The damage is enormous. In an instant, Smollett transformed from a dirty liar into a teller of uncomfortable truths, and from a villain into a kind of progressive darling, a man to be excused, hugged, honored. As the criminal case against him vanishes, he gets bragging rights to lay claim to being the recipient of an actual assault — maybe not the genuine kind, but one of the psychological variety.

It was too easy to get foes of President Trump to eat up Smollett’s every word. They ran with this truth — or rather, truthiness — because it confirmed everything they wanted to believe: that the president is somehow responsible for all prejudice and intolerance. This may be why Smollett so smugly celebrated his exoneration.