Just now we were sitting in a green room, waiting to go on Power Lunch to talk about the fact that the Trump Soho is paying people back their deposits to not sue them for fraud, when lo and behold, the man came on and bogarted us by talking about himself. “It’s been doing really well, and we’re really proud of it,” the Donald said, of the Trump Soho. Oh, ok then. He then went on to discuss the possibility that he may take his public relations and other skills to the Oval Office. “A lot of people think I should,” run for office, he said. “You know, frankly, because I speak what people really know should happen, like when they talk about trade wars like it’s a horrible thing, you know, China is taking such advantage. I have friends who do a lot of business with China, and they can’t believe what they’re getting away with — and I don’t blame ‘em, if they can get away with it, they should get away with it. So I say things like that, and people don’t really say things like that, and then they do polls, and you know, Trump ends up, you know, well in the polls. Would I rather not do it? I would rather not do it. But I am really thinking about it, first time in my life.”
Americans do not yet know what the report will share—or, indeed, whether Mueller’s findings will take the form of a published report, in the Starry sense of things, in the first place—but the chances of it offering conclusive findings about Individual 1 or his associates seem slimmer as time goes on. There have been subpoenas; there have been interviews; there have been arrests; there have been convictions. But the primary question—Did Donald Trump collude with Russia to win the presidency?—has not yet been answered, and it is unclear [whether it will be.] The Mueller mystique lives on, however, both as a joke and as an earnest aspiration for what the report might ultimately achieve on behalf of American democracy. Alicia Barnett, of Kansas City, Kansas, explained her fandom to the Associated Press like this: “He gives me reassurance that all is not lost. I admire his mystique. I admire that I haven’t heard his voice. He is someone who can sift through all this mess and come up with a rationale that makes sense to everyone.”
Salvation and salve at the same time: Heroes, in times of tumult, offer reassurances of leadership, of order, of faith both earned and restored. Their very presence—the implied transcendence of their talents—soothes, and calms. All will be well, their myths assure. But even heroes, in an environment as partisan and divided as this one, have their limitations. Mueller’s determined reticence is, on top of everything else, ostensibly a matter of political strategy: an acknowledgment that whatever his team’s findings, a significant percentage of the American populace will simply refuse to believe those conclusions—on grounds of bias, and on grounds that one form of political faith trumps another. You could read the fan fictions that have been written about Mueller as attempts to inoculate him against those doubts: to insist that the hero, because he is not subject to the frailties that plague everyone else, also has unique access to truth. The “great man” theory of history, weaponized for the needs of the present moment.
In an America led by a man who has insisted that “I alone can fix it,” that makes for an uncomfortable argument. Mueller’s mythology treats him both as the embodiment of American democratic institutions and as someone who rises above them; it is a story whose center cannot hold.