The significance of Donald Trump Jr.’s entanglement with Kremlin emissaries, if you’re wondering, is that it has plunged Trump Sr. into a jam he can’t lie his way out of. It is late in the day to pretend any longer that chronic mendacity is not Donald Trump’s basic notion of statecraft. Since Jan. 20, he has moved the republic from George Washington, who couldn’t tell a lie, to Donald Trump, who can’t tell the truth. Not that his underlings didn’t try.
A secondary and under-examined aspect of this episode is that by the evidence of his emails, the “lovely” bait that lured Trump Jr., his brother-in-law and his father’s campaign manager into the Russian mousetrap was the offer to “dish dirt” or “derogatory information” on Hillary Clinton. These catchphrases have become a chorus in the 24/7 chatter. But what do they mean? What substance lies behind them?
It is an article of faith – or delusion – in the Trump crowd that Hillary Clinton is a fugitive from justice. Recall the chant at Trump campaign rallies of “lock her up” – by cheerleaders now in danger of being locked up themselves. Recall Trump’s uncivil remark, to her face, that if he were president, she would be in jail. (He is, unfortunately, but she still isn’t.) Recall the damaging intervention in the presidential campaign of FBI chief James Comey, whose primary concern is invariably his own spotless ego. His excuse for that blunder was that he had promised to notify Congress of further developments in the investigation into the “scandal” of Hillary Clinton’s inappropriate email server – another partisan triviality.
What is, however, a documented fact is that throughout the White House years, the Clintons were pursued by a pack of vindictive Arkansas enemies, prompted by envious grudges from Bill Clinton’s political successes there – and by the outrage that Hillary’s law practice helped pay the grocery bills.
Those who venture into psychological speculation find it plausible that Donald Trump, who daily accuses others of deception, is “projecting,” in telltale Freudian fashion, his own mendacity. He clearly has a thing about the truthfulness of others. He maintained for years that President Obama was lying about his constitutional eligibility and relinquished that pretense only when it became a campaign liability. Then he lied about his motive, claiming that it had been to force Obama into reliable documentation of his birth in Hawaii – which no sane person doubted. He is the author of such terms as “fake news.” No wonder, since he regards reputable reporters as “enemies of the people.”
Trump and his entourage have, in half a year, transformed the country into a hothouse of dubiety in which all information is in question. It is dangerous for obvious reasons – the most obvious being that a government derived from the “consent of the governed” can generate no reliable consent when everyone, regardless of party or profession or character, is believed to be fudging the truth. Even the U.S. Senate, which once gloried in the self-regarding label of being “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” now conceals its deliberations and in its intrinsically deceptive scramble to recruit 50 votes for a cruel and disruptive health-care repeal. Long gone are open hearings and informed testimony on this or any other legislation of consequence.
One step in the restoration of public truth-telling would be a diligent effort to determine what Trump Jr. and others expected to learn about Hillary Clinton when they wandered into Putin’s web at the Trump Tower. What, if any, “dirt” was there to be “dished” about Mrs. Clinton? I have known her personally for 30 years; and while I am not a believer in human perfection – hers or my own – I would be shocked if this Methodist Sunday-school girl has ever strayed from law or good behavior. The harping to the contrary by Trump and his myrmidons has left us with an ever-lengthening row of dry holes. So why don’t those who pant for “dirt” or “derogatory information” about Hillary Clinton specify what they think they’re looking for? The idea that Donald Trump rescued us from an unprosecuted criminal is almost certainly a fantasy of the fantasist-in-chief.
Contributing columnist Edwin M. Yoder Jr. of Chapel Hill is a former editor and columnist in Washington.