My first thought upon reading that American investigators reportedly wiretapped Paul Manafort before and after the 2016 election was "Trump was right!" Many liberals had an altogether different reaction. "Robert Mueller brings down the hammer on Paul Manafort," ran a headline on Vanity Fair's website. "ALL HELL'S ABOUT TO BREAK LOOSE!!" said Jon Cooper, chairman of the Democratic Coalition against Trump. Slate raised President Trump's chances of impeachment to 60 percent.
Now, we don't actually know that there was a live wiretap at Trump Tower (as Trump famously claimed without evidence), or whether any surveillance of Manafort involved conversations with the man who is now president of the United States. But that's the point: There are any number of things we still don't know about the counter-intelligence operation-cum-FBI probe-cum media fetish object that President Trump and I both refer to as "the Russia thing." Maybe Robert Mueller's investigation will turn up evidence of collusion beyond liberals' wildest imagination. Or maybe it will be a big nothingburger. My money's on the latter.
In the meantime, it seems safe to say that much of the attention paid to every morsel of Russia-related news is meant to satiate the appetite of journalistic obsessives and appease the consciences of people who are theoretically preoccupied with the decorous maintenance of our beloved democratic norms but emotionally incapable of reconciling themselves to the fact that Hillary Clinton lost because she was a bland uninspiring candidate and that a former reality television personality is the 44th successor to George Washington.
What else explains the extent to which so many liberals are losing their minds over Russia?
All of this began as a vague and distinctly lame series of alarmist cris de coeur about Trump's supposed nationally televised order to Russia to hack Clinton, a meme that was meant among other things to distract from the very real revelations that the Democratic presidential nominee colluded with her party against her rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders. Then it was an investigation that — while still ongoing, sure — has so far yielded nothing of clear substance involving possible aid, financial or otherwise, provided to Trump by the Kremlin. Then it was a cynical crusade on behalf of the honor of the erstwhile Republican shill James Comey, whose firing by the president was clearly an admission of guilt. Notice how far we've moved the goal posts?
The latest revelation about wiretapping, along with every previous revelation, is not a smoking gun or any kind of gun. It's more like a butter knife with a few stale crumbs smeared on the blade. There is still no reason to believe that Manafort was an agent acting in anyone's interest but his own. The man is a petty swindler, not Kim Philby.
The posturing from people who believe that a stupid documentary about Hillary Clinton financed by a right-wing nonprofit group was a grave internal threat to our democratic order is tiresome. Our elections have for decades been a grotesque contest of fundraising one-upmanship among the billionaire class. The painfully earnest high-school civics class image of our sacrosanct democratic process is a false one. Lots of countries interfere in foreign elections, including ours. We've been doing it for more than a half a century, and we're still doing it now.
The Russia hysteria is only one symptom of a larger pattern of schizophrenia among American liberals, who spend half their time trading in '60s boomer nostalgia for the good old days when war was bad and the FBI and CIA were organs of right-wing intolerance controlled by Hoover and Nixon and Dubya for their own devious benefits and the other half using the abstract language of professionalism to justify their support for idiotic overseas adventures and prostrating themselves before the authority of our intelligence services whenever it was convenient.
Trump-Russia is the crowning achievement in this genre. It draws upon residual boomer memory of a time when Russia was bad, neatly sweeping under the rug all those years when supporting the Soviet Union in its struggle for world supremacy against the United States and her allies was an American's sacred right under the First Amendment, when connecting the dots however best you could in order to find some sort of relationship between influential figures and Russia was a mental disease called "McCarthyism," when executing traitors who helped the Russians get nukes was grossly immoral.
The whole thing is brilliant in the sense that it really does work. But it's also insane.
You cannot simultaneously inhabit the mental worlds of The Crucible and Angels in America and entertain lunatic speculations in which moronic Nigerian-prince-style scammers meeting fruitlessly with the not-very-bright son of a presidential candidate are tantamount to an organized conspiracy between the Russian government and a campaign to subvert the democratic process. You cannot think that Scooter Libby was a criminal for disclosing the identity of Valerie Plame to a journalist and that Bradley Manning is a hero for leaking hundreds of thousands of pages of classified material regarding the Iraq War. You cannot think that Benghazi and Fast and Furious and the IRS-Tea Party "scandal" were lunatic conspiracy theories that only knuckle-dragging Breitbart readers take seriously while credulously lapping up every new Russia scooplet from The Washington Post.
Unless, that is, you think these procedural norms supposedly being violated only matter as political cudgels and that bad things aren't actually bad except when the other side does them. In which case, please just say so.