Good Friday provided the language for a week that began with the terrible fire at Notre Dame Cathedral and ended with the long-awaited Mueller report: Jesus’ final words before perishing on the cross, “It is finished!”
The fires have been extinguished, and the great cathedral’s two towers still stand. After nearly two years, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s inquiry into possible obstruction of justice and collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has finally ended.
There was no collusion.
In the span of a few days, we’ve been joggled between the banal and the sublime, from Trump’s “I’m f—ed” upon learning of Mueller’s appointment to the investigation to the millions who prayed that centuries of beauty be spared by the flames.
And yet, there is hope in the ashes. As Christians celebrate Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Christ, there is talk of rebuilding — another cathedral rising from the ashes. What has been lost can’t be replaced, but a church is not principally an edifice. All those who have labored and convened beneath Notre Dame’s enormous roof left something of themselves behind. Not even fire can destroy the immeasurable power imbued by centuries of meditations, supplications and grace.
Perhaps it is the season of penance and rebirth. But when I read the Mueller report, a redacted version of which was released to Congress and the public Thursday amid a flurry of media-induced hysteria, I saw corruption and misery. Trump, whom I don’t hate, contrary to what some readers say in their profanity-laced emails, is a villain but also a tragic figure. For him, there is never enough of anything — riches, possessions, attention and adulation.
At times, I feel sorry for him, because he has invited the wrath of millions, and it can’t be easy to shoulder so much disapproval. When I said this recently to a friend, she replied: “It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who has no empathy.” True, but a person without empathy — the ability to feel what others do — walks a lonely path. Driven by lust for the material, such a person doesn’t know the company of what ancient philosophers called the transcendentals — truth, goodness and beauty, which correspond sequentially to the mind, the will and the heart, and which, according to Christian theology, lead to God’s infinite love.
Trump wages daily war against truth. Examples of his falsehoods and outright lies could fill a doorstop volume. In his report, Mueller further revealed that White House press secretary Sarah Sanders lied to the public at least three times while accusing the media of producing “fake news.” Deceit begets deceit.
Goodness is missing everywhere. Trump may have some good qualities, though it is hard to discern them given his propensity for hurtful, divisive rhetoric. To him, goodness is what he wills it to be, that which nourishes his narcissism and appetites, whether the compliance of women or the loyalty of comrades. Ironically, disloyalty may have saved him when aides refused to carry out his orders to obstruct the Mueller investigation.
Beauty, we’re told, is in the eye of the beholder. But is it? The Catholic intellectual tradition teaches that truth, goodness and beauty are “transcendentals” because they transcend time and place. Also, they are all part of and flow into each other. Truth is good and beautiful; goodness is true and beautiful; beauty is true and good.
One needn’t be a theologian, philosopher or Christian to recognize that Trump, defiant before truth and lacking goodwill, knows beauty only as a standard for useful women or towers bearing his name. He worships not in the cathedral of “our lady” but in the House of Gaud. Had Trump tagged along on Indiana Jones’s “last crusade,” we know which chalice he would have thought belonged to Jesus.
Although Mueller ultimately found Trump innocent of collusion, the special counsel made it clear that he was not innocent of obstruction of justice. Because Justice Department policy prohibits indicting a sitting president, Mueller suggested that “Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office,” in accordance “with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.”
Most telling of all, however, was Trump’s own exclamation when Attorney General Jeff Sessions told him about the Mueller appointment.
“Oh my God,” he said, according to the report. “This is the end of my presidency. I’m f—ed.” Would that his prophecy come to pass and this ungodly episode in American history be finished.