The Twilight of Character

Author: Gary Hart

Robert Mueller is an increasingly rare figure.  Were he to have been portrayed in a movie, it would have to have been by Gary Cooper.  And that’s the point.  Gary Cooper is gone, and so are figures like him and like Mueller.


Consider the qualities of the type.  Taciturn.  Quiet.  Straightforward.  Direct.  Undramatic (and therefore dramatic).  Dependable.  Resolute.  Honest.  Guileless.  Stern.

Movies have become silly cartoons.  And so have politics.

There are no roles for Cooper.  And the Administration tried to eliminate Mueller’s role as well as roles for anyone like him.

Watching Mueller testify was painful.  He wouldn’t say what Democrats wanted him to say.  He had to tolerate the petty rants of Republicans a third his size.

Little wonder that men and women of quality are avoiding public service.  It is an invitation to be demeaned by little people.

To become a hero to the Republican “base” requires surrender of character and integrity.  To refuse to surrender is to invite sacrifice of dignity and to being trampled to death by geese.

Throughout the life of most of us, that is to say until recent times, there were figures of stature and dignity in public life, in the Congress and in the White House.  They were respected because they earned respect by their conduct.

I was honored to serve with many of them.

No longer.

Rewards go to the clowns, the ranters, the silly posturers, the egoists, and the self-promoters.

Robert Mueller is from that earlier, better era.  Dignified.  Self-contained.  And, though he expected the worst, clearly dismayed if not also stunned by the behavior of the pygmies shouting at him.

As a friend points out, it is no accident that the Mueller clash of cultures occurs at a time when facts and truth are being dementedly eliminated from the public dialogue.

He deserved better.  We all deserve better.

Western society and culture are witnessing the disappearance of statesmen and women and their replacement by figures of much smaller stature.  Though this began some time ago, it seems to have happened too quickly for thoughtful analysis as to how and why.

The rabid treatment Mueller experienced is the result of a wholesale conversion of the Republican party of the past to the Trump party of today.  History suggests it will require years if not decades of struggle to reconstitute the party to which Mueller belonged throughout his life.  It may not happen.

Having failed to do what Democrats wanted and having told the truth about the Trump autocracy’s dismissal of the rule of law, Robert Mueller may now retire to the quiet life he seems to desire.

He will not wait for invitations to White House dinners, if nothing else because they too seem to have disappeared with most of our best traditions.  And he will not receive, though he has richly deserved, medals of honor and freedom for service to his country.

Where has Gary Cooper gone?

We may not see the likes of Robert Mueller again for a very long time.




6 Responses to “The Twilight of Character”

  1. Brian C. McCarthy Says:


    I may have said this before in response to prior blogs, but I think the displacement of statesmen by—as you rightly called them—clowns, is a product of the rapid development of alternative news sources. We no longer get our news from established, responsible sources like Walter Cronkite and the New York Times: sources that have to be approachable by and accessible to the vast majority of Americans. Everyone can seemingly get their news from sources that will tell them only the news they want to hear and the commentary that will not challenge their own point of view, such as cable news networks that are clearly biased for one side or the other or websites like the Drudge Report. Candidates for public office who embrace living in a media fishbowl are bound to lack a certain measure of dignity and know they can best succeed not by appealing to an informed center, but by pandering to an ideologically polar base. This is as true of some Democrats as it is of Trump himself or the Tea Party Republicans of a few years ago. (Come to think of it, no one mentions the Tea Party anymore, likely because far right extremists have become the rule, rather than the exception.)

    A friend of mine was among the Justice Department attorneys working on the Mueller team. Her first-hand reports of him are completely consistent with your description. Unfortunately, the current environment does not reward the dignified and reserved.


  2. Michael Says:

    Mueller is unquestionably an American patriot. But I have the feeling that neither he, nor Pelosi or Jerrold Nadler (whose district I live in and for whom I have always been proud to vote for) really understand the new political world in which we find ourselves. They don’t seem to realize that the Republicans are not a normally-functioning political party anymore. That there is no bottom; no level to which they refuse to stoop in order to hold onto power; to create an American oligarchy comparable to that which exists in Russia, and to whom they have sold their souls. They will stop at nothing to keep the American majority from governing the way it wants to. I don’t know exactly when the descent began. Maybe it was when the Republicans began treating Reaganomics as a religion for which anyone questioning its validity was an un-American heretic. After that it didn’t take long for Republicans to treat anyone who wasn’t one of them, any Democratic president, as equally un-American and illegitimate. The fragmentation of the media landscape is also to blame. But Democrats, the news media, and Americans generally, need to wake up to the fact that we are living in an era where we are perpetually just one election away from a quick plunge into authoritarianism. That “looking forward and not back” equals appeasement of criminal behavior and only ensures more criminal behavior. There are no more standards and may never be until the Republican Party suffers defeats so devastating that its survival hinges on going back to an earlier time. But ‘sternly-worded letters’ are meaningless when subpoenas are routinely ignored. Timid ruling by polls instead of leading public opinion and “staying within the four-corners” of an investigation’s report on grounds of principle are a recipe for disaster.

  3. Gary Hart Says:

    Michael’s comment is sobering in the extreme. If his analysis is accurate, and I’m not YET prepared to accept it, it represents a fundamental alteration of American politics and therefore America itself. Unquestionably, Trump has kidnapped the traditional Republican party and is well down the road to altering the accepted norms of political behavior and of our society as well. All in just two years plus. No question the path to orthodoxy imposed on a party began under Reagan. Bannon & Co. have ramped it up by orders of magnitude. Pelosi knows what she is doing. Don’t strike the king unless you have the goods. Trump, post a failed impeachment, will break all the crockery in the White House and the “base” horde will be in the streets. It is not only the Republican party cowering in fear. It is much of civil society. Remember Hadleyville in High Noon. They all hid in the church and if they had had a Wall Street, it would have been in there with them. Time to stay alert. GH


    A personal as well as political analysis that is very poignant.

    I too, thirty years younger than our host, a few generations so, than the great star, am a big admirer of Gary Cooper. My Italian father had passed this affection to me. He, as a boy growing up in the Mussolini Youth, saluted Il Duce in person, but went on to assist the Partisans. He, as a new immigrant a a young man in London, saw Gary Cooper, his hero, on the streets, recognised him by his particular walk, and followed him but was too private or reserved to speak to his favourite actor.

    Cooper was of course a libertarian rather right wing on some issues. A Republican yes, but one of integrity. He did not for example, agree with the principle or lack of, to name names in the witchunt era. He defended the right to support Communism even if he detested it.As a man his love life was utterly confused and borderline reckless, but his lack of resistance for woman, led to much in the way of conscience and a troubled marriage to a woman he did love. Nobody seemed to have anything but nice things to say about him. As an actor every performance holds up. Within the limits of endlessly being subtle, his is actually a degree of versatility, for he is as good in modern stories as westerns, as good at comedy as drama. High Noon is but one of many of his films that are timeless. In the Hanging Tree, his similar character is more dark and even more powerful .

    The subject of this piece, this excellent allegory with the good man who has just disappointed Democrats and offended Republicans, is apposite and affecting.

    Stewart, Fonda, Peck, Redford, the cinema has several who could play this kind of role.Cooper is the best choice.

    Despairing as I have , about the leftward drift of the Democrats on some conscience issues, our host encouraged me ” do not be sad, Lorenzo,” explanation following as to the variety of views yet in that great party.

    Thirty years your junior, Senator, I do that for you now. Do not be sad, there are varieties of principled folk in politics, to view. You might not see them, they are not all well known. But any of us in political activity, add to their and our, being able to promote, principle, rather than merely the powerful.

    I would otherwise only, rather than, partly, concentrate my own interest, on the performing arts.

  5. Stephen Pillow Says:

    Unfortunately, Senator Hart, I have to agree with Michael’s comment. He has expressed my own sentiments much better than I have ever been able to on this unbearable situation within the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and our government as a whole. I fear that this next general election will be a major pivot point in our nation’s life. If the Republican dismantling of our Constitution, government, and our liberties, is not stopped and wiped out completely, this nation is doomed to oblivion. The “American oligarchy”, of which Michael speaks, is already a reality in structure and fact. It controls the Republican Party, has significant inroads into the Democratic Party, and is willing to do anything to maintain its control of our government.

    Look at the United States Senate. The Mueller Report stated emphatically that Russia through its government agents interfered with our 2016 election to assist the current occupant of the White House win that election. It also stated that Russia is continuing to do the same with the upcoming election. All of our intelligence agencies agree with the Mueller Report in both instances.

    YET, the Republican Party Leader of the Senate refuses to allow two US House bill calling for a robust effort to stop the Russian interference with our electoral process to even be discussed on the floor of the Senate. This leads me to ask, “Is Mitch McConnell, acting as an unregistered agent of the Russian Federation, doing everything within his power to see that this same current occupant of the White House is re-elected by direction of the Leaders of the Russian Federation?”

  6. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    I prefer to share Senator Biden’s optimism.

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