The insider whispering can commence. Has commenced, in fact. Indictments have that effect on the media and its Second Shoe Department.
What’s likely to drop next, and where, now that Paul Manafort has drawn the baleful gaze of the special prosecutor for Russian-American connections? And, most of all, what does it mean for Donald Trump, whose tweets and twerp-ery are a virtual invitation, in media eyes, to send him, somehow, crashing down?
Monday’s developments — the Manafort indictment, the embarrassed resignation of Tony Podesta from a Democratic lobbying firm linked (a favorite media verb) to Manafort’s pro-Russian activities — fling sludge in the direction of both major parties.
More’s to come – including developments on Democratic responsibility, via the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, for paying a British spy to dig up dirt on Trump during the campaign.
The capacity of the general public to care about and sort through that “more,” whatever its eventual shape, is untested. The New York Times’ David Leonhardt sees Trump as uniquely disadvantaged on account of being “probably weaker than any first-term president in more than a century, based on his standing with the American public, his own party members in Congress, and even his own cabinet officials.”
Leonhardt’s pronouncement reminds us that Trump is the political equivalent, however hazy, of our sun. Around and around him spin the political anxieties of the moment. Is a distant investigation involving mostly unknown players — Manafort, Rick Gates, Tony Podesta, even Robert Mueller himself, the special counsel — likely to affect the general sense of What Truly Matters?
No one can tell. Unless, as seems fairly unlikely on present showings, the evolving spider web somehow ensnares the President himself. We all want to know what will happen to Trump in such an event, right? Our president doesn’t just interest. He obsesses. He’s all that Americans seem to care about anymore.
Which makes no sense. The big man is not the center of a big universe — however loudly and persistently he pretends to be that. There’s a whole lot going on around these parts that Donald Trump neither started nor continues – but which he should be required by the sovereign voters and their congressional representatives to apply himself to.
The tax system, for instance.
The tax system demands remediation. It weighs down economic growth and productivity by penalizing a significant share of the work that might, if freed of governmental inhibitions, produce more jobs.
Tax rates, in fine, need cutting. Congressional Republicans conspire, so to speak, in this prizeworthy endeavor but face 1) massive Democratic opposition and 2) presidential distraction. I do not allege the Mueller investigation undermines the cause of tax-cutting. I allege that it could do so — to the tax-paying public’s immense disadvantage.
Congress has been in session since January, with nothing much to show for it — not even the promised repeal and replacement of Obamacare. In the end, competing fidgets put the repeal movement to bed. Congresses these days don’t like to do much to earn their pay unless forced to. You wonder why they bother.
But they have to: not least because in the catalog of Washington, D.C. obsessions, important things do actually come up, requiring consideration. Of these matters, tax reform may be presently at the top: needing intense concentration to make possible its sale at a time of Trumpian distraction.
Trump, to get tax cuts though by year’s end — it’s said to be possible — needs to talk tax cutting all day and every day, even when such activity infuriates “progressives.” (How is it “progress” to argue, as Democrats do, that the government takes too little of your money?)
What we eminently don’t need is Russia getting in the way, with these self-same progressives whooping it up for the special counsel. And the President responding with indignant tweets proclaiming the debased condition of his critics.
It doesn’t get much more politically perilous than this, if you want — as perhaps you do, deep down — the dirty and distressing truth.
William Murchison’s latest book is The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson.
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