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The Latest Revelation in the Mueller Investigation

Robert Mueller (Yuri Gripas)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A TV show does well everywhere — except the coasts; a supposedly groundbreaking revelation in the special counsel’s investigation; and a spat over criminal-justice reform.

Roseanne revival draws huge numbers

In his last book, The Revolt of the Elites, the late social critic Christopher Lasch chided an emerging class of Americans — educated people of decent means who lived on the coasts, made their living working with information rather than their hands, and participated in a global marketplace of transients — for trading socialism for the culture war. American elites couldn’t bring themselves to embrace a genuinely left-wing economic program in part because they feared that would endanger their elite status, Lasch contended; instead, they preferred to channel their political energy into ridiculing middle America, whose habits were so abhorrent to them. Published in 1994, it’s a book that anticipated a lot of today’s political discourse.

Lasch, obviously, was not the first social critic to suggest that there is an emerging class of American elites who have cloistered themselves off from the rest of the country. (A while back, National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty penned a column for The Week looking at of some of these thinkers.) But key to his definition of the elite class was that middle America was alien to them. If he was onto something, we would expect the Americans he identified to send their kids to separate schools, contribute to “causes” rather than locally oriented charities, eat different types of food, and watch different shows on television.

All of which is a long-winded way of contextualizing the news that a staggeringly high number of people watched the first episode of the Roseanne revival last night — and that they mostly came from middle America. What does it say about me that I had no idea this show was coming back? The regional split, described by Deadline, is stark:

Not surprisingly, the top TV markets where Roseanne delivered its highest ratings were in states handily carried by Trump in the election. No. 1 was Tulsa in Oklahoma, which Trump won with 65.3% of the vote. It was followed by Cincinnati, Ohio and Kansas City, Missouri. The only marquee city from a blue state in the Top 10 was Chicago at No. 5 — the area where the series is set. ABC focused some of its marketing efforts in the region with a preview of the revival at the 54th Chicago International Film Festival.

The top market of the country, New York, was not in the Top 20; No. 2, Los Angeles was not in the Top 30. And yet, Roseanne delivered the highest demo rating for any comedy telecast in 3 1/2 years, since the fall 2014 season premiere of TV’s biggest comedy series of the past five years, The Big Bang Theory.

This is the kind of news story that will beget a fresh round of thinkpieces from elite writers role-playing as interpreters of middle-American sentiment. It’s worth asking for whom will those essays be written.

Trump’s attorney floated pardoning Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn

I can’t opine grandiloquently on the Robert Mueller investigation into the Trump campaign. I’m a layman, not a lawyer. To stay informed, I read David French, Orin Kerr, Julian Sanchez, Andrew C. McCarthy, and a few others . . . and I’m not qualified to adjudicate any of the disputes they have (though, privately, I have my theories, as most of us do).

So here’s my not-so-brilliant insight: Doesn’t it feel like there’s a gigantic, un-dropped shoe looming over the entire affair? And doesn’t it seem like we’ll treat anything as groundbreaking news while we wait for it to drop? So many of the recent “revelations” have amounted to this: “A major event almost happened.” Trump wanted to fire Robert Mueller (he hasn’t yet). The Devin Nunes memo was going to upend Mueller’s investigation (it hasn’t yet). Trump was going to hire two combative attorneys to ramp up his attacks against Mueller (he hasn’t yet). The latest, from five top reporters at the New York Times, is that Trump was going to pardon Manafort and Flynn to dissuade them from cooperating:

A lawyer for President Trump broached the idea of Mr. Trump’s pardoning two of his former top advisers, Michael T. Flynn and Paul Manafort, with their lawyers last year, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

The discussions came as the special counsel was building cases against both men, and they raise questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, who resigned last week, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation.

The talks suggest that Mr. Trump’s lawyers were concerned about what Mr. Flynn and Mr. Manafort might reveal were they to cut a deal with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in exchange for leniency. . . .

During interviews with Mr. Mueller’s investigators in recent months, current and former administration officials have recounted conversations they had with the president about potential pardons for former aides under investigation by the special counsel, according to two people briefed on the interviews.

It’s an interesting report. But we’re all waiting for that shoe to drop, whether it’s Mueller coming after someone closer to Trump’s orbit or Trump taking more-aggressive action against the special counsel. In the meantime, be sure to read about this event that almost happened, this article that says it constitutes obstruction of justice, and this other article that says it doesn’t.

Sessions and Kushner square off on criminal-justice reform

Congress is unlikely to do anything significant this year. It doesn’t seem to have the energy, will, gumption, moxie, drive, or cajones to take any action on health care, immigration, infrastructure, welfare, higher education, or entitlements. And on the rare issues where there seems to be a bipartisan consensus, White House infighting is lowering the chances legislation. The New York Times has an in-depth report on the battle Jeff Sessions is waging against criminal-justice reform:

On Capitol Hill, a wholesale reconsideration of American sentencing laws and prison policies has bipartisan support. Dozens of senators have sponsored a bill to change mandatory-minimum sentences and ease drug laws that have been used to seek lengthy sentences for nonviolent offenders. The bill also includes provisions to expand education, worker training and drug rehabilitation programs in prison.

[Jared] Kushner, administration officials say, supports such sweeping change. [TK: Look, another progressive-yet-ill-fated policy that “administration officials” say Kushner supports.] Mr. Sessions is adamantly opposed. The two men reached a compromise in recent months: Mr. Kushner could push for the prison changes, but Mr. Sessions would position the administration strongly against a broader overhaul.

In a letter to Congress last month, Mr. Sessions excoriated the bill, predicting it “would reduce sentences for a highly dangerous cohort of criminals, including repeat dangerous drug traffickers and those who use firearms.”

National Review has generally supported Sessions’s term as attorney general. But those with libertarian sympathies on criminal-justice issues might find his DOJ frustrating. Sessions supports civil-asset forfeiture, stridently opposes sentencing and drug-policy reform, and is generally a tough-on-crime true believer.

Four things you should read today

It’s Opening Day! On the homepage, Alexandra DeSanctis has a beautiful essay on baseball. (There are only two problems with it: The featured image is of a bottom-tier ballpark, and the first line in the third paragraph contains an odious aside that testifies to the arrogance that all Yankees fans possess.) (This might get me fired.)

At The American Conservative, Nick Phillips writes about the “Secular Benedict Option.” Adopting Rod Dreher’s call for religious conservatives to opt out of modernity, Phillips points out the reasons secular conservatives might want to establish bulwarks against its rising tide, too.

For First Things, Matthew Schmitz has an article on Jordan Peterson. There have been quite a few entries into the genre, lately, but this is one of the best.

Every now and then, it’s important to read a left-wing polemic, so here’s Eugene McCarraher’s “The World Is a Business” in the new Baffler. It’s like jumping into a freezing-cold lake: as wrong as it is bracing.

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