when political prophecy fails

In his column today, Ross Douthat writes:

A good many members of the opposition to Donald Trump — a mix of serious journalists, cable television hosts, pop culture personalities, erstwhile government officials, professional activists and politicians — have been invested in what appears to be exactly the kind of conspiracy-laced alternative reality that they believed themselves to be resisting.

With the apparent “no collusion” conclusion to the Robert Mueller investigation, there will now be a retreat from this alternative reality to more defensible terrain — the terrain where Trump is a sordid figure who admires despots and surrounded himself with hacks and two-bit crooks while his campaign was buoyed by a foreign power’s hack of his opponent.

Will there be “a retreat from this alternative reality”? I don’t see why there would be, or why Ross thinks there will be. Similarly, listening on my morning walk to the National Review Editors podcast, I heard all the members of that distinguished panel agree that the release of the Mueller report will be very bad news for, a big black eye for, the media, and I thought: Really?

I mean, I’m sure a handful — more likely, a hand half-full — of journalists and media talking heads will say they got ahead of the story, but I’d be shocked if it were more than that. More likely scenario: the Rachel Maddows and Jonathan Chaits and Stacey Abramses of the world

(1) will say “We won’t really know anything until we see the full Mueller report”;

and if the entire report isn’t released

(2) will insist that whatever has been redacted contains the key to the whole mystery, and that it remains overwhelmingly likely that Trump and his entourage are guilty of collusion with the Russians and other high crimes and misdemeanors;

and if the entire report is released

(3a) will find something, anything, in it that, they insist, confirms their worst suspicions,

or, if the full report gives them nothing,

(3b) will say that Mueller was scared into silence or is part of the con.

And their followers and enablers will cheer them on. In short, I can imagine no circumstances in which the people most committed to the Trump-and-the-Russkies narrative would acknowledge that they got it wrong. And the people who trusted them before will continue to trust them, while the people who didn’t trust them before will continue not to trust them.

Changing your views because you realize you got the facts wrong? Or because you realize that you “theorized in advance of the facts,” as Sherlock Holmes warned you not to do? In American politics today that’s not how it works. To understand why, take some time to read a book — a book I explore fairly extensively in my How to Think — called When Prophecy Fails. It was published in 1956, but it tells you much of what you need to know about how politically invested people behave in 2019.