By Jim Swearingen
While a preoccupied America binges on Netflix, scrabbles for office promotions, and jockeys for tee times, one man is at work in the Department of Justice, patrolling the dark corridors at all hours of the day and night, ferreting out the evil doings of Trumptopia. As a constitutional showdown approaches, intrepid lawman Robert Mueller investigates the sinister plotting of Soviet stooges and Trump consiglieres. He is marching toward a confrontation with dangerous outlaws while we hide indoors waiting to see who comes out on top.
We Americans long for saviors. Be they saviors of lost souls or doomed armies, of failing companies or faltering ball clubs, we lionize the great—most often—men who engineer some pivotal solution or victory. This Great Men approach to history feeds our collective hunger for a messiah who will deliver us from problems that we ourselves have created. Rationalizing our paralysis, we leave the mess to be cleaned up by someone else, a hero, a lone man with a badge who has the power and the guts to use it.
The classic 1952 western High Noon illustrates well what we are doing—or not doing—right now. Marshall Will Kane (played by Gary Cooper—whom Robert Mueller actually resembles) hangs up his badge and gun to start a new life. But when a gang of outlaws rides into Hadleyville seeking revenge on the lawman, none of the citizens volunteer to face the threat with him. Who abandons the Marshall to protect the town, all alone? The hand-wringing, callow voters, the very people who once praised his bravery and dedication, the ones who hired him.
In an impromptu town meeting the citizens give a litany of excuses for their civic apathy. They blame the impending crisis on corrupt politicians, ineffective law enforcement, and on the Marshall himself for making the conflict personal. Calls for non-violence and speculation that a crisis may not be looming at all, are equally delusional. And, of course, a gunfight in the streets would commit the cardinal sin of being bad for business. It is a splendid depiction of democratic paralysis and Kane leaves the town hall with no backers.
He makes the political miscalculation of expecting citizens to take a hand against violent criminality in their community. Their abdication of responsibility for protecting the town presages our own hesitancy in defending our sovereign republic.
For legions of Americans who tremble for the future of the country under the current administration’s chicanery and corruption, Robert Mueller’s rise to national prominence fills the need for a savior. Although the press peppers the White House with the small arms fire of daily revelations, it is the Special Counsel who many of us hope holds the nuclear option for removing a morally and politically depraved interloper from the Office of the President.
Trump has proven himself to be the very Putinesque puppet he was accused of being during the campaign. And for a generation old enough to remember how hot the Cold War actually became, it is unfathomable that evidence of Bolshevik meddling did not immediately dispatch warships into the Eastern Hemisphere.
As a rotten political drama plays out, have Americans stormed the Capitol demanding that our election system be secured? Have we taken to the streets exhorting change, except on specified weekends? Have we made it impossible for lawmakers to get in and out of their offices? Their homes? Their cars? Have we buried local newspaper offices with demands for recall or impeachment? We have not. Why should we when Marshall Mueller is on the job? Why take responsibility for our own irresponsibility when a savior will do it for us? And if he loses, who wants to face the vengeful ire of a raging Trump?
Mueller’s lionization is already well underway. MSNBC made him the inaugural subject of their new bio-series Headliners. The Pittsburgh Police Department ordered officers to bring their riot gear on duty in case protests erupt if Mueller is fired. And Facebook is craftily marketing bobble heads and t-shirts depicting Mueller as Clark Kent, stripping his button-down oxford shirt to reveal the crime-fighting logo, “It’s Mueller Time!” Perhaps the most clever in a sea of Mueller memes shows the Special Counsel looking nonplussed in front of the Department of Justice seal declaring, “Guess Who’s Not Out Golfing.”
While Mueller fights our battle for us, we, the American electorate, have been barely phoning in our civic duty for decades. The phrase “absentee ballot” takes on another meaning these days: a franchise that increasing numbers of us are too busy to exercise. It speaks to our ambivalent connection to a right that the Founding Fathers started a revolution to gain.
Though the campaign record of Trump’s mendacity and lasciviousness was clear and the evidence of Russian meddling in the election was already known to the Obama administration, on Election Day, 2016 close to half the country chose not to get involved. And now a fellow traveling Congressional leadership that profited from a compromised election denies the need to protect Mueller with special legislation barring his dismissal.
Fans of High Noon know well that in the closing scene Marshall Kane tosses his silver star in the street as he disgustedly stares down the citizens who have ducked their responsibility. As investigations into Russian collusion and porn star hush money progress, we must shun the Hadleyville example of feeble citizen democracy lest we get the kind of law enforcement we deserve, the kind that Donald Trump wants.
Robert Mueller isn’t a white-hat hero in a Western movie. And, for that matter, Trump isn’t a movie-matinee villain. They are men. They are of us. And whatever they do, whether to tangle or untangle a knot of felonies against democracy, responsibility rests with us, both for the crimes and for the correction.