July 14, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
A President Biden can start restoring America by investigating the current president’s crimes
Why he should appoint a new special counsel.
The Washington press corps appears to accept that the president was “firing up his base” Friday when he commuted Roger Stone’s sentence of three-and-a-fourth years. That’s probably an assertion of opinion more than fact, though. While presidents do normally base actions on political considerations, Donald Trump is not normal.
It’s a stretch, to say the least, to assume that the president’s base of power likes it when he helps a goon duly convicted by a jury of his peers. The more likely explanation is that Trump went easy on Stone to maintain his silence about their involvement in an international criminal conspiracy to defraud the American people.
There’s a good reason for turning the page: don’t criminalize politics. But what if politics is criminal?
That’s not to say Trump’s decision doesn’t appeal to someone. Believers in something called “QAnon” probably felt that in commuting Stone’s sentence, the president was striking a righteous blow against a nameless and faceless “deep state” that has been trying to bring Trump down since he decided to run for president. According to my friend Amee Vanderpool, “Anon followers believe this current political struggle will culminate in a fantasy conclusion know as, ‘The Storm.’” Amee went on to say:
“This phase involves the military rounding up, imprisoning and even executing anyone who dared to counter Trump or make any moves against him. It’s safe to say that the list includes Democratic politicians, ‘members of the ‘liberal’ media, Hollywood celebrities and other elites that are convenient for Trump supporters to target.”
Anon followers are too small in number to affect this year’s election, but they could have serious effect if Joe Biden is victorious. Amee says the conspiracy theory is making inroads in the Republican Party, because the Republicans are making room for it. Combined with the market incentives of the GOP’s rightwing media allies, QAnon could erode a Biden administration’s credibility among white suburban voters the way birtherism eroded the Obama administration’s credibility among the same. Put all this together to see that things are probably going to get worse before they get better.
Liberals and people deferential to the authority of facts and reason don’t really know what to do when faced with conspiracism, except laugh at it. That’s certainly what most of them did—what I did—during the Obama years. But liberals and others (me) should learn from our mistake, specifically that conspiracy theory isn’t just Livin’ La Vida Loca. It is the abandonment of the American social contract, a literal betrayal that’s rooted in political weakness. If you can’t win by normal means, if you can’t win because the truth is against you, then what do you do? You invent a new set of “alternate facts.” Conspiracy theories are leading indicators that parts of a country have decoupled from the rest, and they are heading down the road to serfdom.
Something needs to be done. Victory isn’t enough. If Biden wins, we’re going to witness wholesale amnesia among Republicans, leading to a repeat of the post-2008 era. Not only will conspiricism come back to the fore, poisoning our discourse, and not only will right-wing media weaponize conspiricism against the new administration, poisoning our discourse even more. The GOP will pretend, en masse, as it did after Barack Obama became president, that all the things they did to wreck the economy, devastate public health and shred the moral fiber of our society were Biden’s fault.
For his part, Biden will have great incentive to repeat what Obama did post-2008—just simply forget what the previous administration did to bring America to the brink of being a failed state. There’s one legitimate reason for this act of willful forgetting. You don’t want to establish a precedent in which politics becomes a crime. But politics can be criminal, as we learned when George W. Bush pushed us into invading a sovereign country that did us no harm after Sept. 11, 2001. Trump’s crimes, moreover, are relatively worse. The whole world changed after 3,000 Americans were murdered. Nothing has changed after Covid-19 killed enough people to equal forty-six 9/11s.
There’s actually another reason to forget. New presidents have their own agendas. They don’t want to get bogged down litigating old ones. Biden, however, isn’t Obama. His shtick is restoration, bringing America back to a state of normalcy and honor, putting the power of government on the side of normal people. If something isn’t done to counteract, or at least counterbalance, the Republican Party’s fascist incentives, Biden can forget about that, even if his party controls both chambers of the Congress. What’s needed is a rededication to the truth, and that requires a new special counsel to establish the whole truth of recent history, starting with Donald Trump’s victory.
Yes, I know Robert Mueller established many of the facts. And yes, the appointment of a new special counsel would be received among Republicans and their rightwing media allies as well as Mueller was. But truth and justice demand it. And anyway, like I said yesterday, the conspiracy that brought Trump to power did not stop. It has been ongoing. It’s most recent manifestation was commuting Roger Stone’s sentence, an act of literal bribery aimed at covering up the cover up of the crime of defrauding the American people of the right to know who they were voting for. We didn’t know. We still don’t know. Until we do, we can expect more of the same from the Republicans.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.