“I don’t care.”
Hatch told CNN he doesn’t care that the office of the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York said in a court filing this week that Trump had directed his former lawyer to commit a felony.
Hatch and other loyalists are saying lots of other things about the accusation — that Trump’s a great president, that the Democrats will do anything to destroy him, that Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen is a liar. I get all that. I hear it. That’s not what I am asking myself.
Did I ever tell myself that I didn’t care if President Clinton broke the law by perjuring himself and/or obstructing justice in the investigation of his sexual relationship with Lewinsky, a 22-year-old White House intern when the relationship began?
I think at least I may have come close. I thought it was a witch hunt. I used that term. I thought Clinton was defending himself and his family against a fascistic invasion of privacy. And I thought Clinton was a great president. The whole pursuit of him made me furious.
But did I ever actually get to the point where I told myself I didn’t care if he broke the law? Is my memory even good enough to go back that far and accurately extract my own deeply personal feelings from that archive of time?
I am reluctant now to say things like, “I never wavered.” What I do remember is that I was a known waverer. Once in a weak moment, I even wavered about keeping my dog (kept it, after wavering). It seems unlikely to me I never once wavered in my commitment to the rule of law where the president of the United States was concerned.
If I did waver, I never told CNN about it. CNN never asked me.
Here is the thread to which I must cling. I do remember clearly how furious I was with the Republicans for witch-hunting him. That’s not foggy. I remember that as if it were today. But I also remember how furious I was with Clinton.
Clinton’s impeachment began 10 years after Monkey Business. Monkey Business was the yacht on which the 1988 Democratic presidential front-runner, Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, was photographed monkeying around with a woman not his wife, effectively scuttling his candidacy and political career.
One of Hart’s distinguishing personal quirks before getting caught was a tendency to dare the Washington press corps to catch him. Eventually they did, of course, because they were in the catching business and because he had dared them. Hart was like a wacky deer that couldn't resist bounding across the hill in front of the hunters for the adrenaline rush.
So that was also how I understood Clinton. I mean no disrespect to Lewinsky and intend no blame for her, because she was so young, but the first time the president crossed her path, he should have seen written across her forehead as if in marker pen, “Monkey Business.” I don’t mean that she was the monkey. He was.
There was so much riding on him. I was so angry with him. It’s not as if I had not made my own terrible mistakes in early life. But forgive me if I held him to a standard higher than myself.
A couple of years ago I was driving back home to Dallas from the Arkansas Ozarks in a bit of a hurry. There was no emergency at home, just a feeling that I might have overstayed my fishing absence.
There was a bad truck wreck ahead of me on southbound Interstate 30 and a terrible traffic jam about six miles north of Hope, Clinton’s birthplace, a place I had never visited. I got off the freeway and detoured to U.S. 67, which took me straight through Hope.
I mean no unkindness to Hope. I bet I didn’t see the good side. But the side of Hope I did see bore the unmistakable scars of longstanding, deep-rooted poverty. The thought that some scraggly little nobody kid from that town had become president of the United States filled my heart with awe. Maybe it happens in other countries, but the fact that it could happen here made me very proud of my country that day.
Driving through Hope I also got mad at Clinton all over again. I think that’s the thread I’m clinging to in trying to remember my own mindset about presidential lawbreaking during the Lewinsky case. I knew the underlying behavior was bad. I figured Clinton had to take his chances with the legal repercussions.
Had he lost the fight in the Senate and been kicked out of the White House, I assume I would have lived with it. Republicans had to live with Nixon’s forced exit 24 years earlier. At some point you take your losses if for no better reason than not wanting to look like a ninny.
Couldn’t he have looked at bribing a porn star and seen “Monkey Business” written across the top of the file in marker pen?
But in my frustration and anger with Clinton for putting us through it, I just don’t believe I ever once felt so loyal to him that I didn’t even care if he had broken the law. I did care.
Somewhere in that Gary Hart-esque compulsion to dare the fates, Clinton wound up putting himself in the crosshairs. It was up to him to get out of the crosshairs or pay the price. I wasn’t going to waltz across the borders of the law and basic decency with him.
That’s where the Orrin Hatch syndrome actually stops me, maybe even astounds me. Please tell me what thing in the character of President Donald Trump could possibly inspire this kind of blind and reckless loyalty?
The underlying behavior in the Southern District of New York case is paying a bribe to a porn star. Let’s do ourselves a favor and not try to come up with an algorithm to assign precise moral balances here, engaging in sex with a young intern versus paying bribes to a porn star. I think we’re safe just putting both things in the bad basket.
So what is it about Trump that inspires an Orrin Hatch to say he doesn’t care if Trump’s in the bad basket, in fact doesn’t even care if he breaks the law? Shouldn’t Trump’s underlying behavior inspire at least a kind of moral distance or doubt? Should that doubt not be enough to make Hatch and other Trump loyalists conclude that Trump is on his own where the law is concerned?
I know Hatch said he thinks Trump is doing a great job as president. There’s a school of thought these days that Republicans generally must be willing to forgive an entire measure of Trumpian misbehavior in exchange for big tax breaks. I could look down my long liberal nose at that, but the truth is I was willing to let Clinton slide a certain amount in exchange for his pursuit of policies I liked.
But not breaking the law. I can balance out the rest of it, and I am willing to take a few hits for my own loyalties in the past, but Hatch’s statement is still a step beyond all that, a step into new territory. His rationalization — that Democrats will do anything to tear down Trump — is entirely irrelevant. Even if it’s true, so what?
Isn’t the law still the law? Isn’t it up to Trump not to get south of it, especially when he knows all those terrible Democrats out there are rooting for him to do just that? Couldn’t he have looked at bribing a porn star and seen “Monkey Business” written across the top of the file in marker pen? Is he not to be held to even that much personal responsibility?
And if not, what lies ahead? We don’t care who he is. We don’t care what he is. We don’t care if he breaks the law. He can do no wrong. We will always be loyal no matter what. That just does not sound to me like the United States of Hope.