Mueller is bringing criminal charges: what that means

Robert Mueller is filing criminal charges against... probably Paul Manafort.  Best bet is Manafort, since he was told to expect an indictment a while back.  We know he was wiretapped, and the whole shebang.  Someone could get frog-marched Monday morning, and Manafort is the safest bet right now.

Yup, gotta bring up Ben Bradlee again.  As Executive Editor of the Washington Post, he wanted people to open up the paper every morning and say, "holy shit!"  And good, old, Nelson Polsby, my grad school advisor, used to say that it was our job, in academia, to tell the press, "no, not holy shit."  Instead, we should say something about how this is normal and expected and here's why this fits within our nifty, little social scientific models, or something like that.  And I'm getting pretty fed up with typing this, but...

Holy shit.

Mueller is bringing criminal charges.  Probably against Trump's former campaign manager, over Russia-related matters.  We'll have to wait to see the exact nature of the charges, but we are in holy shit territory unless this is the federal equivalent of a parking ticket.  Such things exist.  There are campaign finance violations in which a campaign accepts a set of contributions that collectively go over the legal limit because each individual contribution was smaller than the limit, or something like that, but that's not what Mueller was charged with investigating.  We'll see what the charges are, and I'll reserve some judgment based on that, but for this morning, I'll write more about how we, in the political system, respond.

That's what's important.  Best bet right now is that the President's 2016 campaign manager is about to be criminally indicted for something related to Russia based on an investigation into Russian meddling in the election and the question of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.  Divorced from any modern political mentality, that would be a scandal of almost unfathomable proportion.  A hostile foreign government having criminal ties to the former campaign manager of the current President, and having colluded with that manager to elect that President?  (Remember, Manafort was in on that meeting with Don Jr. and the Russian spy too...)  Think about reading this sequence in a history book, and comparing it to Watergate.  A break-in to steal some campaign documents doesn't even begin to compare to this.  Think about this in comparison to Bill Clinton lying about a blowjob.

If Manafort is charged with something directly related to the Trump campaign rather than just his own personal criminal activities, then the scale of what is about to happen is almost beyond comprehension.

The flip side of this is that Manafort himself is an incompetent criminal, and he might be indicted for purely personal criminal activities.  We do need to keep that in mind for right now.  (Again, assuming this is Manafort).  If that's the case, then the scandal is still there-- Trump's campaign manager was a crook, and that should be a major scandal too!  But, let's focus on the possibility that this is tied to Russian collusion.

The basic problem is that there is no historical precedent in America for any scandal of this type or on this scale.  Bribery, we know.  We have history and precedent, so we know how to respond, when evidence arises.  (It rarely does, but that's another matter...)  We as a country, though, are standing around staring at each other with a mix of reactions.  Anyone following the news without wearing some serious partisan blinders is regularly horrified by Donald Trump.  Retiring Republican politicians like Flake and Corker can speak out, Tillerson knows the deal, and some of the more honest Republican pundits will call Trump on his shit, but most people don't follow the news that closely.  If you are reading a political scientist's blog, you are following the news more closely than most.

That's why most people are grossly ignorant about politics.  Here's a simple demonstration.  In the 2016 American National Election Studies survey, we asked respondents if they could identify John Roberts.  Only 26.5% correctly identified him.  (Hopefully, if you are reading this, you know that he is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court-- a rather important person).  Most people don't follow politics, so they don't know shit about shit.

In the absence of knowledge, what do they do?  They take cues.  I know enough about history to know how unprecedented this Trump shit is without taking cues from others.  What about people who don't follow the news closely?  You know, the people who just get the occasional Facebook message, or turn on the local news in the background while trying to cook dinner for some screaming children?  They need cues from others.

Who sends those cues?  Mostly partisan opinion leaders.  That would be a combination of elected officials and media figures.  On the Democratic side, mostly they are a bunc

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