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Home POLITICS How Ken Starr's moralism helped give us Donald Trump

How Ken Starr’s moralism helped give us Donald Trump

Ambivalent or not, Starr made an irrevocable decision in the 1990s when he accepted assignment as a freelance attorney: His storied reputation would revolve primarily around his deadly conflict with Bill Clinton.

Clinton won the political and legal contest in the 1990s, albeit at considerable cost to his second-term agenda, his hopes that his vice president would succeed him, and his personal reputation. On the occasion of Starr’s death, and taking stock of what has happened in the decades since the impeachment drama of 1998 and early 1999, it is clear that Clinton is also winning the historic race, though once again she has left scars along the way.

In 2004, Clinton opened his presidential library and museum in Little Rock, Ark. The exhibit dealing with his affair with former intern Monica Lewinsky and the subsequent indictment drew many laughs and blank stares. The exhibit was titled “The Struggle for Power” and featured Clinton’s role as a courageous figure waging a fight on behalf of the Constitution. To the eye-rolls and giggles, this seemed like a rather grandiose way of describing Clinton’s effort to escape the worst consequences of an extramarital affair.

The passage of time alters prevailing perceptions and values ​​that inform those perceptions. The #MeToo movement made people take Clinton’s personal transgressions more seriously: It wasn’t just an extramarital affair, but a relationship with fundamentally inappropriate power dynamics. At the same time, Clinton’s defense must also be taken more seriously.

A power struggle, rather than a struggle over principle, now seems precisely the correct way to describe Starr’s pursuit of Clinton and the impeachment trial that followed. The prosecutor delivered to a GOP-controlled Congress a lengthy report that reads to people of a certain generation like a letter to the Penthouse Forum. Starr’s team insisted that the report include pornographic details, theorizing that this was the best way to capture Clinton’s true character and shock the public into complacency.

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be a dividing line between a conservative movement and many people in that movement, like Newt Gingrich, who applauded the Starr campaign and denounced Clinton’s alleged sullying of “the dignity of the Oval Office,” but who they are ready to defend and celebrate Donald Trump’s debauchery, his deception, and his claims that the presidency, or at least his presidency, is a law unto itself.

But one does not need to squint to find that line. The link between Starr and Trump, between the sanctimonious moralist and the cynical scoundrel, is how one of the most common human emotions, contempt for adversaries, became the animating force in our political culture.

What was missing from Starr’s research was proportion or detachment. Instead of enforcing the principle that presidents are not above the law, his effort was to spend tens of millions of dollars wandering through countless legal caves precisely because Clinton was president and his team hated him. As Brett Kavanaugh, who 20 years later was Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court but later a young Starr aide, put it in an internal memo: “It may not be our job to impose sanctions on him, but it is our job to make his pattern clear.” of disgusting behavior, painful piece by piece.”

By most accounts, Starr wasn’t a hypocrite, in the sense of saying or doing things he didn’t really believe. Instead, he seemed then and later to have a great capacity for self-righteousness and self-righteousness. This gave him a fervor of faith in whatever circumstances he found himself. This combined with an easy mind that he could build foundations to reconcile seemingly incongruous positions. The independent lawyer later opposed the extension of the law creating independent lawyers. The prosecutor who gave Republicans the basis to indict Clinton later lamented the casual use of the indictment and joined the defense team for Trump’s first indictment.

Starr was certainly sincere in his belief that the American style of government requires accountability within a constitutional framework. But the kind of contempt-driven politics he facilitated, whether he himself was a devotee or not, leads to the opposite result. Accountability becomes impossible in a political culture where everything comes down to guns or shields, and a politician can escape consequences as long as he can rally aggrieved supporters.

Eventually, like many moralists, Starr was knocked off his horse. He resigned from his position as president of Baylor University following allegations that he had mishandled reports of rape by football players.

During Clinton’s impeachment trial, Trump called Starr a “lunatic.” This week, Trump praised Starr as a “true American patriot” who helped Trump in his battles against “fascists and other mentally ill people.”

Bill Clinton, by contrast, issued no statement, which in its own way said a lot.

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