If there’s any certainty whatsoever about the Trump presidency, it’s that, just when you thought things could not get more absurd, our teetotaling president comes through with yet another “hold my (nonalcoholic) beer” moment. Yesterdays’ theater of the absurd press conference/love-fest with Putin in Helsinki certainly fits the mold.

The neocon war-mongers on the Right, who fear losing a bogeyman, are apoplectic. The NeverTrumpers on the Left are screaming “treason” as loudly as their worn out sky-scream voices can bear, with some declaring that this will be the issue that leads to his forcible removal from office. Trump’s conservative skeptics are shaking their heads in disgust. Trumpkins are twisting themselves into pretzels to explain how their orange-dandelion hero is scoring yet another epic achievement on his march to go into the books as the greatest leader since Hamurabi, or at least that what he says doesn’t matter. And, some of the truly deranged on the far Left are actually suggesting a coup d’etat.

I really don’t know why everyone continues to be surprised. Trump has demonstrated, time and time again, that he says whatever garbage bubbles forth from his untethered id, and that he’ll flip his statements on their head without so much as a by-your-leave. What are we to make of all this, and why, against mountains of evidence urging us to the contrary, do we continue to go hyperbolic whenever he goes Simple Jack? We know that he can and will flip what he said on its head when it conveniences him to do so.

Does it make it right? Do we give him a bye? Absolutely not, and he should be hearing it from his own party, from his sycophants at Fox, and, yes, from the looney Left that would run ten dozen editorials of outrage should they find out he put his toilet paper into its holder the wrong way. But, we shouldn’t chase peak-outrage over these pronouncements, nor should we presume that they’re evidence either of multidimensional chess, of Manchurian Candidate subversion, or of flat-out treason. Why?

Because of Hanlon’s Razor:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity (or ignorance).

I don’t think that Trump is stupid. He’s certainly presents as ignorant of many things, but we can’t know what he doesn’t know vs what he simply waves off (i.e. deliberate ignorance). He’s certainly wrong on many matters (see the ‘wave-off’ I just mentioned), but some of the brightest minds in history have been spectacularly wrong about things even in the face of ample evidence. I don’t think he’s overly bright, but I do agree with Scott Adams that he’s got an instinctive canniness that has served him very well so far.

I believe we are witnessing a form of Hanlon that I’ll call untethered dumbassery. It’s the simplest explanation for all this, and it doesn’t require concluding he’s a Russian puppet. If he were, he’d be a hell of a lot more consistent, and if he were, he’d present as a hell of a lot smarter and sneakier than he has. A bull in a china shop is not simultaneously a sure-footed mountain goat or a nimble goshawk, and were he the latter, we’d not have a bazillion hold-my-beer moments to criticize.

No, the explanation for Trump’s WTF statements at Helsinki is that he’s just making shit up as he goes along, in wild-man dumbass fashion. Does he actually believe that Putin didn’t know about the Russians hacking into the DNC servers? Has he deluded himself into buying Putin’s bullshit? Is he playing some sort of seat-of-the-pants game, with no regard for the impression it makes on all of us? Fuck-all if I know, and that sucks. But it’s one thing to call him a dumbass, which I’ve done before and happily-sadly do again. It’s another to see deep Machiavellian conspiracy in all this, and assume he’s Putin’s puppet. Sure, he may want to be best bosom buddies with Vlad – that wouldn’t surprise me in the least, and it fits in with what know about him. But, there’s a pile of actions that run directly contrary to the Putin-puppet narrative, and he’d not be the first President to think he could glad-hand Putin for America’s benefit. So, forgive me if I’m not sky-scream outraged by all this. It’s just par for the course with this guy.

The Left is rejoicing over Fox News’ recoil on this, but lets be honest. Fox is aghast because it runs against their preferred narrative of bellicosity and offends their neocons. National Review has a better perspective. Fact is, sloppy and contradictory words are one thing domestically, where matters are managed by the President and our Congress. It’s another on the global stage, and while Trump’s blathering may be of lesser import inside our borders, the international stage is a place where single words carry enormous power. Contemplate, for example, the fact that every president since at least Clinton has promised, and reneged on, recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The “G” word is highly charged, and its use by a President would really piss off the Turks. It is, IMO, a great failing of our past Presidents that this promise has been repeatedly broken, but it is highly illustrative of how important the language of international diplomacy can be.

Not good enough for you? How about Trump’s use of the word “foe” in reference to the EU. In the context of the utterance, it can be defended, but it’s a word that has set matters on edge and will have unfortunate consequences going forward. If you still defend it, lets recall the last time a president scolded our allies and coddled our “enemies.” Those excusing Trump today were the first to scream bloody murder when Obama engaged in his tough talk rhetoric on Europe. Yes, Obama was a scold, whereas Trump is a bully, but what’s the difference?

Trump sent a lousy message at Helsinki, he should be called out for it, and he should absolutely walk it back. What he actually talked about with Putin behind closed doors – who knows? – but this isn’t domestic politics. It’s the global chess game, and Trump’s a seat of the pants flier, not a multidimensional chess player. Trump came across as an alpha dog who got alpha-dogged by Putin, who’s sneakier and better at that sort of thing, and who got Trump to confirm a denial that flies in the face of all credulity.

Does that make Trump treasonous? Hardly. He’s a Hanlon variant, a dumbass, guided by id but not tempered by superego. Not stupid, but not wise, not measured or carefully parsed, not a genuine student of history, and not a Machiavelli clone. It’s best we keep that in mind when judging his next holy-dogshit utterance or head-scratching action.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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