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Donald and Jussie, Birds of a Feather

And what they say about the state of American discourse.
March 28, 2019
Donald and Jussie, Birds of a Feather

I have two videos for you. In less than three minutes, total, they present the full lunatic tribalism that is American society.

First, here’s President Donald Trump claiming “complete and total exoneration” of all charges in the Mueller investigation.

Trump claims Mueller report finds 'complete and total exoneration'

And now here’s actor Jussie Smollett claiming that he’d been “truthful and consistent” in the face of charges that he’d committed a hate-crime hoax.

Smollett After All Charges Dropped: ‘I Have Been Truthful And Consistent’ Since Day One | NBC News

The symmetry here is perfect. Absolutely perfect. The only thing we really know from Bob Mueller’s lips is that on the subject of obstruction: “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” That’s eerily similar to the words said by the prosecutor who dismissed the charges against Smollett, saying that he “does not believe [Smollett] is innocent.”

Now you can believe that both of these men have been judged as innocent because the legal system has declined to prosecute them. Or you can believe that both of them can be viewed with suspicion because the official verdict of the legal system is not the last word in actual culpability.

But you cannot claim that one of them must now be treated as totally and completely innocent but that the other is clearly guilty. Which is what most of America seems to be doing.

Including the president of the United States. Barely 72 hours after TOTAL EXONERATION he demanded that federal investigators overturn the verdict of local law enforcement because he was positive that Jussie Smollett had not been, at all, in any way, even partially exonerated.

Though why Trump would trust the FBI—an organization Trump claims is full of “dirty cops” who tried to commit “treason”—to investigate Smollett is beyond me.

Then again, maybe we should take Trump’s criticisms of the FBI seriously, but not literally. Maybe FBI agents are only “dirty” in the same way that Mexico is “paying” for the “concrete wall” on America’s southern border.

Or maybe it’s best not to think too hard about these things. Because if you did, you’d come to the conclusion that American political life is broken and that people who defend one of these men to the hilt while railing against the other—without even a hint of self-awareness—will get exactly the sort of government they deserve.

Maybe you’d decide that this is what decline looks like.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.