This is another article about President Trump, but let’s detour first through “Harry Potter.” If I’m going to write something that’s likely to be outdated by the time I lay down 700 words, there’s little to be lost in spending a calming moment on something less dramatic.
Here’s my summation of the popular children’s book series: A powerful evil wizard, recuperating after a boo-boo, requires six years and multiple attempts before finally killing his heroic pursuer — a pouty teenager who appears to have mastered just one spell — only to get (curses) foiled again.
Granted, I read the story as an adult. Cynicism notwithstanding, I devoured every word of all seven Potter books, usually staying up deep into the night — all the while thinking that this Voldemort threat could have been easily dispensed with had the adults in charge of the wizarding world simply chosen to exercise their collective powers.
So, back to reality. Two observations:
(1) Our President Trump, like the Potter world’s Lord Voldemort, is scary by reputation but essentially incompetent. He intends autocratic rule, but he doesn’t seem to know how to go about it. He succeeds only to the extent that others let him.
(2) So why let him? Our real-world story is at the approximate equivalent of Book Two of the Potter timeline. If we know where this showdown is headed and we have the power to stop it, let’s get on with it already.
Well, there are rules and procedures that must be followed … we don’t have a smoking gun connecting Trump to collusion with the Russians … you’ve got to establish corrupt intent … .
I agree. It has to be done right. But we’ve been talking wildly about doing everything from impeachment to invoking the 25th Amendment, while basically doing nothing …
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News flash: Three hundred words in, and my thesis has already been superseded. “The Justice Department has appointed Robert S. Mueller III, the former FBI director, to serve as a special counsel to oversee its investigation into Russian meddling in the election,” reports the New York Times.
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OK, now we’re doing something sensible. Mueller will have latitude to take the investigation where it leads. His appointment alone should serve as a lesson for Trump. (Hey, Siri: Please remind me at 5 a.m. to double-check that assertion.) But Mueller won’t be operating under the free-styling independent counsel law put in place after Watergate — that was allowed to expire in 1999 — so something similar to Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, in which Trump burns through deputies until he finds one who will fire Mueller, is a renewed possibility. So it’s probably wise for Congress to engage in concurrent efforts — perhaps by creating an independent, bipartisan commission, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi desires.
One thing I don’t understand: Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan continue to drag their feet. What is possibly the case for this? The GOP agenda is stalled either way. The party’s worst-case scenario stemming from a thorough investigation: Trump survives scrutiny, and we all have to keep dealing with him. But Republicans can then harp on the accusations as a witch hunt and probably win votes in the process. Best-case scenario for them: Trump is out, voluntarily or otherwise, and they get President Mike Pence. They’ll get credit for doing the right thing (after first exhausting all other possibilities — they’re Americans, after all). Granted, there’s electoral risk, but the recovery time is likely faster today than it was following Watergate, when the party fell out of favor for a full, um, six years. Their agenda, now disciplined, just may get a second wind.
The thing is, even in mundane times we’re a divided nation, tilting slightly right on average (if the question is put to existing voters) or slightly left (if everyone who could vote did). The embrace of Trump as savior was a flight of fancy, just as it would have been if Democrats last year had decided to really feel the Bern. There are problems in Washington, but the quagmire is within us, and no magic can wave that away.
Thus the cumbersome task of keeping the republic goes on. That was true even in Harry Potter’s world. We learned this in the stage play that followed up on the story last year. I stayed up all night reading that, too.
David Banks is at David.Banks@startribune.com.