Remember The Manchurian Candidate, a 1959 political thriller with a plot so improbable as to diminish its entertainment value? Bet you never thought you would be living in this plot.
David Frum, speech writer for George Bush the Younger, writes,
“Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that.”—Donald Trump on Vladimir Putin, en route to Hanoi, November 11, 2017.
So, to put it bluntly: At this point in the proceedings, there can be no innocent explanation for Donald Trump’s rejection of the truth about Russian meddling in last year’s elections. Earlier, it may have been suggested, sympathetically, that the case had not yet been proven. That Trump’s vanity blocked him from acknowledging embarrassing facts. Or—more hopefully—that he was inspired by some Kissingerian grand design for a diplomatic breakthrough. Or that he was lazy. Or stubborn. Or uninformed. Or something, anything, other than … complicit. Not anymore.
As yet, it remains unproven whether Trump himself was personally complicit in Putin’s attack on U.S. democracy as it happened during last year’s presidential campaign. What is becoming ever-more undeniable is Trump’s complicity in the attack after the fact—and his willingness to smash the intelligence and counter-intelligence agencies in order to protect Putin, Russia, and evidently himself. …
At any time, this situation would be dire and ominous. It’s graver still at a time when this president seems determined to lead the United States into a preventive war in the Korean peninsula. President Trump may soon demand that this country incur terrible risks and accept heavy sacrifices—even as he leaves Americans in darkening doubt over whose interests he is serving, and why.
Yes, indeed. But, all that said, I don’t believe that, in the book, the Manchurian candidate actually admitted that he was the Manchurian candidate—which is what Trump has essentially done.
A Russian agent who said, “Yup, I’m a Russian agent all right,” would be a piss poor Russian agent. This leads Jennifer Rubin to conclude that Trump is not a conscious agent of Russia, just highly gullible:
President Trump’s authoritarianism, narcissism and racism threaten our democracy, but his gullibility threatens our national security. A man so uneducated and incurious about the world is willing, like his followers, to buy any crackpot conspiracy theory that makes its way to him via the Infowars-“Fox & Friends” pipeline. On the world stage, that makes him a sitting duck for slick manipulators and experienced flatterers. …
Trump is very much like the devoted Fox viewer who sits mesmerized in front of the screen, searching for evidence to support his prejudices, baseless suspicions and grievances against elites. See, there’s another crime by an immigrant. See, they’re all murderers. See, Sean Hannity found someone to say the Democrats hacked themselves! See, the Russia investigation is a hoax. Soaking up the brew of innuendo, hoaxes, lies and paranoia, Trump and his followers come to believe it all — and disbelieve the facts under their noses.
David Atkins marshals the evidence in support of the view that Trump’s pro-Russian views arise from stupidity. As Sherlock Holmes put it so well, when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Atkins writes,
The most obvious answer is simply that Trump likes Vladimir Putin and doesn’t want to upset him, or that the Russian president has blackmail goods on Trump. But that would only explain soft-pedaling on Russia issues behind the scenes. Trump doesn’t need to publicly look like a credulous fool in front of world reporters to keep Putin happy.
The other frequent response to Trump’s bizarre behavior is that he is trying to please his base for domestic political reasons. But that doesn’t fly here, either. Trump has been shedding public approval over the Russia fiasco, and while his hardcore base may not care about the Russia story, they also (outside of a radical contingent) aren’t deeply invested in Putin.
The real answer seems to be that Donald Trump really is as naive as he appears to be. If Putin tells him he didn’t meddle, he believes him. If reporters ask him about it, he says what’s on his mind.
That shouldn’t make us feel any better about it. The President of the United States isn’t just a complicit tool of Russian plutocratic white supremacist influence. He’s an unwitting one as well.
Conclusion: we are all passengers in a jumbo jet being flown by someone who does not know how to fly a plane.