ROBERT MUELLER AND BIG TRUTH

What do the Mueller Report and David Perlstein’s latest book, Big Truth: New and Collected Stories, have in common? A great deal.

Mueller, looking into a possible Moscow-Donald Trump connection, searched for “big truth”—something that might shed light on what happened. Although he didn’t find a smoking gun, he discovered many “small truths” to which attention must be paid.

David, too, finds big truth elusive. So his new volume of 25 stories, substantially shorter than the Mueller Report, puts a spotlight on small truths—some reassuring, many painful.

As to Robert Mueller, he spoke last Wednesday when he announced his retirement from the Department of Justice. Mueller repeated what he wrote in his painstaking if heavily redacted report. Hearing it from his mouth amplified the message: Mueller’s team did not recommend an indictment against Trump because DOJ’s long-standing policy prohibits that. Likewise, if he could have cleared Trump of wrongdoing, he would have. But he could not.

Here, one of David’s small truths comes into play: Read between the lines (although the space between these is large enough for big truth to peak out). Mueller’s task was not to get Trump but to gather facts. This led him to indict many Russian military operatives along with Americans, including Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.

Not-so-small truth: DOJ policy gave Trump a free get-out-of-jail card. Indicting a sitting president was off limits, so Mueller never considered doing so. Kind-of-obvious truth: If Trump is to be brought to justice for ties to Russia and/or obstructing Mueller’s investigation, that authority rests with Congress. More in a moment.

What about Attorney General William Barr? Mueller’s message conflicts with Barr’s, who stated that the special prosecutor informed him that the DOJ guideline had nothing to do with Mueller not charging Trump. That seems to be news to Mueller. Good-size truth: Barr has dissembled from day one.

A Russia hoax and witch hunt? On Thursday, Trump tweeted: “And now Russia has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected.” So Russia did interfere in the election, according to Trump. Yet he’s denied that from the outset. Damn-close-to-big truth: the Mueller investigation, as Mueller reiterated, was legitimate and of great national concern.

Back to Congress. Many Democrats want to impeach. Democratic leadership is hesitant. For Senate Republicans, nothing short of Trump’s shooting someone on Fifth Avenue—Trump once bragged he could get away with that—would produce a guilty plea.

Small (humble) truths from David: Impeachment may be nearing. But why rush? Information gathered and aired by Congress can sway enough public opinion to make a broad case for impeachment even if conviction defies the odds. New York State made it easier for Congress to obtain Trump’s state tax returns. If financial ties with Russia are found, some Americans who voted for Trump may wake up and smell the coffee. Democrats who sat out the 2016 election and third-party voters may see how important it is to step up and vote for the Democratic candidate.

Life’s complicated, so Big Truth asks questions instead of providing answers. You’ll find funny stories and serious ones and maybe enough small truths to keep you going through the 2020 election. Get it at Amazon or other print and digital sources.

You’re invited to my party launching Big Truth: New and Collected Stories—Sunday, June 9, 3:30–5 pm at Lokma Turkish restaurant, 1801 Clement Street at 19th Avenue, San Francisco. Yes, you can buy a copy, which I’ll sign. RSVP with number in party: dhperl@yahoo.com.

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GAME OF THRONES 2020

It’s done—and it’s just beginning. HBO’s “Game of Thrones” concluded last Sunday night after a decade enthralling a worldwide audience. Based on J.R.R. Martin’s novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, “Thrones” presented a riveting struggle for power in a fantasy world. The real world’s no different.

Beyond all the conflicts we’ve learned about, experienced and keep pace with now—or try to ignore—the United States is enduring a long, spite-laden political war between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, progressives, libertarians and independents. With Donald Trump likely the Republican candidate for the presidency, Democrats have begun waging their own game of thrones. If previous primary campaigns have revealed anything, “Game of Thrones 2020” won’t be pretty.

Nearly two dozen Democratic candidates have thrown their hats into the ring to seek crowns. As of this writing—or at least what I can keep up with—New York mayor Bill de Blasio is the latest. The group numbers serious contenders and many pretenders—men and women expending energy and resources less to win than to build public recognition leading to a higher rung on the career ladder. Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, for example, has wonderful things to say. Still, he’s young and inexperienced on the national and international stage. However, Mayor Pete is becoming perfectly positioned to run for governor or the U.S. Senate—or receive a cabinet appointment in a Democratic administration.

Bernie Sanders leads the polls, but the election is more than 17 months off. If you’ve followed primary/caucus campaigns over the past decades—the mechanism that’s starting to make the party-boss system and smoke-filled convention rooms attractive—you know that his lead means nothing. Good numbers this early often sound a candidate’s death knell. The primary fights are just that—knock-down-drag-outs. Seeking the presidency is as much a blood-sport as vying for the Iron Throne. Political bodies will fall with social media replacing Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons as weapons of reputational mass destruction.

When the debates begin, weaker candidates will quickly be flushed out of the system. Democrats—as did Republicans leading to the 2016 election—will savage each other. (Donald Trump did most of the Republican savaging; the losers then kissed his backside.)

We’ll check out a debate or maybe next-day coverage and conclude that no Democrat deserves the nomination based on rival candidates’ comments. Yet most of the losing candidates will rally behind the winner, dismissing their negative statements as “just politics.” So why should we believe anything they ever say?

Those who don’t toe the party line? If Bernie or any other candidate on the left fails to get the nomination, will his or her supporters sit out the election? Cast third-party votes in self-righteous anger? Give Trump another victory with less than half the popular vote?

“Game of Thrones” ended on what seemed a peaceful note following incredible bloodshed and destruction. Whatever happens in the 2020 election, America will still be standing. Or tottering if the Mad King remains in the Oval Office because Democrats ignored the TV show’s great lesson: Faced by a lethal threat (in “Thrones,” the Night King), unite and fight. Failure to do so could result in American democracy’s dying a slow, painful yet preventable death.

You’re invited to my party launching Big Truth: New and Collected Stories—Sunday, June 9, 3:30–5 pm at Lokma Turkish restaurant, 1801 Clement Street at 19th Avenue, San Francisco. Yes, you can buy a copy, which I’ll autograph. RSVP with number in party: dhperl@yahoo.com.

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415 MEETS 225

Carolyn, our kids and I spent last weekend in Baton Rouge. Our oldest son, Seth, received his M.S. in Digital Media Art & Engineering from Louisiana State University. A conversation with Seth got me thinking about America’s political divide.

I’ve enjoyed many visits to Louisiana—New Orleans when Yosi lived and performed there (Aaron danced there) and Baton Rouge. Of course, Baton Rouge, area code 225, is quite different from San Francisco, area code 415. 

Baton Rouge gets swampy hot. San Francisco stays foggy cool. Our Mediterranean climate delivers only 23 inches of rain a year. Baton Rouge, drenched by Gulf of Mexico storms, piles up 63 inches. Storms rerouted our Baton Rouge-bound flights to New Orleans.

There are people differences. Folks in Baton Rouge are publicly friendlier. I experienced this southern trait when I lived in not-southern Texas. I offer two reasons: Baton Rouge’s laid-back, small-town/suburban lifestyle contrasts with San Francisco’s urban hustle and bustle (which still falls far short of New York’s). Also, politeness is critical to a society where, historically, small affronts often garnered violent reactions based on a culture valuing honor and taking umbrage at insult. Oh yes, food and music preferences also vary a bit.

State histories certainly diverge. Louisiana was a slave state, part of the Confederacy. Californian, a free state, remained in the Union. Louisiana maintained Jim Crow segregation until federal legislation brought changes. California hid—though not always—much of its racism. And yes, racism remains in both states.

Politically, Louisiana is far more conservative. Donald Trump won 58 percent of Louisiana’s 2016 presidential vote. Hillary Clinton won California with almost 62 percent. For many San Franciscans, a wall exists between the City by the Bay and the Louisiana capital on the banks of Ol’ Man River. I imagine many people in Baton Rouge see the same wall—but from the other side.

Still, I’ve met lots of nice people in Baton Rouge. Some might be more distant in less-public situations but hardly all. The warmth—I’m not talking weather—is human. Last Saturday morning, almost a thousand families gathered for the Engineering College’s graduation at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (named for the LSU basketball great). They came together as we did when Aaron received his B.A. from St. Mary’s College in Moraga across San Francisco Bay. Carolyn and the mom next to her discussed “Game of Thrones.”

Proud and excited, we cheered our graduates—and everyone else’s. These LSU grads represented a diverse student body coming from across the nation and 35 countries. Heavily white to be sure, they were also substantially African American, Latino, Asian and, particularly in petroleum engineering, Middle Eastern.

The tag to my commencement address: Cultural and political differences do exist in America. They always have. But we must never blind ourselves to our similarities. The bonds we share as Americans—as people—may be frayed, but they’re still valid and important. I suspect that among many people across regions, they’re still strong. 

What to do? We can yield to the pessimists—posing as realists—on both the right and left, and build ever-higher walls. Self-righteousness can separate our 415s from our 225s. But we’ll have to shoulder the blame when those walls topple and bury the American Dream to which we only paid lip service.

You’re invited to my party launching Big Truth: New and Collected Stories—Sunday, June 9, 3:30–5 pm at Lokma Turkish restaurant, 1801 Clement Street at 19th Avenue, San Francisco. Yes, you can buy a copy, which I’ll autograph. RSVP with number in party: dhperl@yahoo.com.

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POWAY AND MINDSET

Disturbing acts of violence have occurred in the United States over the past several years. Some may not have been preventable. Others might not have happened had the nation a different mindset.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the far-right Anne Coulter’s 2007 remark that Jews were imperfect and should be Christians. I commented that Christians had the right to their beliefs about who gets into heaven—but none to condemn Jews, Muslims and others to hell. This guideline—a delicate balance to be sure—establishes a mindset that people don’t seek to impose their views on others no matter how seriously those views are held.

Many Americans cross that line. Sadly—dangerously—this has become more permissible since Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and victory. To the chagrin of many conservatives who supported him despite his repulsive comments, those comments haven’t ceased.

A week ago, Trump defended his 2017 remarks about “fine people” on both sides of the Unite the Right white-power, anti-Semitic demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia. “I was talking about people who went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general.” 

Trump can’t understand—or refuses to acknowledge—that Confederate statues and symbols representing “the Southern way of life” aren’t about mint juleps and men removing their hats before ladies—or generalship. The Confederacy rebelled to maintain an economy dependent on slavery. Following the demise of Reconstruction, those symbols stood for denying African-Americans their civil rights.

Last weekend, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders stated that Trump had condemned all forms of racism and anti-Semitism, and would use his bully pulpit (a term coined by Theodore Roosevelt) to continue doing so. But Trump uses his “pulpit” only to bully. His campaign made dog whistlinga well-known term for sending subtle signals that racism is okay. Other signals were overt, denigrating Muslims, Mexicans and people from “shithole” countries.

The Supreme Court soon will render a decision on whether LGBTQ people can be discriminated against. Many conservatives cite the book of Leviticus forbidding men to have sex with men (it says nothing about women having sex together), and men not wearing women’s clothes and vice-versa. I revere the Torah. But I reject those verses in our 21st-century world. I have a trans son and a gay son in addition to a straight son. They’re all wonderful. It’s just plain wrong to deny two of my kids equal rights. Witness the Trump administration denying trans men and women the opportunity to serve in our military. Yet unlike Trump, many have.

A week ago, a Christian anti-Semite used a military-style weapon to kill one and injure three Passover worshippers at Chabad of Poway, northeast of San Diego. This, six months after eleven Jews were murdered at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. Recently, a young white man burned down three black churches in Louisiana. Note: Last Saturday, white nationalists—First Amendment supporters, I’m sure—disturbed a talk at a Washington, D.C. book store.   

Terrible events aren’t foreordained. The White House, however, encourages hateful individuals and groups by continuing to dog-whistle racist and anti-Muslim sentiments for political purposes. Mindset matters. It’s time Trump stretched his mind to understand the license he gives to haters and be held accountable if he doesn’t.

The post will take off next weekend and return on May 17.

You’re invited to my party launching Big Truth: New and Collected Stories—Sunday, June 9, 3:30–5 pm at Lokma Turkish restaurant, 1801 Clement Street at 19th Avenue, San Francisco. Yes, you can buy a copy, which I’ll autograph. RSVP with number in party: dhperl@yahoo.com.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

KINGS AND PRESIDENTS

The Mueller Report is out. I won’t comment (now) on whether Democrats should pursue impeachment. But more than ever, we need perspective. I look to the Hebrew Bible.

Biblical Israel was never a democracy. Yet the Bible teaches much about national leaders. Deuteronomy 17 presents God’s restrictions on any future king of Israel: He must not keep many horses or have many wives “lest his heart go astray.” Nor shall he amass excess gold and silver.

Saul became Israel’s first king. I Samuel 9 presents Saul’s “bona fides.” Although from Benjamin, a small tribe, Saul lookedlike a king: “… no one among the Israelites was handsomer than he; he was a head taller than any of the people.” Some of us remember how John F. Kennedy’s greater television appeal helped him defeat Richard Nixon—if narrowly—in the 1960 presidential race. 

David, Saul’s successor and Israel’s greatest king, offers incredible complexity. And hope. A celebrated warrior—as a young shepherd, he killed the Philistine giant Goliath with his sling shot (then cut off his head)—he expanded the kingdom’s territory. He also exhibited grave faults. David sent Uriah the Hittite into the front ranks of battle to be killed so he could take the loyal soldier’s wife Bathsheba. 

The prophet Nathan rebuked David and cursed his house. David could have labeled Nathan’s denunciation fake news and punished him. Instead, David responded, “I stand guilty before the Lord!” (II Samuel 12:13). Nathan announced that God would remit David’s sin but his first child born to Bathsheba would die. And so it was. 

David’s son Solomon—Bathsheba was his mother—was a paragon of wisdom. Almost everyone knows the story of the two harlots who claimed the same baby. Solomon ordered the child cut in half. The real mother renounced her claim, willing to give away her child rather than see him killed. Solomon awarded the child to her. He also built the First Temple in Jerusalem.

But Solomon, heedless of Deuteronomy, spent lavishly. He amassed 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horses. He also collected 700 wives and 300 concubines. Additionally, “King Solomon imposed forced labor on all Israel” (1 Kings 1:27). He made Israel supremely wealthy—at great cost.

Solomon’s son Jeroboam sought to seize the throne. Upon Solomon’s death, Jeroboam ruled the 10 northern tribes as the kingdom of Israel. His brother Rehoboam ruled over the southern kingdom of Judah. The two kingdoms often were at odds.

A long series of kings—north and south—followed. Some were good in the eyes of God, many bad. The latter included Ahab of Israel (reigned ca. 871-852 BCE), who “did more to vex the Lord . . . than all the kings of Israel who preceded him” (I Kings 16:33). Ahab married the wicked Phoenician princess Jezebel, who turned him from God to the worship of Baal. Ultimately, Israel fell prey to Assyria in the 8th century BCE, Judah to Babylonia in the 6th. 

The  Bible’s lessons seem clear. A leader displaying competence, morality and integrity stands a far better chance of maintaining his nation’s prosperity and security than one ignorant, immoral and greedy. 

Eighteen months remain until our next presidential election. Will Americans—many boasting of their religious faith and devotion to the Bible—have absorbed this lesson?

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PASSOVER AND PARADOX

Tonight, Jews observe the first night of Passover. Sunday, Christians celebrate Western Easter. Christians will declare, “He is risen.” For a week, Jews will forego eating anything risen—bread, bagels, cake. Calls will go out to unify Jews and Christians by following the commandment in Leviticus to love thy neighbor. There’s a paradox here. 

Linked as two of the three Abrahamic faiths, Christianity and Judaism hold different theologies. Christians hail Jesus as the Messiah—the anointed one—who rose from the dead after being crucified by the Romans (or, as some Christians have it, the Jews). To Jews, Jesus was a fellow Jew, perhaps in the mold of the prophets. Christianity views Jesus as humanity’s savior from original sin. Judaism believes sin not to be inherent—humans possess good and evil inclinations, and must make choices. 

There’s nothing wrong with having different beliefs. History hasn’t always agreed. I write in God’s Others: Non-Israelites’ Encounters With God in the Hebrew Bible, that Christianity saw itself as the universalistic religion of a particularistic God. Universalistic: the only true religion. Souls could be saved only by accepting Jesus. Particularistic: God will damn nonbelievers to hellfire. Not all Christians still believe this. Many do. 

Judaism is the particularistic religion of a universalistic God. Particularistic: Only must follow the Torah’s commandments. Universalistic: God created us all. Monotheists who follow a few basic universal moral principles will share the World to Come—whatever it is—equally with Jews. 

Condemning Jews as Christ-killers, the early Christian West decided to let Jews live to endure exile and whatever punishments Christendom chose to inflict. The infamous blood libel arose: Jews mix Christian children’s blood into their Passover matzahs. This despite the Torah’s strict prohibition against consuming blood. What resulted? Read James Carroll’s frightening Constantine’s Sword.

Has America outgrown historic Christian animus towards Jews? Many millions of Americans embrace Jews as fellow citizens. But we’re hardly there. Witness, among others, Charlottesville and Pittsburgh. Anti-Semitism rears its head in such statements as those by the arch-conservative Ann Coulter. In 2007, she told Jewish talk show host Donny Deutsch, “We just want Jews to be perfected.” Deutsch asked if all Americans should be Christian. Coulter answered, “Yes.” 

Paradoxes also abound within Judaism. In the Diaspora, we conclude our Seder (home dinner service) with “Next Year in Jerusalem.” On May 9th, Israel celebrates its 71st anniversary, but as many Jews live outside Israel as in. “Next Year in Jerusalem” may now represent a yearning not to return to the land—beyond visits—but to Judaism and its values. For decades, North American synagogue involvement has declined among non-Orthodox Jews. 

Paradoxes abound within Israel. From bondage in Egypt through the monarchies of Saul, David and Solomon, Israel consisted of 12 confederated then united tribes. Modern Israel is home to at least as many political parties, and the Jewish world to many more religious and cultural streams and sub-streams. In effect, we’re still wandering in a wilderness, this one consisting of questions: How do we gain peace and security? Achieve unity while respecting diversity? Survive a seductive secular culture?

From my perspective, paradoxes cast a shadow of uneasiness over Passover and Easter. Yet what better time to recommit to respecting the integrity of every human being.

To all observing Passover, Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday). To all celebrating Easter, may you find renewed joy and love. To everyone: Peace be upon you.

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BIBI, AGAIN

Israelis have given Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu a fifth term. Last Tuesday, his Likud party won 36 of the Knesset’s (parliament’s) 120 seats, main rival Blue & White 35. President Reuven Rivlin will call on Bibi to form a coalition government. So?

Bibi was all about security and Israel as a Jewish state. Last weekend, he promised to extend Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank. That would kill a two-state solution. (Disclosure: It’s long been dead. The Palestinian “right to return” would upend the Israeli nation.)

My cousin Lisa Bennett, who lives in a Tel Aviv suburb, supported her cousin Naftali Bennett’s New Right party. She comments: “The biggest Israeli dilemma is defining the core values of the country.” The overwhelming consensus: Israel should be Jewish and democratic. But what if only one value can be selected? “Ultimately, the majority of the country feels that being a Jewish state remains our top priority.”

Bibi received support from Donald Trump, whom many Israelis love. Trump’s soon-to-be-revealed peace plan, authored by son-in-law Jared Kushner, supposedly will herald a great new era in Israeli-Palestinian relations. (Disclosure: Not likely.)

A week ago, Trump made a “snap decision” to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, taken from Syria during 1967’s Six-Day War. Syrian artillery looked down on Israel’s Hula Valley and fired at will on Israeli towns and roads. The threat from Syrian and Iranian forces would be intolerable. 

But recognizing Israeli occupation of the Golan pending a peace deal with Syria—how will that happen?— is a far cry from making a diplomatic leap regarding sovereignty and igniting the next potential firestorm. More than a self-professed “instant history lesson” is required for an American president to construct a Middle East policy.

As to Netanyahu, the Israeli journalist Shmuel Rosner points out that Bibi has never been wrong about security issues. For example, he opposed pulling out of Gaza. (Disclosure: I did not.) Israelis acknowledge Bibi’s security bona fides, and “this goes not just for voters for the Likud party, or even the right-wing parties that are expected to join Likud in the next government, but even for Blue and White, which largely echoed Mr. Netanyahu’s positions on important foreign policy and national security questions.”

Still, Israelis dislike much about Netanyahu. He may be indicted by attorney general Avichai Mandelblit on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He allied with racist parties and is outspoken in his attacks on Israeli Arabs. And security may be more challenging than Israelis think. The journalist Ari Shavit warns that Bibi has “provided short-term profits at a very high long-term price. Netanyahu’s Israel is mortgaged. And we are going to pay dearly.”

Democracy, as Lisa hints, may be a casualty if Bibi continues attacking Israel’s supreme court and media. His wooing far-right and ultra-orthodox parties positions non-orthodox Jews in Israel and the Diaspora—definitely including women—as second-class. (Disclosure: That includes me as a member of a Reform congregation; the Reform movement is North America’s largest.) All this could widen the pronounced gap between Israel and a significant part of the American Diaspora, often misinformed but legitimately concerned about the rights of Jews—and Arabs. 

So Bibi marches on. My prayer: He won’t march Israel off the end of a cliff.

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UNTRUTHS VS. LIES

Social scientist Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, recently appeared on NPR’s “Morning Edition” to present strategies for speaking to people with different opinions. What he didn’t say also offers much to think about.

Promoting his new book, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt, Brooks advised, “When you’re talking to somebody else, you’re not positioned to say that that person is a pathological liar. What you know, or what you believe, is that person is saying something untrue—and that’s what you should take on.”

In forsaking personal attacks, Brooks cited NYU’s Jonathan Haidt on two values that might draw us closer together: compassion and fairness.“We don’t define those things in the same way,” Brooks warned, “but we care about those things.” Brooks also acknowledged that conservatives and liberals have different moral foundations. His endgame regarding discussing—and arguing: Listen to the other person then let compassion and fairness perhaps lead to common ground.

It’s important to listen to those with whom we disagree and acknowledge what they’re saying. Of course, listening doesn’t mean agreeing. But it can reduce some of the pent-up rage in the other person, who may see you as foolish, unpatriotic, maybe evil. Letting someone else get their words out—even vitriolic words—can be like releasing air from a balloon inflated to the point of bursting. Also, the active listener becomes better informed about the opposing position. You can’t advance your own position without a clear sense of what another believes and on what values they draw their position.

So you listen. You acknowledge. But still, things often get sticky. What happens when the other guy distorts or ignores provable facts, or proposes non-facts? Can you use the “L” word? 

Granted, your opponent may simply be misinformed and utter an untruth. That’s easy enough to do. How many times has any of us mentioned a movie with an actor who never appeared in it or a sports statistic we didn’t get right? Some people—some—will acknowledge an untruth when it’s pointed out. Facts often can easily be arrived at. A smart phone makes a great starting point.

But your opponent—or someone she supports—may, yes, lie. The difference? An untruth represents a lack of knowledge through error or ignorance. No harm may be intended. A lie involves deliberation, falsifying fact and truth, usually to seek some advantage. 

Liars, knowing they haven’t an objective leg to stand on, often fall back on a murky right to their own alternate reality. The crowd at your inauguration was the largest ever or the Mueller Report completely exonerated you as long as you believe it. Fact loses any relationship to demonstrable reality. George Orwell presented an authoritarian government’s concept of fact and truth in his classic novel 1984: Black is white and white is black.

Re Brooks, can you really love your enemies when they scorn reality and objective truth? Of course, using enemy to describe those with whom we disagree creates a toxic political climate preventing reasonable solutions. At the same time, enemy may be an apt term for those who deny facts. We can love them only if we’re hellbent on committing physical or national suicide.

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AFTER MUELLER—WHAT?

Attorney General William Barr recently reviewed Special Commissioner Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Some Americans believe that Barr’s four-page letter to Congressional leaders provides satisfactory answers. Given that Mueller’s report exceeds 300 pages, I have questions.

I note first that a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday reveals that 84 percent of respondents want the report made public. Also, 75 percent of Republicans surveyed favor the report’s release.

As to the attorney general’s letter, Barr declared that Mueller saw no collusion by Donald Trump. Yet Barr wrote that Mueller “did not draw a conclusion — one way or the other — as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction” and quotes Mueller that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Barr also writes, “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.” Barr states that such proof must be beyond a reasonable doubt. All well and good. That’s our legal system.

But why did Trump refuse to acknowledge American intelligence and security agencies’ findings that Russia manipulated social media and stole Democrat emails? He conjectured that the culprit might have been a 400-pound guy in a New Jersey basement. The joke was ill-conceived.

Why did Trump, on national TV, ask Russia to provide Hillary Clinton’s missing 30,000 emails? Another joke? If so, it was on the American people. Presidential candidates know—or should—when such “levity” is totally inappropriate. And why did Trump later accept Vladimir Putin’s word that Russia had not engaged in nefarious activities, again throwing U.S. intelligence and security professionals under the bus?

I can think of two reasons. 

First, Trump couldn’t stomach the thought that Russian interference might tarnish his “overwhelming” victory (with 46.1 percent of the popular vote; Barack Obama had 52.9 in 2008, 51.1 in 2012). Did Russia give Trump his victory in the Electoral College? We’ll never know. But Hillary Clinton topped Trump by three million votes. Trump claimed fraud—as he claimed his inauguration crowd was bigger than Obama’s. Lies. 

Second, Trump didn’t want to upset business relationships in Russia. During the campaign, he said he had no business with Russia. Another lie. Trump representatives discussed a Trump Tower project in Moscow before, during and even after the campaign. Aside from the Miss Universe contest, did Trump have other dealings with Russia? If so, did some or all violate U.S. law? We’ll see where other investigations lead.

Until the full report becomes public, we have no idea just how unethical—if not illegal—Trump’s position on Russia has been. But if legal standards for criminal prosecution are high, so should be the moral/ethical standards of a president. 

The Talmud (Yevamot 121b) states that God is most feared by those nearest to Him—the righteous—because He is more exacting of them. Leaders are held to a higher standard. 

Whatever the Mueller report states, Donald Trump has demonstrated a clear failure to uphold the standards expected of leaders and continually demonstrated his contempt for the United States. The Mueller report will never clear him of remaining mired mouth-deep in the swamp he promised to drain.  

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LARRY

I lost my friend Larry Raphael last Sunday. I’m writing about Larry because he deserves it—and I need to.

Larry became Congregation Sherith Israel’s senior rabbi in July 2003 after three decades at Hebrew Union College in New York. It was his first pulpit. He was ready. A dedicated and accomplished teacher, Larry immediately led Torah Study Saturday mornings before services. Several friends and I were regulars. We loved it. A bond formed. After a while, Larry asked me to lead the group when he had to be away. I was honored.

Larry taught evening courses about various subjects. The classes were great, including those on one of his passions, Jewish mystery and detective stories. He’d edited two volumes. Larry never displayed an ego and encouraged everyone’s opinions. 

Occasionally, Larry joined some of us for dinner before class or for lunch after teaching Talmud downtown—another great success. Discussions covered many topics, including baseball—another passion (he also loved photography). The two of us started going to lunch and did so monthly after he retired in 2016. Occasionally, we’d go to a Giants game. When he left his seat, I filled in his scorecard. 

Larry was a private person and I’m an introvert, but we shared stories—he loved stories—about our families, congregations he served part-time in retirement, my writing. He related travels in Europe, Israel and Guatemala, as well as living in Brooklyn—we had a mutual friend there—and growing up in Los Angeles. I detailed growing up in Queens, army service, Texas, travels in Europe and Asia, and caught him up on Carolyn and our kids.

Larry wrote a column for the Sherith Israel newsletter, which I co-edited. When he was busy, including fundraising for our successful $16 million seismic retrofit, I’d suggest ideas and write first drafts. “I couldn’t have written it better myself,” he’d say. “But you did,” I’d answer. “I’m only channeling you since you taught this idea and we talked about it.” Larry’s trust meant so much to me.

At my request, Larry wrote a blurb for the cover of my 2009 book, God’s Others: Non-Israelites’ Encounters With God in the Hebrew Bible. I’m not a rabbi or academic, but Larry read some of the manuscript and responded, “Great. What would you like me to say?” 

Let me get one thing straight. Although soft-spoken, Larry was nobody’s fool. He could get angry with those who acted badly. But he was incredibly welcoming to everyone who came to Sherith Israel and people he met elsewhere. He also was a wizard at remembering names. (I’m terrible at it.) He could have created a memory act for Las Vegas. 

Larry spent most of the last three-plus months in the hospital and rehab facilities, so we chatted periodically on the phone. He gave me some details on his illness, but I emphasized my calls as “Hi, we’re all thinking of you” moments. We hoped to have one last get-together. It didn’t work out. 

I don’t regret not having a final in-person goodbye. The end of a life doesn’t define a person or a friendship. What counts is all that takes place in the years before. Larry inspired so many students—rabbinical and lay—congregants, more than 50 converts, and me. His memory is a blessing. 

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