In watching Trump’s reaction to Putin and the Mueller probe, two questions keep nagging at me:
1. If he’s really innocent, why is he acting so guilty?
2. If he’s really guilty, why is he acting so guilty?
Whether Trump’s innocent, guilty or something in between, sucking up to Putin is a strategy with little upside. It doesn’t win him points with any significant group of voters. It doesn’t help him in Congress, in court, in the court of public opinion. You’d think even Putin would advise him to cool it a little with the fawning, to take a couple of shots at Russia to maintain his credibility.
In Helsinki, Trump doubled-down on his position, acting much more like a Russian asset than any self-respecting Russian asset should. And not like any president America has seen.
It reminded me of a conversation I’ve been having with a friend who is that rare bird: a thinking person, no stranger to politics, who still likes and supports Trump. He tells me to ignore Trump’s tweets. They are shiny objects meant to distract us from what’s really going on. Behind the tweets is a disruptive genius transforming politics and the country.
The problem is that Trump’s tweets show us the man: how he sees the world, what he cares about, his impulsiveness, his disregard for truth and facts. He shows the same qualities in interviews and off-the-cuff remarks.
I haven’t heard people saying the private Trump is different from the public Trump. Mostly I’ve heard that he’s worse in private - more whiny, more angry. Maureen Dowd quoted one White House insider describe Trum as “the meanest man I ever met”?
In other words, there’s no genius within the self-absorbed twit, no method to his madness. What we see is what we got: a man who is emotionally undeveloped: shallow, self-centered, impatient, impulsive, incapable of empathy.
Emotionally undeveloped people can be self-destructive. They don’t understand how their actions look to others. They don’t always act in their own best interests, don’t always act rationally. Hence, Trump’s bizarre relationship with Putin.
I’m sure there are smart people around Trump who are using him to advance policies Republicans generally favor. For them, it's working: While the clown in the center ring grabs all the attention, men in understated suits quietly pick the pockets of the spectators.
But Republicans are riding a tiger. In the real world, emotionally undeveloped people tend to make bad decisions that end in disaster, the latest being Trump’s crazy week in Europe.
The only questions are how many disasters Trump will create before karma takes him down in flames, and how many Republicans in understated suits end up going down with him. That, and what remains of America after the curtain comes down on this circus.