Word came out this week that our hapless special counsel is increasingly loathed by large segments of the American public. According to a Politico-Morning Consult poll, pluralities of voters have an unfavorable opinion of Robert Mueller, and believe his investigation is being handled unfairly. Meanwhile, the president’s approval numbers climbed, as he relentlessly mocks the Mueller team on Twitter as “13 Angry Democrats.” No wonder this week’s news cycle switched from Russiagate to border separations.
If there is one thing we know from “Les Miserables,” it is that people hate a runaway prosecutor. The cheering moment in the musical occurs when the prosecutor, Inspector Javert, throws himself into the River Seine, which seems pretty still these days but in Victor Hugo’s era was apparently the equivalent of Niagara Falls in a barrel. Right before taking the plunge, Javert sings: “I am the law and the law is not mocked!”
Mueller surely empathizes. A few months ago, his proposed questions for the president leaked to The New York Times. Among the absurdities on the list was this humdinger: “What did you think and what did you do in reaction to the news of the appointment of the special counsel?” In other words, what do you think about me?
Ordinary folk might question the relevance of the president’s thoughts on Mueller, but history buffs surely appreciate their import. They go to lèse-majesté, the crime of violating majesty, an offence against the dignity of a reigning sovereign (which Mueller apparently considers himself).
While the doctrine may strike modern ears as rather odd, lèse-majesté dates back to at least Roman times. According to ancient sources, the punishment for insulting Caesar was a perpetual interdiction from fire and water, meaning no one could give the accused any food or drink. Other convicts were simply thrown to wild beasts.
As democracy has spread across the globe, lèse-majesté laws have fallen into disfavor, but they remain on the books in many countries. Its greatest modern practitioner would be President Erdogan of Turkey, a man with whom our prior president bragged of having a close friendship and “bond of trust.” Since taking office, Erdogan has criminally prosecuted more than 1,800 persons, including cartoonists, singers, poets, a former Miss Turkey, a current New York Knick, and young school children, all for the crime of personally insulting him. Caligula himself would no doubt have been impressed.
America, by contrast, has never been receptive to lèse-majesté. It seems that we have always relished our right to insult our leaders. In 1798, President John Adams introduced such laws into the United States via the Alien and Sedition Acts, which criminalized making false statements critical of the federal government. Adams had been called “a hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, not the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” So you can see why he might have been sensitive.
Nevertheless, the acts went over like a lead balloon. In the ensuing 1800 presidential election, Thomas Jefferson made their repeal a central campaign promise. Upon his election, he promptly pardoned all those still serving sentences under the acts, and Congress repaid all their fines. More notable is what happened to Adams’ political party, the Federalists. When the acts passed, the Federalists controlled both houses of Congress and had never lost a presidential election. Yet in just a few years, the party was wiped clean off the political map.
The last duly elected Federalist politician, Josiah Quincy, died in 1864, the same year that the small Mauritian flying fox (taxidermied below) went extinct. Neither is missed. Two centuries later, the only vestige of that once-great political force is this Web site, and even that is the subject of a feverish Resistance effort to harass it out of existence.
That brings us back to Mueller. Ordinarily, Mueller’s intense unpopularity would not be an issue—a prosecutor need only endear himself or herself to the members of the jury. But the special counsel’s task here is distinct, in that his objective is not to prosecute the president (it is widely agreed that he lacks constitutional authority to do so) but rather to “get the goods” on Trump such that Congress throws him out of office. In other words, Mueller is engaged in a largely a political exercise, requiring public support.
It does not help that Mueller seems not to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, with the federal judiciary foiling his minions’ efforts to prosecute even the simplest of cases. So what might help? Well, if Mueller needs popular support for his pursuit of lèse-majesté, then he must embrace the majesty.
As the recent wedding of Harry and Meghan reminds us, as much as Americans hate special prosecutors, that’s how much we love royalty. Or at least British royalty, with room for an occasional Monacan or whatnot who manages to marry well. Despite their Mueller-level ineptitude in performing even the most ceremonial of tasks, the Windsors are universally beloved here in the United States. There is no rational explanation for it, but it is undeniable.
If ever there were a time for Mueller to find his inner royalty, it would be now. The Department of Justice recently released a report entitled “The Special Counsel’s Office Statement of Expenditures.” It reveals Mueller has somehow run up a staggering $17 million bill in less than a year of pursuing Russian Facebook click-baiters and such. The amount is, coincidentally, comparable to the United Kingdom’s “Sovereign Grant”—i.e., the annual cash outlay from British taxpayers to support the entire royal family.
Say what you will about them, the Windsors sing for their supper. Last year, a geriatric Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth’s daughter, managed to clock in some 540 official appearances at events, dinners, and receptions in the U.K. and overseas. Compare that to Mueller, who prefers not to be interrupted during his afternoon slumber.
So I say, let Mueller ask all the questions he wants of President Trump. This is the same person, after all, who chose to give his first post-election interview to Harvey Levin. How much worse could Mueller be? But in exchange for his treasury-draining crusade, Mueller should first declare himself Crown Prince, or perhaps viscount, and make himself available for parades, ribbon-cuttings, and charity raffles throughout the land.
Of course, we Americans could never grant Crown-Prince Mueller all of the perks accruing to the British royals. In this #MeToo era, he certainly should not expect women to curtsy before him, as is still the rule for Queen Elizabeth.
But we could definitely compensate him in other ways. For example, the queen of England holds dominion over all the swans on the River Thames. Along the Hudson River where I live, one does not see too many swans. However, geese are in overabundance, including the survivors of the flock Sully Sullenberger so thoughtlessly plowed through. They could stand for some Crown protection, I would think. Also, by British law, the marquis of Ailesbury must blast a hunting horn whenever the queen passes through Savernake Forest. I am sure that we could generate a similar effect here in Midtown Manhattan.
Anyway, all this is just a friendly suggestion. Alternatively, Mueller could actually do the job he was asked to do, and let us know whether he found a grand conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Vlad Putin to steal the election. He could then return to his weekly canasta game, and Americans could sit tight until the next nuptials to hit Windsor Castle.