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What is 'the politicking goes on' in Dothraki?

Trump, his critics and the Democrats disagree on whether it's 'game over' now that the Mueller report has found 'no collusion' - but this is only the first episode of the last season

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The fusion of a popular fantasy hit with one of America's most dramatic constitutional crises illustrates the growing symbiotic relationship between politics and entertainment.

LAST Thursday morning just as US Attorney-General William Barr was holding a press conference in Washington on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on the Russia investigation - in which he reiterated that the investigation found "no collusion" from the Trump campaign with Russia's election interference efforts in 2016, and explained that he did not decide to indict Donald Trump on obstruction charges - the president posted an image on his Twitter account inspired by the hit HBO series Game of Thrones.

"No collusion. No obstruction. For the haters and the radical left Democrats - game over", said the text on an image of Mr Trump staring into fog, his back turned. Evoked by the epic fantasy television spectacle, which kicked off its eighth and final season on April 14, the text closely matched the HBO show's signature font.

The message that the controversial president was sending to his fans was clear: I remain on the Throne and in control of Westeros. I am Jon Snow standing up to the Night King, who is leading all the forces of evil, including the Deep State, the Mainstream Media disseminating "fake news", the Democrats, liberals, socialists.

That was not the first time that President Trump, who apparently is a fan of the show, has used a meme inspired by the HBO hit phenomenon to deliver his political messages. Last November, a Trump post included the phrase "sanctions are coming" in relation to the scheduled curbs on Iran, and in a reference to the show's repeated catchphrase "winter is coming".

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After Mr Trump tweeted the "game over" meme, HBO shot back a statement, insisting that "though we can understand the enthusiasm for Game of Thrones now that the final season has arrived, we still prefer our intellectual property not be used for political purposes". Last November after the "sanctions are coming" post, HBO followed up with a tongue-in-cheek response: "How do you say trademark misuse in Dothraki?"

You do not have to be a marketing genius to figure out that notwithstanding HBO's criticism of Mr Trump's Game of Thrones-inspired memes, it recognises that the White House occupant is handing them free publicity. It is doubtful that the cable television network will sue Mr Trump for trademark infringement anytime soon.

In a way, that a hugely popular fantasy hit has been fused with one of America's most dramatic constitutional crises illustrates the growing symbiotic relationship between politics and entertainment, which - not surprisingly - has gained momentum since a former host of a television reality show was elected president.

POLITICAL PLOT

But then the Democrats - whose electoral base is younger than that of the Republican Party's older supporters (who probably watch reruns of Law & Order, and are certainly not debating whether Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow will get married) - would probably remind Mr Trump that last week's episode was only the first one of the season and that he should not be surprised if at the end of the season, a young and hip progressive woman will be occupying the Throne, declaring "game over" and Mr Trump will be doing the walk of shame.

American politics, however, is not a fantasy drama series, populated by monsters, witches and dragons - or even a reality show. The outcome of a political plot developing in Washington, DC and not in Westeros is determined by complex but real (not imaginary) forces, by the relationship between the White House and Congress, and the balance of power between the two major political parties, not to mention a set of legal and constitutional considerations.

From that perspective, while the game is clearly not over, Mr Trump seems to be placed in a stronger position as he prepares for the coming political and legal battles with his Democratic opponents which he could survive but perhaps without delivering a devastating knockout to his adversaries.

Mr Mueller's report, which was released on Thursday with portions redacted, did not produce the kind of outcome that the Democrats had hoped would force Mr Trump out of office and perhaps even send him and members of his family to jail.

The 448-page report's conclusions did outline the efforts by Mr Trump to curtail or even shut down the federal investigation by the Special Counsel. It painted an ugly picture of a White House being plunged into chaos with a president fighting for his political life as he lies to the press, the public and to members of his staff and even putting pressure on his aides to lie for him and to take actions that violate ethical standards and the law.

Hence in June last year, the president urged then White House counsel Donald McGhan to try to have Mr Mueller fired, and asked his political confidant Corey Lewandowski to press then Attorney-General Jeff Sessions to change the direction of the Special Counsel's investigations. Both Mr McGhan and Mr Lewandowski refrained from carrying out the president's directives that could have been construed as obstruction of justice.

Yet Mr Mueller decided not to pursue a charge of obstruction of justice against the president, indicating that that judgement was made "based on the facts and the applicable legal standards".

In other words, while the Special Counsel did find some evidence of "potential" obstruction of justice by the White House, the president's efforts to influence the investigation were unsuccessful; and in any case, according to US Justice Department guidelines, a sitting president cannot be indicted.

When it came to the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election - which Mr Trump once dismissed as a "hoax" - Mr Mueller's team did provide a lot of evidence about the efforts by the Kremlin and its agents to try to influence the campaign through hacking and distribution of information in a way that would benefit Mr Trump.

But at the same time, when it came to the central question of the investigation, whether there was evidence of "collusion" between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, Mr Mueller's investigation "did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities".

The lack of evidence of "collusion" was a major setback to Mr Trump's critics, including leading Democrats and journalists who have insisted that such evidence existed and who have floated numerous conspiracy theories involving the president and members of his family and Russian nationals.

But some of the Democrats who now control the House of Representatives and its investigative committees believe that when it came to the allegations of obstruction of justice, Mr Mueller declined to completely exonerate Mr Trump, so Congress will now be in a position to pursue those charges and settle the matter.

CRUCIAL DECISION

Mr Mueller will have the opportunity to clarify his views on these and other issues relating to the investigation when he testifies as expected before Congress in the coming weeks.

But Democratic lawmakers and party leaders, including more than 20 presidential candidates, will soon have to make a crucial decision: Whether they want to spend their time and effort on more investigations of Mr Trump's conduct hoping to find evidence of obstruction of justice and criminal behaviour that could lay the ground for impeachment proceedings against their nemesis?

Taking that road would mean that much of the political agenda in the months leading to the 2020 presidential will be dominated by old and new scandals involving Mr Trump. That could certainly hurt him politically and make it unlikely that he would be able to pursue any new policy initiatives.

While - in theory - the Democrats in the House would have enough votes to impeach the president, the Republican-controlled Senate is not likely to convict him. Bottom line: President Trump will remain in office.

But it is not clear if the American public, exhausted with more than two years of investigations that have eventually reached a dead end, would welcome the Democrats' search for new scandals.

Perhaps the Democrats and their presidential nominee would be better off politically by charging ahead into the 2020 campaign and trying to explain why they should replace Mr Trump with their man or woman, who will then be able to declare: "game over".