Robert Mueller as a Savior Ent?

Treebeard, a primal force for justice


With every day that passes, we learn more about the different ways that Russia attacked and compromised the 2016 election. As The New York Times summed it up yesterday, their campaign involved

hacking and leaking Democratic emails, pushing false information on Russian media outlets, gaining access to state and local electoral boards, and using social media to disseminate misinformation.

Since “Russian trolls” played a role in that misinformation, I turn to another battle involving trolls. Strictly speaking, Tolkien’s Battle of Helm’s Deep involves goblin Orcs, not trolls, but that’s close enough for our purposes. Think of the garrison’s warriors as the embattled defenders of democracy while Vladimir Putin—with some inside help—sends wave after wave of troll bots to breach the wall.

The parallel even has a historical basis. Tolkien modeled Saruman on Stalin, whose non-aggression pact with Hitler shows up in Saruman’s arrangement with Sauron.

Those defending the bastion are a multicultural coalition of men, dwarfs, elves, wizards, and—at the last moment—walking trees. Let’s say their motto is “e pluribus unum.” The dwarf-elf coalition is particularly striking since the two races have traditionally been antagonistic.

At first glance, it appears that the forces of good don’t stand a chance. For one things, the Russians Orcs have insider friends who have colluded so the enemy knows where to strike:

‘Trust not to secret ways,’ said the king. ‘Saruman has long spied out this land.

But what Gimli says of Helm’s Deep could also be said of American democracy:

‘This is more to my liking,’ said the dwarf, stamping on the stones. ‘Ever my heart rises as we draw near the mountains. There is good rock here. This country has tough bones.”

American democracy must have tough bones to resist what is being thrown against it. As noted by counterterrorism expert Malcom Nance, author of The Plot to Hack America, Russian intelligence carried off “nothing short of the most successful operation in their history.”

The assault on Helm’s Deep is similarly dramatic:

Suddenly the clouds were seared by a blinding flash. Branched lightning smote down upon the eastward hills. For a staring moment the watchers on the walls saw all the space between them and the Dike lit with white light: it was boiling and crawling with black shapes. some squat and broad, some tall and grim, with high helms and sable shields. Hundreds and hundreds more were pouring over the Dike and through the breach. The dark tide flowed up to the walls from cliff to cliff. Thunder rolled in the valley. Rain came lashing down.

Sadly, the Russian Orcs succeeded, installing their preferred candidate on the throne. Perhaps we can at least take heart from the fact that, in Lord of the Rings, Helm’s Deep stands strong. Decisive action and the appearance of the Ents preserve it:

Down through the breach of the Dike charged the king’s company. Down from the hills leaped Erkenbrand, lord of Westfold. Down leaped Shadowfax, like a deer that runs surefooted in the mountains. The White Rider was upon them, and the terror of his coming filled the enemy with madness. The wild men fell on their faces before him. The Orcs reeled and screamed and cast aside both sword and spear. Like a black smoke driven by a mounting wind they fled. Wailing they passed under the waiting shadow of the trees; and from that shadow none ever came again.

We must now turn our attention to our own Orcs, which is to say Trump and his allies in Congress and the rightwing media. The situation looks as bad as it did to the wall’s defenders. Only the most optimistic amongst us thinks that the Resistance can stop their advance, at least before the 2018 election.

Instead, we must hope that our version of the Ents shows up–which is to say Special Counsel Robert Mueller. And indeed the trees do have similarities to the rule of law, representing “not wizardry, but a power far older”:

Ere iron was found or tree was hewn,
When young was mountain under moon;
Ere ring was made, or wrought was woe,
It walked the forests long ago.

Dare we think of the Ents here as the foundations of democracy, so ancient and revered that they can withstand authoritarian assaults?

Can you believe we are having this conversation?

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