One of our favorite SNL sketches is thirty years old. In it, Phil Hartman plays Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office, doing his Charming Old Codger bit for visitors. But as soon as they leave, he takes charge, commanding his hapless minions with supreme intelligence and authority.
It was hilarious — then and now — because it was so obviously not the case, despite efforts to portray Reagan as fully engaged in his own administration. And when it aired in December 1986, the Iran-Contra scandal had been revealed only weeks earlier.
Similar sketches were written for George W. Bush, who might have been slightly more engaged than Reagan, but not nearly as engaged as Dick Cheney. Just imagine Will Ferrell saying “I’m the Decider”, and a whole era springs to mind.
And then there’s Donald Trump, who couldn’t be less engaged.
We knew this going in, of course, and we’ve all been entertained of late by numerous examples of what that amounts to. There are the Reaganesque one-page briefings, but with the added twist of more pictures. And if those aren’t sufficient, staff now knows to include Trump’s name in important paragraphs, because he’s sure to read those.
Still not enough? Fluff the boss on his electoral win. And if something’s really important, be the last person to talk to him, because Donald Trump’s head has room for only two thoughts, and one of those thoughts is always Donald Trump.
The picture that emerges from all these details is that Donald Trump is ridiculously easy to manipulate — a puppet who swears he’s a real boy. For someone we see as a World-Historical Con Man, Donald Trump is also the World’s Greatest Patsy.
Which hasn’t escaped the notice of the World’s Greatest Manipulator. You learn a thing or two in the KGB.
This leads us to a simple question: What if Donald Trump is telling the truth?
What if he didn’t personally interact with Russians during his campaign? What if he was totally unaware of what close advisers and relatives — Hi, Jared! — were getting on about?
You might think that insane, that nobody could be that stupid, especially an American President, and you would be totally adorable for thinking so.
You might instead think that the proposition is merely improbable, given Trump’s recent financial history with the Russians, which surely he must know some detail about, unless he was simply too grateful for their investments when most banks had turned their backs on him, and didn’t think to ask.
And you might reasonably consider the old trick where the boss knows but pretends he doesn’t, and there’s no way to prove otherwise.
We don’t recall when we first learned about “plausible deniability”. Must have been Watergate.
But looking at the evidence at hand, and what we know of the man from decades of life in public, it’s very possible that he truly is as fucking clueless as he seems, someone who won’t ask questions as long as you grease his palms and kiss his ass, someone who’s comfy fleecing the gullible while not realizing he’s being fleeced by the mighty.
And if this is possible, we have to allow for the possibility that Donald Trump may be personally innocent of foreign collusion by reason of stupidity.