Before We Begin, a Quick Request…
I know. You hate it when we ask for money, and we hate asking for money. But National Review doesn’t have an Uncle Rupert or Buckley Corporation or some larger entity willing to step in when the advertising market for political magazines slow down. (That’s a joke, folks. That advertising market is always slow. Most big companies are terrified of advertising in a political magazine, lest the widget company be accused of taking sides.)
There’s a New Sheriff in Town
Good choice by Rod Rosenstein. Former FBI director Robert Mueller is respected across the spectrum, a tough guy but not a witch hunter. Our Andy McCarthy concludes, “Mueller is not a Lawrence Walsh type. He will not want to make a career out of this. At the same time, if serious criminal wrongdoing is uncovered, he won’t turn a blind eye.”
But Mueller will do a thorough job, and if he comes to the end of his investigation and finds that Trump did not have any inappropriate or criminal contact with the Russian government in 2016, that should close the book on it. Yes, the conspiracy theorists in the Democratic party will shriek about a cover-up, the same way Diebold machines stole Ohio for Bush in 2004 and Gore really won Florida and George H.W. Bush secretly met with the Iranians in Paris to keep the hostages in Tehran until after Election Day. No election loss is ever fair or their fault.
Russia meddling in the election? Pretty much proven, although the phrase “Russia hacked the election” is a useful marker for someone intellectually dishonest, who wants to create the impression that Russian hackers altered the vote totals. The idea that some of Trump’s associates had some contact with Russian entities that violated U.S. laws? Unproven, but conceivable.
The idea that Trump himself had some quid pro quo deal with the Russian government during the campaign? Extremely implausible.
For all of Donald Trump’s flaws — and you know how shy and reticent I am about pointing them out — I simply can’t believe that Trump would knowingly sign on to a scheme to empower a foreign regime and harm the United States out of a loyalty to another country. (Even the president’s harshest critics have to acknowledge this theory requires Trump to have a loyalty to something besides himself.) Trump’s an epic narcissist, but a side effect is that he undoubtedly loves the United States of America because it’s his country. As French King Louis XIV said, “L’etat c’est moi” — “I am the state.” Trump sees America as great (or on its way to being great again) because he is great.
I also find it hard to believe that the Russians would trust Trump to stay quiet about any deals or offers, or that they would count on him staying bought. (Had they ever talked to a contractor Trump stiffed?) Even now, we’re seeing a Trump administration that is much more hawkish against Russia and Russian interests than anyone expected. Sanctions remain in place, Exxon Mobil was denied an exemption, and we bombed a Syrian airfield with Russian planes.
Get cracking, Mr. Mueller. The country needs clear answers, sooner rather than later.
Staffers Can’t Save the President from His Own Bad Decisions
Come on now, Trump fans. Imagine you’re an incoming president. You’ve got a guy who you like and trust who you would like to be your national-security adviser. But then he tells your transition team that he’s “under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign.”
Are you still interested in having him serve as your national-security adviser? Aren’t you a little irked that he was working as a paid lobbyist for a foreign entity during the campaign? Don’t you feel like he should have tried to avoid this kind of financial entanglement with a foreign entity? Don’t you feel like he should have told you this during the campaign?
Some of this blame for this mess can be put on Flynn; he should have had the good judgment to say, “Mr. President-elect, it’s an honor to be considered for the position, but I can’t be your national-security adviser at this time. I’m under investigation and would be a distraction or liability for your team.” Failing that, someone around the president needed to say, “Mr. president-elect, you cannot hire this man. He will always carry the stigma of a conflict of interest because he was paid $600,000 over 90 days to promote the viewpoint of the Turkish government. The perception is already that the Turks bought influence on the campaign; bringing Flynn in as an official adviser makes it look like the Turks bought influence in your administration.”
Finally, looking at Trump the way his fans do… isn’t this the sort of problem that a streetwise, shrewd businessman would see coming a mile away and avoid?
The Menace Beyond and the Menace Within
SPOILERS AHEAD BUT YOU HAVE HAD 26 YEARS, SO COME ON, MAN
Kevin, a listener of the pop culture podcast, finally caught up on watching the original run of Twin Peaks, and marveled that in retrospect, he had missed “an obvious clue, so early.”
It says something about the show that I thought of a different moment than he did. In the opening minutes of the pilot, Sarah Palmer discovers her teenage daughter Laura isn’t oversleeping in her bedroom like she thought and grows increasingly frantic as she can’t find her.
Kevin noted that when her husband Leland Palmer sees Sheriff Truman approach him at his work, moments after his wife has called in a panic, he instantly knows that the worst has happened. “My daughter is dead,” he declares, before the sheriff has said anything specific.
Most viewers would think he’s surmised this from the combination of his daughter’s unexplained disappearance and Truman’s grim look, but… once we know Leland killed her, his instant knowledge of her fate takes on a new light.
The clue I was thinking of arrived a few episodes later, at Laura Palmer’s disastrous funeral. It’s bad enough that Laura’s boyfriend, Bobby Briggs, flipped out and accused everyone in town of being callous hypocrites, ignoring the signs that Laura was bedeviled by something serious. “Everybody knew she was in trouble, but we didn’t do anything. All you good people! You want to know who killed Laura? You did! We all did!”
But then Leland, seemingly overcome with grief, leaped upon her casket, crying and screaming. Sarah got down on her knees and begged, through gritted teeth, “Don’t… ruin… this… too!”
Too? What else did Leland ruin? What makes Sarah Palmer think of her husband, consciously or subconsciously, as a man who ruins things?
Super-fans of the television show are deeply divided on the 1992 Twin Peaks film, Fire Walk With Me. Probably one of the best ways of viewing it is Lynch’s attempt to set right the issue of moral agency in the depiction of the show’s villain. The confession and death of Leland Palmer in episode 16 can easily be interpreted as an exoneration of Leland. He didn’t commit those terrible crimes; the demon BOB within him did.
Except… if you’re going to tell a story about a crime as awful as a parent’s abuse and murder of a child, it’s a moral cop-out to suggest “the devil made him do it.” In Episode 17, perhaps the single most tone-deaf and odd episode of the series, the entire town has gathered for Leland’s wake — no one’s staying home to protest his crimes? — and our hero, FBI agent Dale Cooper, tells Sarah, “Leland did not do these things, not the Leland that you knew.” Except he did.
(This blog post does a hilarious job of showcasing how most characters simply ignore the ramifications of what they must have learned after the preceding episode.)
For all of its other flaws and challenges to the viewer, Fire Walk With Me portrays a more symbiotic relationship between Leland Palmer and BOB; one could even wonder if BOB’s only really consequential form of existence is as Leland’s excuse. Todd VanDerWerff wrote:
The interesting thing about Twin Peaks is that you can sort of have it both ways. You can pretend this is a show with an offhand Americana mythology and that Bob is a demon who possessed a normal family man and turned him into a monster. Or you can follow the show’s notions of duality to the logical conclusion and realize that all of us possess the ability to turn into that monster, to give way to the awful impulses we keep at bay, because we know the consequences of letting them out. The reason Wise is so perfect for this role is because you all at once understand how he could be terrified by a demon that possessed him and how he could use that as a convenient excuse to do the monstrous things he does. Or, to use a much more mundane demon familiar to all of us, getting drunk makes it easier to be an [jerk], but the person who makes the choice to push others away is always you, no matter how much you’ve had.
Which, of course, makes the show’s final image, of Agent Cooper looking in the mirror and seeing BOB looking back at him, all the more haunting. Yes, BOB is a supernatural evil, but he’s also the snake in the Garden of Eden, the persuasive voice of Iago whispering in our ear, the invitation to give up on trying to do the right thing and be the worst version of ourselves. He’s the doubt that there are significant moral consequences to our actions, and the argument that in a world guaranteed to contain pain and suffering, it’s better to inflict that than to suffer that.
Sure, BOB is terrifying, but is he any scarier than the fleeting thought that someday we might not be the good person we want to be?
ADDENDA: Late breaking horrible news, as I prepare to hit “send” on this newsletter: Roger Ailes has passed away. Whatever his flaws, his loved ones are in pain now. May he RIP.