WELCOME TO THE CIRCUS

The Russians don't exactly have a long, rich tradition of political participation and the Putin era is doing little to enhance it. Your average Ivan on the Street has little interest in politics; not because politics are not important but because participation in such an obviously, almost cartoonishly, rigged system is a waste of time. We Slavs are nothing if not a practical people.

Of course the USSR years gave generations of Russians practice shrugging, eye-rolling, and honing black humor in response to their one-party political system. After some brief flirtations with the pretense of democratic institutions in the 1990s Russian politics seem to have fallen comfortably back into that routine. Everyone knows. Everyone knows that the elections are not real, that the rule of law is nonexistent, that aggressive journalists or political opponents end up dying of mysterious causes, and that an enormous pile of oil, gas, and dirty banking money is the only thing that influences the direction of what passes for governance. The government and political process (such as it is) are so corrupt that eventually people give up on even trying to change it. For Russians already used to going through the motions of the Soviet system it didn't take long.

This, I think, is the real endgame of Trumpism and the reason (well, one reason) for Trump's obsequious affinity for Putin. Rather than taking a Russian-style brute force approach, though, Trump better understands the American affinity for being entertained. He's putting on a show for his idiot followers while running an administration so spectacularly inept, clownish, and corrupt that your average American who is not terribly interested in politics and already inclined toward cynicism can conclude once and for all that all of it is a joke. Of course the activists Trumpers take such delight in riling up will try to strike back, but the right understands that getting people to participate in this process is already the left's biggest challenge. The more that can be done to convince non-voters to stay that way, the longer the GOP can overcome unfavorable demographic trends.

When I see things like Monday's bizarre spectacle of Sam Nunberg – someone the President hired (and fired, and hired) on multiple occasions to run his campaign – lurching from one news show to the next like a drunk on his last bender before he leaps off a bridge, I worry that the "I can't believe any of this is really happening" aspect of Trump's presidency has already done long term damage. The fact that nobody will stop this shitshow reinforces every notion, already popular, that the whole political process and both parties are rotten and the whole thing is a sham. None of this is normal, but at some point it will become normal. For some young people it may be already.

That is the real long-term goal here – not to win, but to convince such a large part of the population to give up on the process, declare it hopeless, and get back to scrambling around trying to make a living that a small, wealthy minority will be able to hold onto power longer than it otherwise could. I don't believe in large scale conspiracies and I don't think incidents like Sam Nunberg's meltdown proceed from any kind of central authority or plan. It is much more plausible that shitshows like this are the logical product of putting sociopaths – extremely dumb sociopaths, that is – in charge and watching them line their pockets without giving one minute shit if the entire system is in flames by the time they're done with it.

Let me put it this way: if their goal wasn't to make all of politics and governing a joke that most people will eventually ignore altogether, they couldn't have come up with a plan that would accomplish it any more effectively.