I no longer think that anyone in America, including Donald Trump’s most loyal supporters, can afford to put off the consideration of the central question of this administration: What if Donald Trump or those closest to him were compromised by the Russians or colluded with them?
There have always been those of us on the left who viewed his presidency as compromised, asterisk-worthy if not wholly illegitimate, because of the Russian interference.
A crime had been committed by Russia and Trump cheered the crime and used the loot thereof to advance his candidacy. That is clear.
The Russians made repeated attempts to contact people in Trump’s orbit and in some cases were able to meet with members of the team, as evidenced by the Trump Tower meeting. That is clear.
Members of Trump’s team were extremely interested in and eager to accept any assistance that the Russians could provide. That is clear.
And since assuming office, Trump has openly attempted to obstruct justice and damage or impede the investigation into what the Russians did and whether anyone in his orbit was part of the crime. That too is clear.
But for the people who support and defend Trump, this has already been absorbed and absolved. They may not like it, but they are willing to overlook it. Indeed, they are so attached to Trump that his fortunes and his fate have become synonymous with theirs. There is a spiritual linkage, a baleful bond, between the man and his minions.
But what happens if the evidence that the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, uncovers reveals a direct link between Trump and the Russians? How do Trump’s boosters respond?
Last week, when Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the timeline and the extent of Mr. Trump’s involvement in negotiations for a Trump Tower in Moscow, the political earth shifted.
If Trump was lying to or misleading the American people about his efforts to do business in Russia while running for president and the Russians knew — and presumably had evidence — that he wasn’t being completely honest and forthcoming, then he was compromised.
While it is by no means clear that the Russians ever used any information that they may have had to blackmail or otherwise pressure Trump, Cohen’s plea makes clear that they had the material to do just that.
This brings ever more clarity to Trump’s curious inclination to go soft on Russia condemnation, to take Russian President Vladimir Putin’s word over that of his own intelligence agencies, and to drag his feet in acknowledging that Russia attacked our election in 2016 and may continue to do so in the future.
How would Americans who support Trump now respond to evidence that Team Trump put their own personal and financial interests over the national interest? Would they break from their blind support and turn away from him and turn on him? How could they justify wearing the blinders for so long and countenancing so much? What language would they use to correct their complicity?
There is a precedent in the Nixon investigation. When the evidence of wrongdoing was clear and incontrovertible, people began to peel away, tails tucked and full of shame.
But that was a different time, one in which media wasn’t so fractured and partisan, before the advent of social media and our current dissociable mentalities.
Nixon had no propaganda arm. Trump has one. It’s called Fox News. There is little daylight between the network’s programming and the White House’s priorities. If Trump goes down, so too does Fox, in some measure. So the network has a vested interest in defending Trump until the bitter end, and that narrative-crafting could impede an otherwise natural and normal disaffection with Trump.
Furthermore, Trump does not strike me as a man amenable to contrition or one interested in the health and stability of the nation.
I expect Trump to admit nothing, even if faced with proof positive of his own misconduct. There is nothing in the record to convince me otherwise. He will call the truth a lie and vice versa.
I also don’t think that Trump would ever voluntarily leave office as Nixon did, even if he felt impeachment was imminent. I’m not even sure that he would willingly leave if he were impeached and the Senate moved to convict, a scenario that is hard to imagine at this point.
I don’t think any of this gets better, even as the evidence becomes clearer. I don’t believe that Trump’s supporters would reverse course in the same way that Nixon’s did. I don’t believe that the facts Mueller presents will be considered unassailable. I don’t believe Trump will go down without bringing the country down with him.
In short, I don’t believe we are reaching the end of a nightmare, but rather we are entering one. This will not get easier, but harder.
The country is about to enter the crucible. This test of our republic is without a true comparison. And we do not have a clear picture of how the test will resolve. But, I believe damage is certain.
Charles Blow joined The Times in 1994 and became an Opinion columnist in 2008. He is also a television commentator and writes often about politics, social justice and vulnerable communities. @CharlesMBlow • Facebook