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The Mueller Investigation Finds a Teachable Moment for Kids About Democracy

The Mueller investigation is finished and regardless of how parents feel about the results, they can use the report to reassure kids that systems work.

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Depending on political affiliation, politically-minded parents across America are either feeling dismayed or justified by the release of the largely toothless Mueller report. But as emotionally invested as some parents were in the findings of the special counsel, there’s a very measured and non-partisan lesson worth teaching kids at this inflection point in Trump’s chaotic presidency. The Mueller report shows, if nothing else, the mechanisms of democracy at work. Even as pundits fume or gloat on cable news, the system is proving out. Whatever happens next with Attorney General Anthony Barr, Americans can take comfort in the fact that the investigation was finished without apparent non-rhetorical interference.

That’s worth dwelling on if a kid asks — especially in light of President Trump’s bizarre victory tour in which he seems to have equated the investigation’s findings with both exoneration (not precisely) and conspiracy (absolutely not). The Mueller report represents normalcy and it’s worth highlighting at a time when nothing seems normal.

Donald Trump’s presidency has been something of a minefield for parents. Regardless of party affiliation, parents have spent the past two years having or avoiding difficult conversations. How do you explain pussy-grabbing to a curious kid? How do you talk about babies in cages or the vitriolic name calling? How do you explain the demonstrable lies? How do you explain that the other side loves America just as much? It’s tough.

Talking about what happened with Mueller isn’t tough. It will grow more complicated in the coming weeks because that’s what political narratives do now, but it’s still relatively straight ahead. Mueller investigated Trump and determined that many people close to him committed crimes but not that he did. That’s it. Regardless of one’s emotions about this outcome, this is a moment we can acknowledge that the fundamentals of self-governance are sound. The story of the Muelle investigation can be told in a series of simple, factual statements. And that’s good. Freaking out isn’t helping anyone — least of all the kids.

We have a system in the country that ensures alleged misdeeds will be investigated regardless of power or office. The president was accused of knowingly working with a foreign adversary to influence an American election. An independent investigator was allowed to look into the allegations for two years and found no proof that it didn’t happen. Yes, there were 37 indictments handed down along the way, but for curious kids, it’s enough to know that Mueller looked into a thing earnestly and reached a conclusion.

What’s remarkable is that the system seems to have worked reasonably well even at the center of a political tempest. Trump berated Mueller and called for him to be fired, but the special investigation did not trade in emotion or soundbites. He didn’t go on Twitter. The process moved forward and there wasn’t a violent coup. Civil servants are still a thing in America.

Is the story of the Mueller report over? Not by a long shot. The only insight we have into the conclusion is a brief, carefully worded summary written by Attorney General Barr. The battle for control of the narrative will continue as Congress mulls whether or not to press forward on a lingering question of the President obstructing justice in the investigation. But that’s as it should be as well. That’s how the system was built to work — slowly. Regardless of how exhausting the process may be to watch, the system is indeed working.

It’s important for kids to know that yes, American politics is bombastic, chaotic and sometimes even frightening. But the noise and wildness of politics should not be confused with our fundamentally boring and effective system of governance. The Mueller investigation has given us a glimpse of the foundation of our democracy and that foundation appears to be sound. Tell your kids about it.