming the only other realistic candidate. Nor did they have qualms that such information could likely only be obtained by illegal means. A fact borne out by the subsequent release of emails stolen from Democrats and the Clinton campaign, which were traced back to Russian state actors. This was an act of Russian interference in America’s 2016 elections!!! The Trump campaign did not agree, offer, or pursue the matter further. Most likely, the Trump campaign representatives did not understand the coded language, about adoptions, used by the Russians during the Trump Tower meeting. That was a reference to Putin barring the adoption of Russian children by Americans in retaliation for application of the Magnitsky Act to Russian citizens. And it is this incompetence which was the Trump campaign’s saving grace for committing an act of conspiracy and treason.
Clearly, the Trump campaign chose to meet with Russian agents to acquire information which would harm the only realistic competitor for the highest office in the land. That simple fact, regardless of the success or failure, demonstrates that the campaign and Trump, valued his bid to be president above any and all other concerns. That includes valuing his victory over the integrity of the legitimate way that citizens grant our rightful sovereignty to elected representatives. That is a failure to uphold the oath of office which is a prerequisite for ascending to the office of the presidency. If nothing else, it disqualifies Trump from holding that office. But it is worse.
Any man depraved enough to subordinate national interests to help himself obtain national office will only be emboldened by not being held accountable. The many cowards in the Republican party (make no mistake, the same failure of accountability happens on the other side of the aisle just as frequently), and among Whitehouse staff, who choose not to hold the President accountable, and in fact try to prevent others from doing so, will be exposed by history for the reprobates they are. By demurring to Presidential norm abatement, they reaffirm the frightening truth in Lord Acton’s lines, “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” because as long as they stand with the President in derogation of their oversight responsibilities, they have effectively increased the power of the presidency. In a political system where the balance of power is maintained via checks, every failure to exercise a legally and factually legitimate check increases the power of those not held accountable for their illegitimate actions. But it is worse than this.
From our perch in the second decade of the 21st century we are witnessing the emergence of a self-propagating spiral of corruption; a nefarious force which is quickly becoming the scourge of our times. Donald Trump is neither the sole, nor primary cause of this scourge. There are many causes and factors involved, and corruption seems to be rearing its head around every corner of society. But Trump is an embodiment of corruption and inspires it in others through his prominent example, and his ability to evade accountability. Prominent manifestations of corruptly achieved material success, power and/or fame draw towards them others who wish to emulate the example. Thus, it fosters a self-reinforcing and self-protecting milieu. This milieu thrives on the blanket of darkness held up by the other members. But it is worse than this.
Corruption spreads outside of its local milieu because of a prominent example like Donald Trump. Corruption is a complex knowledge-based behavior. Like all such complex behavior, corruption gets encoded in our cultural knowledge-base for others to draw upon and re-enact under relevant circumstances in the future. Such self-propagating knowledge is a dynamic force which is difficult to retard, let alone reverse. That is because the resulting harm is only indirectly and remotely felt by most people, and because the perpetration takes place in the shadows. Perhaps there needs to be a corollary to Lord Acton’s axiom; something simple like “corruption begets corruption.” But it is worse than this.
Depravity is a darkness that shrivels the souls of the afflicted, so that their behavior degrades into new found depths of vice over time. While even moderately ethical souls, under scrutiny as they pass through Dante’s circles of hell, experience trepidation, not so the depraved. Unaccountable and depraved souls are only emboldened and become more frantic. Then their behavior becomes more callous, vindictive and evil.
The truly depraved justify their callous and evil behavior in their own minds prior to acting. Their thinking is much like the fictional character Raskolnikov. Raskolnikov is the delusional, self-proclaimed ubermensch of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. In the novel, Raskolnikov kills an old money lender, and her sister, in order to steal her money. In his mind he justified killing her because he was a superior intellect and being, and because he needed her money to manifest his greatness. At least Raskolnikov felt guilt, if not shame, which lead him to confess to the murders, and later experienced contrition while in prison. There is little chance of President Trump changing the moral tenor of his life.
In the space of a week the President’s character degraded before our eyes as he doubled-down on callousness, evil and vindictiveness. He callously called for cutting hurricane relief to Puerto Rico, evilly tried to cut all spending for Special Olympics (though he threw his Secretary of Education under the bus and re-instated the funding after a backlash), and vindictively attacked John McCain and Adam Schiff. (The former is one of the most principled statesmen of our long national history, while the latter is creating a distinguished legacy by conscientiously doing his job and honoring his duty to the entire nation.) But it could be worse than this.
Left unchecked, depravity and corruption may spread through a morally flexible, self-interested and excessively ambitious minority, as civic and social trust erodes among the masses. Eventually the frustration and despair of the ethical but excluded among us will boil over… But there is hope, because every moment is “the beginning of infinity” as David Deutsch might say.
In fact, we need not reach a depth of frustration and despair that boils over into anger. It is up to us, humankind, to solve this problem as we have solved so many other problems before. We must roll up our sleeves and do the difficult things. Take time to consider cause and effect along all dimensions, from one antipode to the other and every measure between: current and past, local and remote, singular and multiple, human and inanimate. Share and welcome ideas. Examine and consider other ideas in the light of details, context and nuance, instead of succumbing to erroneously inflamed passions. Offer and be open to critical analysis of ideas, not people. Discard ideas discovered to be false or inconsistent with the rest. Always strive to advance the accumulated store of human knowledge, with an eye toward alleviating problems, without exploiting, holding down, or harming others. It will be hard but can be done.
As we do it we will better understand what John F. Kennedy meant when he said, “We choose to go to the Moon,… and do the other things, … not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Through that speech Kennedy was delineating and characterizing greatness and trying to inspire us to it.
Greatness is not achieved by doing the easy things, but by doing that which is hard. Greatness is achieved not by staying the same or regressing, but by progressing. Greatness is not arrived at by taking the shortcut, but by journeying along the long, arduous road. Greatness is earned not through exploiting people, resources, relations, systems and processes, but by overcoming challenges. Greatness is not something inborn or inherited, but something achieved by effort. Greatness is not measured by the accumulation of wealth, but by encouraging the creation and sharing of knowledge and truths. Greatness is denoted not by the amount of shallow flattery and the “rattle of hollow applause” (David Gray, Let the Truth Sting) received on social media, but by less heralded acts of self-sacrifice, service and duty. Greatness is not attacking the vulnerable but protecting them. Greatness is not denigrating “others,” but cheering for all. Greatness is not preying upon fear, anger and hatred, but upholding our national motto, E plurubus unum, which requires encouraging the unity of our nation’s variety.
Greatness is most exemplified not by those who cheat, lie and steal to promote themselves or other narrow interests, but by those who work to level the playing field of access to opportunity, especially in the face of difficulty; by men like Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. America needs their kind of greatness again.