What are the ripple effects if Palm Beach County election officials designed a less-confusing ballot for the 2000 election? How does America change if our intelligence agencies were more accurate in their assessment of Saddam Hussein’s chemical and nuclear weapons programs? Or, if we still failed on that front, how is our nation different if military and civilian leaders had not made profound mistakes at the start of the Iraq occupation?

We can do this all day. Let’s suppose for a moment that industry experts were better able to gauge the risks of an expanding number of subprime mortgage loans. . Would we be more trusting of government if it could properly launch a health care website, the most public-facing aspect of the most significant social reform in a generation? How can we accurately judge foreign threats if ISIS is dubbed a “jayvee team” the very year that it explodes upon the world stage and creates the largest jihadist state in modern history?

The ripple effects of incompetence are staggering. It’s easy to mislabel or misunderstand it as malice, especially when a person feels the sting of its consequences. And when the incompetence is particularly egregious, conspiracy theories can flourish. I mean, are we supposed to believe that federal officials wouldn’t keep close watch on the most famous prisoner in the entire federal prison system? Really? At a time when the media is reporting establishment Democratic alarm at the rise of Bernie Sanders, are we supposed to believe that the abject failure of that same establishment when Bernie is on the cusp of a potentially game-changing victory is entirely accidental and innocent? Really? Even after 2016?