There's very little that we actually know about the latest episode in the unending saga of "Hillary Clinton's damn emails" — which is itself a spin-off of the multi-decade saga "The Clinton scandals." All we really know is that the FBI found some emails, which may be relevant to the federal investigation of Hillary Clinton's homebrew email server, on a laptop belonging to Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton's closest aide.
Screaming headlines, fevered speculation, and renewed partisan rancor notwithstanding, Hillary Clinton is still the odds-on favorite to become the 45th president of the United States. The Electoral College math still looks brutal for Donald Trump. Too many must-win Trump states lean Clinton. FiveThirtyEight still has her with 77 percent odds to win the presidency, and The New York Times' The Upshot has her at 90 percent.
A Hillary Clinton presidency will almost certainly still happen. But it will also be dead on arrival.
Why? Because Clinton's executive branch will be mired in prosecutions, investigations, and inquiries from day one.
You can blame GOP partisanship and hatred of Hillary, or you can blame Hillary's own Clintonesque urge to play fast and loose with the rules and the truth. Or you can be faithful to reality and blame both.
Recall, if you will, that nobody would have known that Clinton had a private email server if the House hadn't opened an earlier investigation on her handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack. This is how prosecutions happen in the hyper-litigious American system. One investigation pulls out an unexpected new thread, which leads to a whole other tangled ball of yarn with more threads to pull. Recall that Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky only came to light years after the Republican Party launched an investigator into the then-Arkansas governor's real estate deals.
This latest chapter of the email investigation puts Abedin, by all accounts Hillary's closest aide, straight into the crosshairs. Who knows what will be uncovered next? Sure, it's very common for spouses to share laptops, but perhaps not so much if one of the spouses has a security clearance and deals with classified information on a daily basis. Given Anthony Weiner's legendary lack of self-control, who knows what he might have done with some classified emails? It's not a political witch-hunt to see this as a legitimate line of inquiry for the FBI.
And of course, none of this even addresses Clinton's other ongoing scandals, including the distasteful web of donations, grifting, and influence-seeking (if not peddling) at her family foundation, and her demimonde of hangers-on like Doug Band and Sid Blumenthal, who planted their feet in "Clinton Inc" while sucking at the teat of corporate America, if not generous foreign governments.
Oh, and what about Bill Clinton? It's still the case that he appeared on the flight logs of the private jet of billionaire and convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, a jet that was nicknamed the "Lolita Express." Maybe the former president was just playing video games on those flights. But let's just appoint a prosecutor and find out for sure.
The point is that before a new Clinton administration can even get to work, the vultures will descend on all the figures in and around the administration who might potentially be connected to something potentially nasty smelling. You can view this as heinous Republican partisanship or sunlight finally being shone on a corrupt clique's affairs (or, like me, both), but that this will happen cannot be in serious dispute. In all likelihood, it will make it impossible for the administration to pursue any agenda, in the very practical sense that key personnel will be excluded from key jobs and countless meetings will be dedicated to fighting investigations and lawsuits rather than the business of governing.
And, of course, the Clintons will make things worse for themselves. They always do.
A Trump presidency would promise to unleash a new class of demons in our politics — xenophobia, nationalism, authoritarianism, and so on. But a Clinton presidency promises to worsen by a considerable degree the demons that are already there — hyperpartisan rancor, institutional paralysis, and general lack of public spiritedness. With the Clinton scandals to fundraise on, Republicans will have zero incentive to reform themselves (in whatever direction) or to propose a positive agenda for the country.
Without a real majority to impeach her, Hillary will probably limp on, just more damaged than before. And even if the Republicans manage in 2020 to nominate someone who can win, and does, the Democrats will be there, waiting to enact their revenge. And who can blame them?
These are dark days, here at the twilight of the American Republic.