It's not easy to set a new standard for stupid in 2018, but a few left-wingers on Twitter managed it during Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings.
Less discerning viewers wouldn't have noticed the moment at all. During the interminable opening session of the hearings on Tuesday, Zina Bash, a former Trump White House aide who once clerked for Judge Kavanaugh, sat behind the nominee, visible in the camera shot, with one hand at rest in a gesture that looked vaguely like an "OK" signal.
The gesture was declared a white-power symbol and "a national outrage" by a #resistance tweeter who has 200,000 followers. The activist and author Amy Siskind said the supposed gesture alone should disqualify Kavanaugh from the Supreme Court. (She deleted the tweet but still maintained that she couldn't tell whether Bash's hand was in a natural position or represented something more nefarious.) Liberal stalwart Chris Hayes tried to dismiss the controversy and was slapped down by a ThinkProgress writer.
It was quickly pointed out how insane the hand-signal theory was. As Bash's husband explained, his Mexican-born wife is Mexican on her mother's side and Jewish on her father's side, and her grandparents survived the Holocaust. She is a most unlikely secret convert to the alt-right.
And indeed, the whole idea that the OK sign is a white-power signal the fingers secretly representing a "W" for white and a "P" for power is a hoax. The idea was pushed by Internet trolls to fool credulous liberals into picking it up. Mission accomplished.
It's not clear how the hand-signal theory was supposed to make sense at all. If Kavanaugh is a stealth white-power candidate for the Supreme Court, why would someone on his side go out of her way to advertise that fact on national TV? And if Kavanaugh is a brazen white-power candidate, why would a supporter rely on such a subtle gesture to signal his true colors?
The mind struggles to imagine the intended audience for such a gesture. A racist underground initiated in a series of secret symbols and handshakes that would suddenly be activated to lend its full support for Kavanaugh? Or did Bash supposedly make plain her racism just for the hell of it, to prove that she could get away with it?
Conspiracy about woman at Kavanaugh hearing rages online Who knows, and who cares? What it actually signals is that for an element of the left, the Trump era has been an open invitation to lose their minds one they have gladly accepted for fun and profit, since there are few things said about the president that can be too extreme or irrational to find an audience.
In one sense this is typical. The natural idiom of the out-party in American politics is suspicion of, verging on paranoia about, the party in power, which is almost always considered alien, corrupt and despotic.
But the left is also in the grips of a feeling of inflamed impotence, especially when it comes to the Supreme Court. The Democrats couldn't confirm Barack Obama's pick, Merrick Garland, for the late Antonin Scalia's seat, yet President Donald Trump has two high court picks and counting. These seats, by their reckoning, are therefore "stolen" although their disposition was subject to normal democratic processes. The Democrats could have had control of all the Supreme Court picks over the past several years if they'd managed to hold the Senate in 2014, or the presidency in 2016. They could do neither. Procedural theatrics, hearing-room protests and outrageous allegations are all they have to substitute for their lack of power.
But it runs deeper than that. The left's racial theory of America is basically a conspiracy theory. It believes in a deeply embedded, all-pervasive white supremacy. Everyone on the right is a budding Richard Spencer. Even Brett Kavanaugh, as credentialed and establishment a figure as you can find, is a suspected vehicle for racism.
In fairness, Trump has done almost nothing to try to allay the fears about him the way a traditional politician would. Rather, he devotes great time and energy to provoking the other side. Driving his opposition yet more bonkers might well serve his interests in a 2020 reelection campaign but in the meantime unhinged people have a more and more prominent place in our public life.
The new standard for stupid in 2018 isn't much of a landmark, because it will be eclipsed soon enough.