A black-and-white photograph from 1962 shows special counsel Robert S. Mueller III when he was a student at the St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H.
It’s a hockey-team photo. Mueller, dark-haired number 12, sits front row, close to the center. He’s in skates and pads, unhelmeted. There’s nothing adolescent about him: no acne, no fluster, no artificiality. It should be said that he is extremely handsome.
God, I hate that guy. One of those smug boarding-school elites for whom the words “popular” and “athletic” are too shabby and public-school, muscular little barons on ice who become Republicans and Purple Hearts and FBI counter-terrorism experts. Everyone they know from childhood becomes a senator — oh look, former Secretary of State John F. Kerry is to Mueller’s left in the hockey photo.
I do hate that guy, don’t I? And not hate like secretly pine for. I know there’s a move among liberal women to romanticize Mueller, and make kitsch of him as a savior. That seems wrong; we’re a democracy, and any kind of worship too closely mirrors the cult of Trump.
But even though Mueller doesn’t look like a Prince Charming to me, I must admit that I don’t begrudge him his maleness and privilege anymore. Whatever resentment I had toward his caste has vanished. And not just because Mueller is an enemy of my enemy.
It’s because he belongs to the informal political party I most admire: the disciplined.
If the future is female and pluralist, it’s also true that Mueller and other men like him are enjoying a heyday. They’ve been crucial to the effort to bring Trump to justice and check his despotic, anti-American instincts, undemocratic. I offer one cheer, then — aw, let’s give them three — for white male traditionalists.
Liberals can’t change the country’s course alone. It’s ingrained in people of color and women to regard institutions — universities, marriage, family, government, corporations, law enforcement, banks, the military — with skepticism and even suspicion.
But white men of both privilege and legitimate accomplishment — like Mueller and James Clapper and John Brennan and James B. Comey — have a sanguine and vigorous relationship with institutions.
They’re at ease in the halls (and hockey rinks) of power. Right now, American institutions are occupied by pretenders who may yet devastate them. We need white men like Mueller who speak without irony of justice and honor and the Marine Corps.
We’re in this together.
It’s simple: whatever political flag they fly, everyone in the U.S. who has a regular job, pays ordinary bills and taxes, has served time in the military or on a serious sports team, or has a traditional college education has a quality — discipline— that the unmoored, unfocused Trumpites lack.
The complaints about Trump from white veterans in the heartland and black lawyers in Boston are similar: Where is his discipline?
Has he ever once gotten up to make the bed, do jujitsu, care for a baby, or punch the clock at a retail or teaching job?
Of course not.
What about the whole network of people now coming to light — the ones who dodge drafts and taxes and cheat on tests and wives — and who, further, cover for the whole fraternity of dodgers and cheaters who bank offshore and commit creepy crimes and exist from lawsuit to lawsuit, TV appearance to TV appearance?
Military distinction, family values, altruism, bedrock religious faith, honor. That Mueller stuff — plenty annoying to me for most of my life — has been superseded by decadence, venality, indecency, dishonor.
“Manly” conveys “virtue,” from the Latin vir for man. But Trump’s Republican Party also doesn’t seem very — manly: Trump’s cosmetics and coif, Paul Manafort’s preening, Rudy Giuliani’s burlesque, Steve Bannon’s instability.
I hated the classic man-of-honor stuff. I hated it until, around autumn of 2016, it became gravely endangered.
Think of a private school that stands for stratospheric elitism: Exeter? Andover? Eton? As a public-school kid growing up in New Hampshire, I thought St. Paul’s made them all look crass. Like Atlantic City. Like off-the-rack clothes of Ralph Lauren.
The kids at St. Paul’s have an official School Prayer, for heaven’s sake, which reminds them to “bear the burdens of others.”
I don’t roll my eyes so much at that high moral tone these days.
The office of the special counsel includes highly disciplined attorneys such as Jeannie Rhee, Zainab Ahmad and Uzo Asonye. Check their resumés: These figures have spent their lives working hard and playing by the rules. In valuing discipline, they resemble the vast majority of Americans, whether our discipline is acquired in the military, the classroom, or the 8-to-6 job.
Who would have expected that all of us with discipline, whatever our politics, might find common ground with some clean-cut elite patrician boarding-school boys, who have pledged to bear the burdens of others?
It’s almost as if we could all be part of some new American dream, up early for rink time, suited up, shooting on the same goal.