Instead, as Matt Taibbi perceptively observed last week, what we have is a W.M.D.-size self-inflicted media disaster, which ought to require some extensive self-criticism before we breathlessly move on to Trump’s latest alleged idiocy. Assume for a moment that Trump’s odd Russia behavior, including the obsequiousness toward Vladimir Putin and the routine eruptions against Mueller, was merely a way of baiting journalists for years.
If so, he could hardly have played us better: He’d be the Keyser Söze of media manipulation. To adapt a line, perhaps the greatest trick Trump ever pulled was to convince the world his brain didn’t exist.
There’s a simpler, opposite explanation: Trump was never sophisticated enough to have been involved in some high-flown conspiracy with Russia. It would have required too much guile. Forget Söze; think Inspector Jacques Clouseau. The difference between suspicious and shambolic behavior often depends on who is doing the watching. Where some see chaos, others detect patterns. From a certain distance, they can be hard to tell apart.
For years I’ve bounced between these two interpretations of the president — at times astonished by his incompetence; at other times amazed by his cunning.