In the mid-1980s, film director David Lynch released his best-known movie, “Blue Velvet.” I’d not seen his previous films and held no expectations as I sat watching a tableau of a sunny, suburban world unfold on the screen.
Beginning like a light-hearted Disney confection, he drew his audience in so skillfully it took longer than it should to realize we were absorbed in a horror movie. You want to look away but you can’t; he’s got you. Lynch was nominated for an Academy Award and the American Film Institute lauded it as one of the best of its genre. For me it was the kind of film that leaves your head in a fog for days afterward. You walk around taking in what appears normal, but not trusting it for sure.
Last week, life imitated art on Capitol Hill.
I thought a lot about “Blue Velvet” the day after Attorney General William Barr’s testimony to the Senate about the results of Robert Mueller’s inquiry into our president’s coziness with Russians and his suspected ploys to hinder that investigation. The hearing began normally enough with all the familiar trappings in place: somber faces, dark wooden fixtures, briefcases and scattered papers, microphones. Congress at work.
Then there was Bill Barr looking like an avuncular, jowly professor, fit for his role as the highest sheriff we have.
As the questions came the facade of normalcy gave way to a tone of cagey avoidance. Barr’s feedback about the investigation, seemingly freeing President Donald Trump of any wrongdoing, was proved a whitewash — more public relations ploy than a true rendering of the findings. What Mueller’s report really said was that, while conspiracy with Russia was not certain, many pieces of evidence pointed to Trump’s deception in matters of obstruction. Mueller found that Barr “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions.”
After this whopper was laid bare he was caught in two more lies involving his knowledge of Mueller’s disapproval. Looking more like a crime boss every minute, the tension in the chamber was high. But the real horror was coming: Barr was finally put to admit his belief that our president should have the power to pre-empt both the judicial and legislative branches and curtail any legal inquiry he deems unworthy. In other words, matters of justice should not be in the hands of the people or the courts, but controlled by a president with expanded, near imperial, reach.
This was a truly shocking revelation, at odds with the very core of the balance of powers principle in the Constitution.
After watching this, that queasy “Blue Velvet” feeling was back. As former FBI director James Comey has just warned, around the placid edges, monsters may emerge to feast on souls.
Barr’s impeachment should come swiftly. Further, we should tame and shame any who challenge this principle and think they are above the law. Our imperiled Constitution must be defended.