The Mueller report is out: No further indictments have been recommended. The full contents of the report aren’t yet known, but we know at a minimum that the most fanciful conspiracies about Donald Trump and Russia were without merit. Donald Trump did not knowingly collude with the Russians.
That is the result we should’ve hoped for. There is no situation in which American democracy is better off because our President is the Manchurian candidate. So why aren’t liberals happy? Why does the Morning Joe and Pod Save America crowd continue waiting for this other shoe to drop that seems to have never been hanging in the first place? Well, it’s complicated.
Liberals really wanted the Russia collusion story to be true. It’s not as if some element of it wasn’t true, there still are dozens of indictments, and a lot of Trump associates are going to jail. There are still ongoing investigations in the DOJ and the Southern district of New York. and of course we still haven’t seen the full Mueller report. But liberals were waiting to find out that Donald Trump plotted with a foreign power and successfully upended the democratic process. Liberals got sucked into this fantasy where we were a part of this spy novel, that we could connect the dots and solve this giant mystery. If we just watched enough Maddow and read enough Washington Post write-ups, we would get the smoking gun. Some of us even branded ourselves members of “The Resistance” as we sat in our cafes as if we didn’t look like members of some bourgeois rebellion.
The election of Donald Trump was a traumatic event for liberals that lead many of us to an extended period of denialism. Many of us still have not accepted that Donald Trump was elected President, and we are stuck in the hysteria of election night, still waiting for a recount in Michigan that is never coming. The Russia collusion story allowed us the comfort of believing that America didn’t actually change. If Trump conspired with Russia, then that meant that the country actually didn’t reject Hillary Clinton and the last eight years of Barack Obama. If Trump colluded with Russia, then our friends, relatives, and neighbors weren’t actually complicit in Trump’s white supremacy: They were just tricked and could be forgiven. If Trump colluded with Russia, then the country would unite together and restore us to normalcy.
What has happened to many liberals since 2016 is almost identical to what happened to many conservatives after 2008. Conservatives could not believe that their America had elected a black man, and not only was he black, but he was well liked and defied every stereotype they’d had about minorities. Conservatives were aghast that their America, the America of Ronald Reagan and John Wayne had been ceded to those people. So we were introduced to Glenn Beck and his conspiracy chalkboards. Suddenly, Barack Obama wasn’t born in America, therefore his election was illegitimate, and we could take to the streets to oppose him. Barack Obama was a secret Muslim; he hated America, and ACORN and everyone else were conspiring to enact some Marxist agenda.
This time, liberals could not believe their America had been turned over to those people. Liberals could not believe that people they’d assumed lost the culture war and not so subtly looked down on, had elected the manifestation of everything we don’t like about America. It felt personal, and we couldn’t process it, and many of us still can’t understand it. So we fell into conspiracies, we didn’t question the Steele dossier or why we’d only referenced it, but there didn’t appear to be a credible counterpart from an actual intelligence agency. We raved about pee tapes and compramat and Moscow and used terms we’d only seen in Tom Clancy novels. We didn’t check back in on those scandalous stories from the New York Times or the Washington Post, or perhaps we’d have seen the dozens of corrections on their Russia reporting which turned out to be dubiously sourced. We, without any irony, became die-hard supporters of the FBI and CIA in spite of the long record of those institutions not being exactly friendly to our causes (see Martin Luther King Jr.).
It’s not that Trump isn’t cartoonishly corrupt: He is clearly an amoral individual who seems to have not a had a year where he was not breaking the law. We’ve got Trump University, we’ve got tax fraud, we’ve got Stormy Daniels, we’ve got hiring undocumented labor, and probably crimes we’ve already forgotten about. But none of those things explained his victory or absolved America, so liberals didn’t lean into them. So now we are left in a not unfamiliar situation, undefended by a detached Democratic leadership, informed by an elitist media, and lead by a government without competence.
In 2003, we were readying ourselves to defeat George W. Bush after losing the electoral college in the last election. The facts were on our side, the people were on our side, and the international community was on our side, yet we did not rise to the occasion. We lost focus and thus we lost the presidency. This time can be different, and we should let history be our teacher. It will not be enough to run against Donald Trump and copy the spirit of his rhetoric, just as it was not enough to run against George Bush and unconvincingly wrap ourselves in the flag, as the Republicans had shamelessly done.
It is without doubt that the Russians interfered in our election on behalf of Donald Trump, and the effect of their efforts are incalculable. There should be no dispute that there was and continues to be a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy. However, the Mueller report has stated there was no collusion. There are almost certainly other behaviors worthy of impeachment that should be investigated, but if Mueller couldn’t find collusion then there likely is none. We are going to have to defeat this President through the electoral process. The cavalry isn’t coming, and the Republicans were never going to save us. This isn’t 1974. Howard Baker and his party are dead. It’s time for liberals to come together and provide a real alternative to four more years of…whatever the hell this has been. Mueller was never going to make the argument for us, so we’re going to have to make the argument ourselves.