I often talk about how, thanks largely to our fragmented media, badly divided we are as a nation. Forget about everyone being on the same “page.” Heck, it often seems like we aren’t even reading from the same book.
There may be no currently big story about which this is more clearly the case than “Trump/Russia,” where nearly everyone is in one of these three completely irreconcilable groups:
– People who fervently believe that Russia stole the election for Trump, that our president is a Russian stooge, and that Robert Mueller will eventually save America by exposing the whole scam.
– People who are totally convinced that this entire story is “fake news” which is being manipulated by liberal forces trying to pull off a coup because they don’t want Donald Trump to Make America Great Again.
– People who couldn’t possibly find Russia on a map, and who have no idea who Paul Manafort even is.
For the record, I am currently somewhere in between group one and two, though I keep steadily getting closer to the first one. But I would guess that at least 90% of our adult population is pretty easily placed in one of those three designations (sadly, the third group may very well be the largest).
Last night, the news hit that Trump’s former campaign head Paul Manafort was wiretapped by U.S. investigators both before and after the election, and that he was told by the special counsel’s office that he will be indicted. In a remotely normal administration, this would be earth-shattering news, warranting around-the-clock live news coverage.
After all, the head of our president’s campaign being found by a FISA court of being worthy of being wiretapped because of suspicion of facilitating Russian collusion in our election is a big stinking deal. That’s on top of the seemingly strong likelihood of him being indicted on charges that are at least somewhat related.
Since we have been so dangerously desensitized to these sorts of formerly incomprehensible realities by the utter insanity of the Trump era, however, the media reaction I have seen has actually been rather muted. I also have little doubt that virtually no one has switched which group they are currently in because of this news.
In fact, many of Trump’s “Cult 45” members were, bizarrely, essentially celebrating this news as a vindication for their mighty hero. You see they saw the word “wiretapped” connected to the possibility that Trump himself may have been recorded in conversations with Manafort, and they immediately thought, “See, Trump was right when he told us that he had been wiretapped during the campaign!”
There are, of course, several rather large problems with this “thinking.” The first is that it sure seems that Manafort apparently going down would be a huge “big picture” problem for Trump. Rejoicing over it because of a possible minor benefit is kind of like getting excited over the free ambulance ride you get the hospital when you get hurt in a major car accident on your way to visit someone already there.
But there is also the reality that what we currently know about this story in no way vindicates Trump’s infamous “wiretapping” tweet. There is no evidence that Trump himself was tapped, that Trump Tower was tapped, or that president Obama ordered, or even knew about, the tapping of Manafort. So, at best, Trump is “vindicated” here in the same way that O.J. Simpson was “exonerated” by the bloody glove supposedly not fitting him (“If Trump was right in this tweet, you must NOT impeach!”).
As for the group of people who see this latest move as the inevitable tightening of the legal noose around Trump’s neck which will eventually bring our national nightmare to an end, they also have some issues. While they at least seem to be living in the world of reality, I am still not convinced that they are going to get the outcome that they so desperately desire.
Part of me thinks that we may all look back in a couple of years on what we believe we already know now and think, “Well duh, how did we even think that Trump ever had any real chance of escaping from this? The evidence was so overwhelming.” But another section of my brain is still very skeptical of what cards Robert Mueller currently really holds.
Consistent with this dichotomy, it seems to me that Muller is acting like a poker player who either already has a Full House, or only holds a measly pair of twos. In the former scenario, he is just knocking down dominos and it is just a matter of time before impeachment is seriously on the table. In the latter situation, he feels like there is something there but he can’t prove it and is making a big bluff as a “Hail Mary” attempt to get someone to flip in order to break it all open.
It trying to read the tea leaves in a situation like this, I always go by the nature of the leaks. If you were Mueller and you really had a Full House, don’t you think you wouldn’t want anything at all to leak unless it was for the specific purpose of pressuring someone into a mistake? While I can see the argument that this is exactly what is currently happening with Manafort, the fact that we are reading about a warned indictment, rather than an actual one, all feels more like a bluff.
The bottom line for me is that these two stories make it more likely that there actually was some sort of Russian collusion, but they also make me slightly less confident that this will ever be proven in a way that ends Trump’s presidency.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.