One element lacking from media coverage of the investigation into the Trump campaign's possible collusion with Russia is historical perspective (breathless comparisons to Watergate aside). On Tuesday, however, some perspective was injected into the discussion from an unlikely source.
In his New York Times column, staunch Trump critic David Brooks drew on his experiences in the press during the Clinton-era Whitewater scandal to argue the evidence against the Trump campaign, at least so far, is comparatively weak.
"I was the op-ed editor at The Wall Street Journal at the peak of the Whitewater scandal," Brooks wrote. "We ran a series of investigative pieces ‘raising serious questions' (as we say in the scandal business) about the nefarious things the Clintons were thought to have done back in Arkansas."
Recalling "the intense atmosphere that the scandal created," Brooks reminded readers that "a series of bombshell revelations came out in the media, which seemed monumental at the time."
"A special prosecutor was appointed and indictments were expected," he continued, "Speculation became the national sport."
Those reflections on the investigations into the Clinton family lead Brooks to his surprising conclusion.
"At least so far," he argued, "the Whitewater scandal was far more substantive than the Russia-collusion scandal now gripping Washington."
"There may be a giant revelation still to come," Brooks conceded, "But as the Trump-Russia story has evolved, it is striking how little evidence there is that any underlying crime occurred — that there was any actual collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russians."
Brooks took his argument further, arguing that even Abraham Lincoln, if subjected to a "democratically unsupervised, infinitely financed team of prosecutors" who are given "the power to subpoena his staff and look under any related or unrelated rock in an attempt to bring him down" may have lashed out.
More broadly, Brooks framed the investigation as a consequence of the "politics of scandal," which, as he sees it, is increasingly replacing the "politics of democracy." Those who hype the latter, including Trump and his Russia-obsessed detractors, Brooks writes, "deserve some of the blame for an administration and government too distracted to do its job, for a political culture that is both shallower and nastier, and for fostering a process that looks like an elite game of entrapment."
It is understandably easy for people in both parties to get whipped into a frenzy and dive deep into the daily battle over leaks and tweets, rendered free of perspective with little time to pause between breaking news items. But that even David Brooks, a man who wrote a column earlier this month titled "Donald Trump Poisons the World," can take a breath and reflect rationally on the relative significance of the evidence, should move others to do the same.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.