The release of the redacted Mueller report will change no minds. For President Donald Trump's most ardent supporters and defenders, Attorney General William Barr's absolution of the president on criminal charges of conspiracy and obstruction, given in a press conference in advance of the release, is enough to confirm what they have believed all along: that the president is innocent and the investigation would find nothing incriminating. For those who believe Trump has behaved in ways unbefitting a presidential candidate — much less a president — there is ample evidence that Trump and his campaign engaged in disturbing behavior, entertaining outreach from the Russians, though not actually conspiring with them, and that the president repeatedly considered shutting down the investigation because he feared its outcome. When told that a special counsel would be appointed to investigate Russian meddling in the election, Trump shouted: "This is the end of my presidency. I'm f——ed!"
Given that this report landed just days before Easter and Passover, most Americans will likely skim the headlines and move on to planning the weekend's celebrations. We did not learn much new about Trump in this investigation. We already knew that he has no moral or ethical core. He has cheated repeatedly over the course of his private and public life. He's cheated customers, clients, the people who worked for him. He's cheated his wives, donors to his foundation and, we may soon find out, the government out of taxes owed. He's lied to everybody and tried to get others to lie on his behalf. And this last accusation is borne out in spades in the Mueller report. The problem is that when someone lies with as much regularity as Trump, we soon discount the lies, reduced to rolling our eyes as each new lie is revealed.
If the past two years were only about one man's corruption, we might be OK as a nation. Sure, it's not encouraging that a president could lie with impunity, order people to do improper things (even if they were smart enough not to follow through) and deny foreign interference in our elections, despite the evidence, because it helped him and hurt his opponent. The problem, however, is that this particular president has managed to corrupt virtually everyone around him — including Barr, it appears, based on his performance at Thursday's press conference. Trump's White House is filled with lackeys and milquetoasts. Those who finally tire of the president's lies, intimidation and cover-ups either leave or are fired. His Cabinet members behave as sycophants whose allegiance is not to the country and the Constitution but to a narcissist who needs constant reassurance that he is the smartest, most successful president in U.S. history. These voices find amplification on Fox News and various other conservative media outlets that serve as an echo chamber for the West Wing. The effect is to degrade truth and morality and undermine confidence in public service.
As I have said repeatedly since we discovered Russia had interfered in our elections, Vladimir Putin achieved everything he wanted. Russia's activities, as the Mueller report makes clear, aimed to help elect Trump, but the real purpose was to sow chaos and dissent among the American people and make us lose trust in democratic institutions. It will take more than a full and honest report to the people on the president's activities to heal those wounds — even if we could all agree on what the report says. Impeachment would make those wounds grow deeper, even if it might discourage future charlatans like Trump from following his path to high office. The only thing that will serve justice is the American people's renouncing the behavior at the ballot box. But doing so will not be easy, given the Democrats' temptation to move further left of the American people.
Trump escaped punishment for his efforts to thwart a legitimate investigation, and he got away with accepting — even encouraging — help from a foreign adversary to win his election. Given his past, we should be concerned about what he will do in his reelection campaign. But no one can stop him if voters don't pay attention and vote their consciences.
Linda Chavez is chair of the Center for Equal Opportunity and a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center. To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.