Chelsea-Don Jr

 What if Chelsea Clinton had done it?

What if the daughter of 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton had met with someone representing a hostile foreign power who wanted to give her dirt on her mother’s political opponent? What if she had said, “I love it!” at the prospect of getting this dirt? What if she then concealed evidence of the meeting — lied about it, in fact — and then changed her story about the meeting three times in as many days, implicating presidential aides and even the president himself in potential cover-up as she did so?

Would all the folks trying to come up with half-fast excuses for Donald Trump Jr.’s evasions and derelictions be as willing to say, “Move along, there’s nothing to see here,” if the younger Clinton had done what he had done?

I doubt it.

Somehow, I suspect the crowd that used to use the word “Benghazi” as punctuation for four years would be screaming that hanging would be too good for Chelsea if she’d handled things the way Don Jr. has.

One of the distressing things about this age in our history is the willingness — no, eagerness — to run our notions of right and wrong through a partisan filter. Actions or behavior we excoriate in people who wear a different jersey than we do we are happy to excuse on the part of those who think or vote our way.

I’m not blaming Donald Trump for this development — at least, not exclusively.

Not long ago, I talked with Peter Rusthoven, who served as associate counsel in President Ronald Reagan’s White House and was a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1998. Rusthoven and I don’t agree on everything, but I’ve always found him to be a thoughtful, principled guy.

As we dissected President Trump’s travails regarding Russia, Rusthoven harkened back to the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Rusthoven recalled an essay written by the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D- New York, called “Defining Deviancy Down.”

Rusthoven’s argument, drawn from Moynihan’s thought, was that, prodded by ideological and political allegiances, we have stretched the boundaries of what’s considered tolerable, even acceptable, behavior. He said it troubles him to have a president, Republican or Democrat, commit perjury or break the law that he or she is sworn to uphold and enforce.

Rusthoven has a point.

Perhaps it is appropriate that the Trumps and the Clintons now will be linked forever in the history books.

In some ways, Donald Trump is the Republicans’ version of Bill Clinton — a figure of prodigious natural political gifts who has all the personal discipline of a rabid Rottweiler.

Because of that, Trump’s presidency, like Clinton’s, now promises to be a non-stop political scary amusement park ride, one in which the country veers and careens from one predictable, even avoidable, crisis to another and everyone, fan and foe alike, emerges from the experience exhausted.

Six years into Bill Clinton’s presidency, people started talking about “Clinton fatigue.” We’re only six months into Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House, but the phrase “Trump fatigue” already is becoming fashionable.

The only way out of our current dysfunction is to look at events through a clearer, less filtered lens. We need to make the act, not the person who commits it, the focus of our attention.

Trump’s partisans should ask themselves if they would be so forgiving if one of the Clintons had done what he and his family have done.

And the Trump haters out there ought to consider whether they would be outraged by this president’s conduct if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama had done something similar.

If the answer to those questions is no — well, then, you probably ought to ask yourself another question.

Are you part of the solution?

Or just another part of the problem?

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.


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