Did you hear the news? On Wednesday an obscure Dutch lawyer who is "tied" — one of my favorite journalistic weasel words, along with "linked" and "blasted" — to the deputy chairman of Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign has been sentenced to 30 days in jail for initially failing to forward all of his emails to Bob Mueller. I have heard of stiffer sentences for jaywalking in Manhattan and failing to register a cocker spaniel, but I'm sure it's a very big deal.
It has to be because the sentencing of Alex van der Zwaan immediately inspired another round of lunatic speculation about the state of the investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. The sentence was announced the day after The Washington Post reported that Trump is currently not a "target" of the investigation.
Cue the takes! "Mueller told Trump he's not a criminal target in the Russia probe. That may not mean what you think," one of the approximately 1,700 persons employed full-time by the Post to produce algorithmically generated electronic high-pitched noise sounding not unlike the president's last name insisted. "Mueller's assurances that Trump is not a ‘target' don't mean much," Politico yodeled. "The report that Trump is not a target of the Mueller probe is actually terrible news for the president," said Slate, which still maintains its idiotic Trump Impeach-o-Meter, something I wish I had thought of when I was working at a right-wing magazine during Obama's second term. I spent Wednesday morning reading dozens, possibly as many as a hundred, of these pieces without learning anything.
Here is what it all really means: nothing.
Nothing at all except that among a certain segment of our supposedly educated upper-middle-class there is apparently an endless appetite for therapy-tainment. The Mueller investigation has seemingly nothing to do with collusion between Trump and Moscow, of which there is still as much evidence as there was in January 2017, i.e., none. It's Bircherism for people who know what "green juice" is, a way to explain how the wealthiest political campaign in history lost to a quasi-literate lowbrow TV star and cope with this ongoing reality. This is why some recent takes don't even make a pretense of mentioning Russia. Long ago the whole thing morphed from being an investigation of treasonous election meddling to one of supposed obstruction of an investigation into the aforementioned non-event. People are still clicking.
It is easy to understand why journalists cater to their readers' appetite for this stuff. When there is news, even news that makes the whole thing seem stupid and pointless, it's bad news for Trump; when there isn't news, the absence of news is also bad news for Trump. If a rando volunteer on the campaign admits that he lied about once emailing another rando overseas, it's the second gunman on the grassy knoll. If Mueller shows no sign of being even remotely interested in a conspiracy theory about Trump, Russia, and the release of emails that showed irrefutable evidence of actual collusion between the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign, it's actually proof that this is probably what is going to bring down the administration sooner or later. For people who have convinced themselves that all of this is hugely significant anything can be evidence of everything — even nothing.
Let's summarize the things we actually know. Paul Manafort worked for the Ukrainian government from before the release of Star Wars on DVD until roughly the day that Beyoncé won a Grammy for "Single Ladies." He also lied about it and about some or perhaps nearly all of his earnings. Several other people, including the president's former national security advisor, have told lies about, among other things, an utterly unremarkable post-election conversation with a Russian ambassador. Thirteen technically real Russian people also LARPed as Tea Party types on Facebook. I mean, really. What bank did Putin use to cash the golf-style novelty oversized check from Trump and how many digital copies of the pee tape are on Mueller's MacBook Pro?
In the spirit of paschal charity I would like to offer up my very first contribution to the vast literature of Mueller "what's next" takes. In two or six or eight months, President Trump, as tired as the rest of us of hearing about this non-story, will finally agree to sit down with our very special prosecutor to clear his name. Because Trump is a hyperbolic charlatan, he will proffer some ridiculous falsehoods — "I have never met a Russian, okay? I don't — does anybody, does anybody even know where Russia is?" — under oath. Bingo, Mueller will say, you lied. You're done.
And maybe he will be. No one whose habit or job it is to read the news on a daily basis would disagree at this point that it would be worth having President Michael Pence in exchange for the drawing of a curtain over these tedious revels. I would go a great deal further than that: I would rather see Hillary Clinton cackling from the Oval Office than read another spodomantic opinion column about the former star of The Apprentice and the largest sovereign republic in Eurasia.