TURNING POINT

I've written sparingly about the Russia stuff. As I expected – and this is not a novel thought, as many other smarter people were issuing the same warning – there was no Great Big Reveal in the Mueller Report.

I know why you're disappointed: you're disappointed because you wanted to have faith in The System and believe that The System would work. But the system doesn't work; it never has and it certainly isn't going to start now.

Over time the Russiagate crowd really started to rub me the wrong way, and my sniping at them got more caustic and frequent (as many of you noticed, sometimes approvingly and sometimes not). It's not that there's any part of me that believes Donald Trump's campaign didn't do anything wrong. It was the clear drift toward conspiracy theory thinking and language. I started calling it Liberal QAnon at one point and while that's an exaggeration – nobody is as insane as QAnon people – it's uncomfortably close even if the two are not identical.

Robert Mueller was latched onto as a savior by a lot of the same people who very deeply wanted to believe that Hillary Clinton didn't lose the 2016 election, because if that belief could be maintained then there is no need for any kind of self-reflection about what might have led to Hillary Clinton losing the 2016 election. You could see this kind of mental gymnastics on MSNBC most prominently, where every show that isn't Chris Hayes sort of veered into full-time Russia speculation.

"Hey, maybe we got fucked by the Electoral College, what can we do to prevent that in 2020?" or "I dunno, maybe the campaign did some things wrong, what were they so we don't do them again?" are two lines of thought that could have been productive but, if not entirely avoided, have certainly been sidetracked in favor of Russia conspiracy theories and other ways of casting blame for what happened on anyone BUT the candidate. It was Russia, or if not Russia it was Comey, or if not Comey it was Bernie Bros, or if not Bernie Bros it was blah blah blah.

This feels like a good turning point. The Democratic candidates in 2018 barely talked about Russia – and many of them did extremely well. The idea that anyone was going to be running on The Mueller Report in 2020 is a figment of the Sunday pundit imagination. But the pedestrian ending of the Mueller investigation – yes, it resulted in a lot of indictments and uncovered a lot of evidence of crimes, but the final report doesn't seem to have added to what we learned slowly over the past two years – is an excellent opportunity for a clean break. Stop thinking about Russia. Stop talking about Russia. Russia tried to fuck with our election. They will try again in 2020. Russia wants a destabilized U.S. because that suits its foreign policy and economic ambitions. None of this is new and nothing has changed.

But seizing upon Russia as the focus of what's going on in politics right now, and more importantly as a catch-all explanation for what happened in 2016, simply isn't productive. This went from an intriguing story to something of an obsession with a minority of liberals, and 2018 candidates were right to ignore them and focus on things that will help them win elections. Health care available to everyone. Increasing wages. Oversight of the Executive Branch. Weaning the country off fossil fuels in the long run.

These things are all popular. Let's rally around that instead of "Trump is a criminal." Talking about Don Jr.'s meetings with the Russians at Trump Tower is not of interest to anyone outside a narrow circle right now. If it isn't obvious yet that Trump is going to suffer no legal or political consequences at all from his wrongdoing and that neither life nor our system are fair, I don't know what it's going to take to convince you of that. If your reaction to the Mueller news is, "Well just wait til the SDNY prosecutors start going!" or "Russia must have compromised Mueller" or anything other than "OK, this fits the well established pattern of Republicans and Donald Trump doing whatever the fuck they want and getting away with it," you need to take a deep breath and reconsider.

As I've said from the beginning, the only thing short of the 2020 election that could bring down Donald Trump is the Republicans in Congress deciding that he was a threat to their survival and throwing him under the bus. They have instead decided that electorally it is to their benefit to cover for him. So be it. No amount of evidence can change that. And it's hard to imagine who in the voting public remains on the fence about this. By now you're either one of the 42% of people who love and support Trump no matter what, or you hate him. Nobody's really changing their mind three years into this.

It's disappointing to see behind the curtain and realize how goddamn unfair everything is, including and perhaps especially criminal justice. Yeah, rich white right-wing assholes can get away with pretty much anything. Nobody who supports Donald Trump gives half a shit if he committed a felony or a thousand felonies. He could behead their children and these people would cheer him for it. Nothing Robert Mueller said or could say was going to change those basic facts about our political landscape.

So my advice is to do what many of us did at some point throughout this lengthy process: stop thinking about it. Assume nothing is ever going to come of it, and be pleasantly surprised if anyone is ever held to account for their crimes. It would have been nice to have some big reveal at the end, Robert Mueller's unassailable conclusion (complete with video evidence) of Trump doing X, Y, and Z with the wrong people. But it wasn't realistic to expect that. To continue to hope for it in the future goes beyond unrealistic and tiptoes uncomfortably close to an obsession.

In short, everything sucks, nothing is fair, and rich, shady assholes get away with being rich, shady assholes. These things apply to Donald Trump because they apply broadly to our society. I don't like it, but at 40 I am used to it.

THE BIG LIE

The college admissions process will never be meritocratic. There's just too many variables, too many incentives for universities to do things for the wrong reason, and too much disagreement about what even constitutes "merit" or "fairness" for anything approaching either term to exist.

What's worse is that academia will respond to this bad publicity the only way it is capable of responding to anything: with more administration. The second I saw this news story I could picture the Associate Dean of Application Decision Review being hired at five times a faculty salary, the Merit Consultants whipping together a website and business cards, and the creaking sound of yet another layer of institutional bullshit being dropped atop the basic academic mission of a university (which seems to keep receding further into the background). Faculty committees to review applications. Faculty committees to review the committee reviewing the applications. More "metrics." More paperwork. More compliance officers. All of it.

That's what will happen, because trying to quantify and enforce a quantitative approach to "fair" enrollment decisions is like trying to hold a puddle of mercury. You just can't do it. Every student's family situation is different. Some of these kids went to high schools that are better than a lot of colleges; some went to high schools where they turn the lights off two days per week because they're so broke. Standardized testing is the most consistent measure available but it's easy to boost performance by throwing money at it – tutors, prep classes, practice tests, and the like. Then add in all the various goals universities are trying to accomplish – well-rounded students who participate in the community, in sports, in non-classroom intellectual activity, and most of all a diverse student body that isn't just a bunch of white kids from the suburbs – and it's just futile to adjudge "merit" like it's some objective thing.

A better solution might be to stop telling students constantly that academia, or life in general for that matter, is a meritocracy. Yes kids, having balls-rich parents or being exceptionally well connected are big advantages. People who have those advantages get things us normals will not get. The whole idea of anything in this fundamentally unequal society is a meritocracy is so silly that students should never be taught such a thing in the first place. Life isn't fair. College admissions are not, college is not, the job market after college is not, your future workplace will not be, the economy is not, and on and on.

I'm not saying it isn't worth it to strive toward fairness and equality, but given the systems in place in this country we are so ludicrously far from either that we're flat-out lying to kids by telling them anything is either fair or equal. There is nothing wrong with telling kids, yes, some kids get into Harvard because their parents went there. Or because they donated $2.5 million. Some day you will work for a boss who has her job because the company is owned by her dad. Some day you will apply for a job and not get it because you're not buddies with the hiring manager.

Basically, why not treat this the same as the criminal justice system and just do away with the pretense that any aspect of it is blind, fair, or meritocratic? Even in the unlikely event that the problems with inequality in these processes is fixed, it certainly won't be happening anytime soon. Aren't we getting tired of pretending?

HAIL MARY

The Cohen hearings would have been more upsetting were it not for the fact that we now live in a political news cycle in which they'll be forgotten in a couple of days.

Everybody keeps wondering where the bottom is for congressional Republicans, the point at which they eventually realize that they have more to gain from throwing Trump under the bus than they do by defending him with such pitiful obsequiousness. Days like Wednesday make me wonder if there is a bottom. Maybe there isn't, and this spectacle is going to be dragged out to some kind of unbearably awkward Third World dictatorship ending where the guy and his inner circle end up barricading themselves in the Oval Office and eating a bullet.

Or maybe the eventual ending will be boring and constitutional. Who knows. What is obvious is that the things Mr. Cohen says are less important than the evidence he may have provided, and if he has turned over signed checks (WHO COMMITS FELONIES WITH A CHECK?) then the investigators have hard evidence of a felony. Cohen is not, shall we say, a witness whose credibility will stand on its own, so even though he's probably telling the truth his statements are of reduced value.

But it's a real Hail Mary for the GOP to rally around the defense of, this man who was the close, trusted ally of the president for 10+ years and served as his fixer is a vicious lying scumbag felon. They appointed Cohen finance chair of the Republican National Committee in 2017, for christ's sake. To call that argument an insult to the intelligence of their audience is an understatement. It's beyond stupid and it relies entirely on the assumption that people will support it without thinking about it if they are told to.

Does it bring anything closer to resolution? Who the fuck knows, and frankly at this point it is probably to the Democrats' advantage for Trump to run in 2020 rather than a last-minute replacement president who would give the GOP the appearance of having rid itself of its cancer. But it's pretty clear from watching the pathetic display put on by the GOP members of Congress during those hearings that the problem runs far, far deeper than one man. Whenever the Trump show is over, I have a feeling he's going to take more than a few of these allies down with him. If you want to lose a night of sleep, try thinking about the fact that some large percentage of your fellow Americans watched that shitshow and liked what they saw. Some of them liked it a great deal.

Don't get me wrong, we're all going on a three-week bender when Trump is finished, but man, this is not a problem that gets resolved quickly or easily. The president is the symptom, not the virus.

ABUSIVE AUDIENCE

There is this segment of the center-left, personified by CNN and the New York Times and candidates like Joe Biden, that believes it can get the right to stop accusing it of being far left marxist extremists if…if it just demonstrates how fair and reasonable it really is. So candidates in this mindset keep moving to the right – How can they call me a communist if I believe most of the same things they do! – and organizations in the media keep hiring right-wing hacks and both-sidesing the hell out of whatever pretenses of journalistic integrity they may once have had.

It is sad. It is like watching someone trying repeatedly to win the affection of their awful, cold, distant, loveless parent. As an outside observer you can see the pathetic futility of it, and you want to put your hand gently on their shoulder and say, "Maybe it's time to let this go, to move on with your life and stop trying to get your asshole piece of shit dad to say he loves you for the first time in 50 years." But you know the odds of getting through to your friend are so low that you don't bother.

CNN and the NYT and "let's keep moving to the right" candidates apparently can't or won't figure out that calling them leftist commie marxist extremists is the entire game plan, full stop. It has nothing to do with what they stand for, how they report the news, or anything else with a basis in reality. They are going to call you Fake News and a dangerous leftist radical no matter what, because that is what they do and that is the worldview they have chosen to adopt. Anything short of total, obsequious Fox News style right-wing ass kissing is "Fake News" and the lying liberal media. Any political figure to the left of Reagan is a communist.

And that will never stop. Never.

So every time CNN does something like hire a Trump loyalist to oversee its 2020 election coverage – Brilliant! What could go wrong! – it gets even sadder. They will be out of business someday, and as they close up the shop for the last time they still will not have figured out what they did wrong – that trying to appease the right never works and you make the product shitty and unwatchable to everyone else in the process. You ruin it, in short. You ruin it and get nothing in return.

In their fertile imaginations I suppose they think moves like this will make Fox News viewers think, "Well maybe it's time to watch some CNN!" And that's sad. It's almost unbearably sad that CNN has yet to figure out that those viewers will never love them, will never switch over to CNN, will never think or speak of CNN as anything but fake lying liberal media trash because that belief is a core tenet of their worldview.

If they have not figured this out yet there is no hope that they ever will. CNN used to be a decent news organization, like the NYT used to have a half-decent editorial page. Now they're both shit and they won over exactly zero conservatives in the process of running their own product into the ground.

CONSPIRACY!

It's hard to be selective when considering all of the ways in which American public discourse has gotten worse on account of the 2016 election, but my vote for the worst change is the now-constant recourse to grand conspiracies to explain (across the political spectrum) failures or bad behavior.

Like many people around the world during the Cold War developed an all-encompassing worldview based on the near-omniscience of the CIA (a view that persists to this day in much of the Middle East), people now imagine dark forces on The Internet having almost limitless power. You can't fart in some parts of the world without someone blaming the CIA for it, despite the reality that the CIA couldn't even figure out that some of its own (Ames, Hanssen) were Soviet spies.

Now there is a shadowy Other – sometimes Russia or The Kremlin, sometimes Bots, sometimes merely They – capable of engineering any imaginable outcome and a few that aren't imaginable. Your candidate lost the primaries? Rigged! Rigged by powerful conspirators! You got caught writing some embarrassing shit on your old blog? Hackers! Time-traveling hackers! And most recently, did you get caught plagiarizing (an act that, thanks to easy and ubiquitous tools like TurnItIn, is now almost ludicrously simple to detect)? The people who pointed it out are part of an "oppo campaign"! Well of course.

The fact that a phrase like "oppo campaign" or the extremely popular on social media "Kremlin op" have gone mainstream is a good sign of the extent to which reality and Tom Clancy fantasies have been conflated. A couple years ago this kind of conspiratorial thinking would have resigned any public figure to the lunatic fringe. Now nobody bats an eye. Everything is a conspiracy. Everything is a product of nefarious forces. It's like the upside-down Occam's Razor; never accept the most obvious solution when a mindlessly convoluted one wherein you become a victim will do.

That last part, I think, is key. People who spout this stuff when they are caught red-handed don't even care how plausible their stories sound. It simply is a matter of reframing the story to make themselves victims. Once they construct a victimhood narrative, then supporters innately get defensive and rally. It doesn't have to be true, just plausible. And we are living in an era in which the commonly accepted definition of "plausible" is rapidly expanding.

CALVINBALL

Donald Trump is a weak president on the path to what can only be described as a failed presidency. I won't bore you with the extended "Neustadt is still the best" dive into the political science, especially since Matt Glassman already covered that exhaustively and there's little I can add to it.

That is not to say, Donald Trump's ideas are bad (they are) or that he is a terrible person (he is). It is to say that he is really, really bad at being president. He is an almost comically bad negotiator, and the one absolutely unassailable conclusion Neustadt drew is that bargaining and negotiation are the keys to a president getting anything he wants. Since the president lacks power to simply command Congress and other actors to obey him, he has to find a way to convince them that his interests are worth pursuing.

In that way and by any other measure, he simply is awful at this. A guy the media uncritically allowed to pitch himself as some kind of master Deal Maker is, in reality, so bad at negotiating that it's getting a little hard to believe. Alternating between braying invective and transparently insincere appeals for "unity" is a sign of how weak and ineffectual he is. Neustadt is an old piece of political science and many other interpretations of presidential power have since been written, but I am one of the many who believe he fundamentally got it right (if not in every detail). Presidents who can't negotiate are failures.

That said, I've been thinking a lot lately about how – now and in the future – to incorporate Trump into the minor national pastime of evaluating and ranking presidents. That's unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But other than looking at the small data set, declaring Trump an outlier, and pretending these four years didn't happen I see his presidency as incompatible with any attempt at analysis – including Glassman's (wholly accurate) application of Neustadt.

Here's the thing: Donald Trump isn't even trying to be president in any sense that the job of the president is understood. An analogy might illustrate my point best. Imagine you wanted to rank the (53 x 2) 106 quarterback performances in the Super Bowl. But you didn't have 106 quarterbacks – you had 105, and then this one guy who showed up on game day wearing a loincloth, swinging around a baseball bat, and making no effort to play the game at all. He simply showed up, preened for the crowd, and screamed "Fuck you!" at the referees for three hours.

In one sense, you could easily look at that list and say he is 106th of 106. But in another sense you can't even rank him on the same list as the others. It's not merely that he played a bad game (as players 104 and 105 obviously did). It's that he was playing an entirely different game that nobody else during, before, or since was playing. His goals and motives were wholly his own and largely inscrutable.

It is entirely possible that aside from Trump's commitment to rapacious tax cuts for the wealthy and his puerile obsession with The Wall, there is nothing he is even trying to do. In that light it is incorrect to say he's a weak, crappy president. He simply isn't the president at all in any meaningful sense. He spends most of his day doing nothing. He is on vacation more than he is in the White House. His goal seems to be nothing more than getting attention (at which he is very good, thus he probably considers himself a success by that criterion).

In the end it's an apples / oranges problem. Forty-four presidents were attempting to drive a bus, and then you have this other guy who wanted to blow up the bus and refused to drive it. It's not clear at all that the 45th guy even belongs in the conversation. There's a difference between doing something poorly and simply not doing it at all.

VENTI EGO

Liberals spook easily, a reasonable response to a political lifetime of limited success in elections and – notably – some defeat snatched from the jaws of victory experiences like 2016. I get it. The sky is always falling, everything will turn out badly somehow, and the worst will inevitably happen. Frankly that's not a bad set of expectations; at least it turns the successes into pleasant surprises.

But listen. Just try to trust me on this one, even though you won't and possibly can't trust me or anyone else who tells you this: Howard Schultz's candidacy is a joke. And not in the way Trump's candidacy was a joke that appealed really strongly to a demographic that actually exists. It's the kind of joke everyone will forget about rapidly and will get more embarrassing the longer it is drawn out.

If you don't want to read any further arguments, just remember this: a man with billions of dollars, one week into a heavily covered media rollout of his supposed presidential campaign, has fewer than 60,000 followers on Twitter and 30,000 on Facebook. And half of that is journalists. The other half is people making fun of him. In another context, that's 60,000 fewer followers than *I* have on Facebook. Think about that. And this guy claims that what he's proposing to do is a thing people are clamoring for. Social media follows are a very cheap and easy thing to buy, but also to grow organically. Post literally anything people find funny, interesting, cute, etc and follows will grow because it costs the user literally nothing. Oh, this seems interesting I guess (Click!) And he can't even do that.

There simply is no audience for this outside of campaign consultants (neatly divided into two camps: people who think the West Wing was real, and people who know Schultz is a moron but are happy to take his money) and the small portion of the electorate that actually has centrist politics (which, in reality rather than in imaginations, is not many). The Democratic primary field already offers an array of options for Ned Flanders types who just want everyone to get along but don't want any policy changes, with the exception of gun control, to the left of like, John Kasich. Bloomberg. Biden. Gillibrand, probably. Maybe Booker soon. Aside from calling themselves Democrats, what is the difference between these people and Schultz?

What Schultz is banking on is someone like Sanders winning the Democratic nomination – because if that doesn't happen, his "Oh my god, look how extreme and partisan both of the choices are!" message is dead on arrival. Even if that does happen (which is unlikely) he can't answer the obvious question: in a "Far right vs. far left" election theoretically crying out for some moderate Voice of Sanity independent, why would it be him? Why wouldn't established figures with name recognition and political experience (Bloomberg? Kasich?) fill that void? Why wouldn't some billionaire who actually has a personality and isn't some forgettable, boring, cliche-spouting guy who looks like your dentist run for it? If there's one thing this country is not short on, it's rich guys who seem to think they'd be great as elected officials. Some of them can even speak in a way that doesn't make everyone sleepy.

I can't tell if this guy has the energy to make until the Spring of 2020 – until he knows who the Democratic nominee is – but if anyone around him is being honest with him this will be over quickly and he'll go slinking back to the Aspen Ideas Festival and Davos where rooms full of people will nod politely at the kind of pabulum he's selling. He is reportedly paying his consultants obscene amounts of money, so unfortunately that guarantees that at least one group of people will continue to tell him this is a great idea.

We are likely to start seeing more of this in the future, as the rich get obscenely richer and they realize that while a presidential campaign is an expensive thing, it's the kind of expensive thing that a billionaire can easily buy. But of all the world's billionaires, I can't think of one less interesting and less likely to garner any support beyond the tepid praise of Chuck Todd and Jeff Flake. Not only is Schultz the answer to a question nobody is asking, he's not even a good answer.

CATHOLIC

I went to a Catholic high school. It wasn't my choice. Like most people of the pre-millennial generations, I didn't have those "You go ahead and decide what you want" parents. My dad went to Catholic schools in Chicago as a young Polack, and such would be my lot as well.

The Covington Catholic story prompted me to think about the place I went a little more fondly. I have no memories at all of getting right-wing political messaging from the priests, nuns, or lay teachers there. Conversely, there are many clear memories of adults telling us things like "You are all very sheltered" and "You're here because your parents can afford to send you here." Our "World Religions" course, often a propaganda nightmare at Catholic schools, actually taught me some things about the world's major religions.

The thing is, it wasn't overall a Good School in any meaningful sense even though adults constantly referred to it as a Good School. I graduated barely knowing any math. It offered 3 AP classes, while the nearby public schools had a dozen. One of the teachers told us (in 1995) her salary was under $20,000. Many of the teachers were priests or nuns who had no formal training in teaching. The sports-first culture of the school was cloying.

What was clear throughout, even to people as young and naive as we were, was that going to Catholic school was above all about whiteness. Parents (not only my own, but the peer parents as well) were explicit about this. Because while I have no memories of getting right-wing indoctrination from adults at school, I remember a lot of it coming from my classmates' parents. We were sandwiched between Joliet and Chicago, and my high school was "safe" unlike the public schools (which, statistically or subjectively, are not dangerous schools by any measure). Those schools had "gangs," were "dangerous," or simply were "bad," all of which were such transparent code words that even 14 year-olds knew what they meant: they had black kids, Hispanic kids, poor kids, etc.

My school was not exclusively white, of course, but the cost of entry ensured that the black and Hispanic kids were sufficiently "good kids" from "good families." The Covington example seems to be one in which school officials – one priest in particular – were indeed giving the kids a heavily MAGA political message. But among Catholic schools around the country I'd be stunned if that was the norm. The Fox News rhetoric isn't coming from priests and teachers; it comes – in unbelievably heavy and consistent doses – from the kind of parent who insists that their kids attend a Catholic school. A scattered few probably have deeply held Catholic beliefs behind that motivation, and those become apparent as students get to know one another and the families. Much more common are the families who don't seem to know or care that the nearby public schools have better facilities, more "college prep" options, and in some areas far more funding. They simply want to make sure their kids, who are very Good, go to school exclusively with other Good Kids instead of the riff-raff and "Gang Bangers."

Your experience may vary. Mine was unambiguous.

COLD TURKEY

Although it seems like six months have passed, it is barely a week since Trump gave his live address from the Oval Office on immigration. You've already forgotten it, no doubt. And that's not your fault. It was incredibly forgettable.

Pre-address speculation swirled around Trump making some kind of bold power move like declaring a "national emergency" to build his monument to racism and vanity. What we got instead was one of the rare occasions on which Sedated Trump shows up. Once in a great while, for reasons that only he could guess at, Trump just reads the teleprompter. He doesn't act normal per se, but he doesn't act like he acts at his rallies, for example.

And when you take Donald Trump and filter out the off-cuff insanity, when the people in the White House somehow prevail upon him to just read the goddamn speech and not go off half-cocked, you get a pretty boring result. The speech was boring. Stupid. Just a rehash of 2018 midterm election scare tactic talking points. Ooh, scary immigrants. Coming to commit crimes. Big danger. Crisis. Only a big wall can stop them.

I realized by the end of the extremely brief, extremely uninteresting address that I have grown used to the spectacle of Trump. I have grown to expect the Crazy Antics, and I do not think I am alone in that regard. When the Antics disappear and he reads straight off the prompter while looking directly and awkwardly into the camera, Donald Trump is not worth watching. He's not smart. He's not eloquent. He's not interesting. And he's so boring that I found myself in the same frame of mind I am in when I'm forced to watch NASCAR; "This is boring. Somebody crash already. Why aren't they crashing. C'mon."

That's scary. Perhaps it's just me, but to some extent I think we all (and certainly the media) have gotten hooked on the high of this guy doing crazy, random shit. When we go back, god willing, to having a normal person as president in the future, there is going to be one hell of an adjustment period. Do you even remember what it was like to have a news cycle that didn't involve Donald Trump every minute of the day? To live in a world where there isn't a new crisis in the White House every 12 hours? I'll never say I'm going to miss it, because every aspect of this has been terrible. Let me simply say that when it's finally gone, the difference will be noticeable.

The awful speech was a useful reminder of what presidential addresses used to be like – dull. Some day things may be dull again. These days, however, it's hard to remember a time when they ever were.

THE PLOT THAT WASN'T

The explosion of conspiratorial thinking, including among liberals and the far left, is one of the most troubling developments of the last few years. There are many reasons people are attracted to conspiracy theories, not the least of which is the way they make the world vastly more interesting than it really is. "9/11 happened because the U.S. made the terrible decision to throw money and weapons at every radical jihadist willing to fight the USSR in Afghanistan, plus nobody realized the incredibly obvious fact that cockpit doors should be locked" is, if simplified, a 100% correct explanation. But it has a number of drawbacks.

For one, it requires a half-decent knowledge of history. By "history" I mean anything that happened more than a week ago, and I think we can agree without undue cynicism that most Americans' (most people, really) grasp of history is tenuous at best. The percentage of people who could give a half-accurate summary of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and the US role in it, is in the low single digits. And most of those few people got their understanding from one half-awake viewing of the highly fictionalized version in Charlie Wilson's War with Tom Hanks.

More importantly, though, it's just boring. It's a boring story when it's told this way. "Some well-educated potential terrorists realized that cockpit doors are unlocked and that, as long as you aren't interested in taking off or landing, flying a modern commercial airliner can be done adequately without too much training" is not satisfying. When things happen, especially traumatic things, we want there to be some Big Plot to explain it. There isn't. There rarely is.

Add in ideology and motivated reasoning – our inherent want for certain things to be sinister because we dislike them – and the widespread seeding of ideas on the internet and we are living in the golden age of crackpot theories. QAnon might end up being the most representative aspect of this era when people study it in the future.

There is a certain subset of center-left or center-liberal people who have hatched a million strange conspiracy theories about Bernie Sanders, almost all of which have to do with Russian Propaganda, the Kremlin, Russia, Russians, and some sort of orchestrated (Russian) effort (by Russia) to create the impression that (Russian Operative) Mr. Sanders (a Russian) has a fan base when in reality he has none. In fairness to these folks, Sanders is not being treated differently – everything, in their new worldview, is a Russian plot. If something happens that is not fundamentally in line with their understanding of the world, Russia is behind it.

This manner of thinking struck me when I saw this dull Tweet from Mr. Sen. Sanders a few days ago:

If you are interested in understanding why Bernie Sanders has the dedicated following he does, that is your explanation. Unlike any other Democratic could-be with a national profile, he regularly makes reference to organized labor. No one else with a similar level of visibility does. In fact, most other possible candidates or nationally recognized leaders in the party – even Warren, who is pretty far left – run away from labor (which current orthodoxy holds is a dinosaur from earlier days) or just pays lip service to it. They mention "unions" in the abstract when they want union donations, and that's about it.

It strikes me as funny, but not incredible, that some people choose to ignore the very simple, obvious explanation – He talks about a thing some people like, and other people don't talk about it! – in favor of something convoluted and sinister. Maybe it's just more exciting that way. Maybe it helps them make sense of the world in some way I don't understand.

These things simply do not need complicated explanations unless you go looking for one. Why do people like Beto? Well, he's good looking, he's good speaking to crowds, he's pleasantly neutral (which allows people to project their own beliefs onto him), and he raised a lot of money. Why do people like Bernie? Despite his complete lack of personal charisma, he talks about things other candidates don't, and there is a subset of voters who don't care about candidate personality at all. Pretty simple.

My point is not – since I can already see people reading four sentences and rushing to the comments – that Bernie is awesome and you should love him. I simply do not think it should be – can be – any kind of mystery to understand why he has a following. He does some simple things that other candidates and national political figures don't. If other people did those things and were sincere about it, his fans would likely gravitate to those candidates as well. This isn't complicated.