There are three ways the Mueller investigation can conclude. The first two are somewhere between extremely unlikely and unimaginable. First, Donald Trump could send a series of Tweets admitting everything. Second, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer could hold a joint press conference and admit that they made up the entire thing because Democrats are sore losers. If either of these things happen, there will be closure and certainty regarding the relationship between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, but neither of these things are going to happen. The third, and by far most likely outcome, is that something else happens. This is a broad category that could include multiple indictments including that of the President himself, a few more minor indictments with Jared Kushner being the biggest fish, Trump firing Mueller, the investigation dragging on for months more or a myriad other possibilities.
The third outcome is very broad, but regardless of which specific series of events happens, the impact will be the same-both supporters and opponents of Donald Trump will dig their heels in and insist their side is right. It is tempting to see this as a reflection of the intense partisan nature of politics in the US today and the corresponding polarization of how Americans get their news. That is clearly part of the problem, but it overlooks the efforts by the Republican Party, beginning with Trump himself, to undermine notions of truth and indeed reality in the media.
One of the most significant contributions to political discourse and the corresponding erosion of American democracy over the last year has been the efforts by the Trump administration to destroy the concept of shared political reality. The administration that in its first week introduced the term “alternative facts” has since defined virtually every bit of negative news about them, ranging from straightforward reporting of facts that they don’t want to hear to opinions with which they disagree, as fake news. This is not collateral damage from an incompetent and dishonest administration, but a major goal of a group of people who know that there only chance to remain in power, and in some cases at liberty, is if the American people refuse to believe a body of increasingly overwhelming evidence about their wrongdoing. In plainer words, the only hope that the Trump team ever had of remaining in power was if the American people lost their ability to tell reality from fiction, up from down and truth from fact, so Trump and the people around him have spent the last year trying to make that happen.
Unfortunately, the Trump team has been extremely successful in this destructive, nefarious and undemocratic endeavor. The result of this is that regardless of what piece of evidence the Mueller investigation finds, it will be met from the administratioin and its cheerleaders on Fox by cries of “fake news”, complex conspiracy theories about Mueller being a liberal operative and sheer fabrications that will successfully persuade close to half the American people to continue believing that the Russia investigation is simply Democratic sour grapes
For this reason, those who hope to find a smoking gun that will prove the ties between Donald Trump and Moscow are missing the point. Nothing short of a confession will convince supporters of Trump, or even most of the Republican congress, of what is increasingly obvious to the rest of the country and the world-that the Trump campaign worked closely with Russia during the 2016 election. By the standards of previous scandals, Mueller has already found several smoking guns, but it hasn’t mattered. The mantra on the left that any other administration would have been brought down by the Trump family’s corruption, the indictments of Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and others, the erratic behavior of the President or Trump’s history of sexual predation is a reflection of just how much the concept of reality has changed over the last year or so. Trump has not survived these crises because he has some magic political skills, but because a large proportion of the population refuses to accept that these things are actually happening.
The shift among many on the right from disagreeing with the opinions or reporting slant of The New York Times, The Washington Post or CNN, to seeing any negative story in those outlets as simply not true is the cause of this and deeply threatens not just our democracy, but the future of a unified and cohesive US as well. This has not happened by accident, but as the result of concerted effort by the Trump team done with the support and encouragement of the rest of the Republican Party. We see this every day when Sarah Huckabee Sanders questions the veracity and the motives of an article or report she doesn’t like or when Donald Trump sends out a Tweet with the words “Fake News,” frequently in all capitals. As long as this continues, the Mueller investigation, almost regardless of what it turns up, will move very few voters or members of Congress and change very few minds.
Photo: cc/ Gage Skidmore