If you watched only Fox News and listened only to President Donald Trump, you would probably be convinced by now that special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of federal investigators are crooked partisans, hellbent on maliciously destroying the president and his administration. You would believe that the FBI itself is corrupt, "in tatters."
Never mind that Mueller, a lifelong Republican appointed to his position by another Republican, served his country in combat in Vietnam and has served several presidents with unquestioned integrity. And never mind that Russian interference in the 2016 election is an established fact, one attested to and confirmed by all major U.S. intelligence agencies. And never mind that several Trump campaign officials have already made plea deals, admitting to contacts with Russian agents, and that many more campaign and administration officials have been outed as having had contacts with the Russians.
These are facts. These are not fake news stories.
And yet, day after day, Trump and his minions — and the official state mouthpiece, Fox News — push the trope that every other media voice in the country is fake: The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, NBC, CBS, CNN, ABC — they're all FAKE! They are all purposely publishing and broadcasting false stories about the president.
Trump and Fox relentlessly sell the line that the Russian investigation is political, that there is no there there.
So for the sake of argument, let's grant that they are correct, that all the evidence we've learned about so far is just coincidence, that all those who've admitted guilt already are just peripheral pawns, that the president and his closest advisors had no knowledge of any of it. If that is indeed true, why wouldn't they just ignore the investigation and let it play out, secure in the knowledge that Mueller's team will find nothing, because there is simply nothing to find?
I think the answer to that is obvious: There is a lot of there there that's yet to come out, and Trump knows it. His only play at this point is to convince the American people that everyone in the media is lying, that only he — the Great Trump — is telling the truth.
Trump has built up a cult-like base that will believe anything he tells them. If he trashes Al Franken for being a sexual predator but tells people to believe Roy Moore is innocent and that his own accusers are all liars, his cult buys in. They support him when he denounces mistakes made by mainstream media and demands reporters be fired; they support him when he refuses to acknowledge or correct his own false statements. They are the true believers, Trump's only real hope for staying in office. Unless he's innocent.
We are fast approaching a crossroads, one where Americans and their leaders will have to choose between doing the right and just thing or allowing a lust for power and greed and a warped cult of personality to replace American values and decency for a generation or more.
The choice may come soon, if Trump decides to fire Mueller. Or it may come later, when Mueller completes his investigation and releases findings that show collaboration with a hostile foreign state at the highest levels of our democracy. If that happens, we'll learn with quick and sober clarity what it is our leaders in Congress truly value. We'll find out who among them will stand up for America's core foundational principles and who among them will continue to prop up this shady, scary clown show.
We've been teetering on the point of a sword for nearly a year now, lurching from one manufactured crisis to another as Trump plays at president like a cat knocking objects off a table — seeking attention, seeking to distract us from the inevitable moment of decision to come. And when that moment arrives, I pray my country rises to the occasion. I pray we reject swagger and bluster and propaganda masquerading as the truth. I pray we rediscover our true American heart.