If you are following mainstream news outlets, you know that in 2016, Donald Trump benefited from a Russian hacking and disinformation campaign designed to help him get elected, even as he sought permission from the Russian government to build a hotel in Moscow. You know that he deflected blame from Russia for that campaign, even as he sought to benefit from it politically. You know that shortly after the election, Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office that he didn’t mind their efforts on his behalf, inviting further interference. And you know that while those acts may not have amounted to criminal conspiracy, the president’s insistence that there was “no collusion” flies in the face of established facts.
If you are ensconced in the pro-Trump-propaganda universe of Fox News and its spawn, you know something different. You know that the Russia investigation was a “hoax” developed by the “deep state” and the media, an attempt by a fifth column within the FBI to engage in a “coup,” a conspiracy, a frame job, “nothing less than the attempted overthrow of the U.S. government.” Any evidence of wrongdoing by the president, in this universe, has been manufactured by Trump’s shadowy and powerful enemies—George Soros, liberals in the FBI, Barack Obama.
The belief that Trump is the victim of a vast and ongoing conspiracy is a crucial element of the president’s enduring appeal to his supporters. If the allegations against the president are all completely false, then his supporters can continue to back him with a clear conscience, because anything and everything negative they hear about the president must be false. The consistency of that message is more important than the actual details, which frequently end up contradicting complex explanations for the president’s innocence that are often incongruous with each other, such as the insistence that Robert Mueller’s investigation was a “total exoneration” of the president, but also “total bullshit.”
The Department of Justice inspector general’s probe into the origins of the Russia investigation, which was released Monday, found no evidence that any of the Trump conspiracy theories surrounding the origin of the investigation are true. The investigation was not launched on Obama’s orders, it was not an effort by pro–Hillary Clinton FBI agents to prevent Trump from getting elected, and it was not predicated on the existence of opposition research gathered by the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. The president’s defenders have taken to referring to the entire investigation as “the Russia hoax,” insisting that the entire investigation was an effort by “persons within the FBI and Barack Obama’s Justice Department” who “worked improperly to help elect Clinton and defeat Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.” But the IG report shows that the “Russia hoax” defense is itself a hoax, and a highly successful one, aimed at reassuring Trump supporters who might otherwise be troubled by the president’s behavior. [Continue reading…]