Remember William of Occam? He was the medieval English monk who invented the razor. Not the one that kept his tonsure bare and shiny, but the one that he applied to the confusion of evidence. Bearded philosophers still use Occam’s Razor, the principle that when all else fails, the simplest explanation is the likeliest explanation.
Apply William’s logic-chopper to Donald Trump’s Helsinki performance, and you’re quickly down to two possibilities. One is that Trump, as John Brennan frothed on Twitter, is ‘treasonous’ and ‘wholly in the pocket of Putin’, presumably because of unspecified but urine-scented kompromat. The other is that, as Trump claimed on Tuesday, he said ‘would’ when he meant to say ‘wouldn’t’; that he didn’t mean to imply that he thought his intelligence services were wrong in identifying Russia as the source of the attempted subversion of the 2016 election; and that anyway, for him the real issue isn’t whether he gave the impression in Helsinki of being completely out of his depth, but to affirm that he won the election fairly, however you spell ‘collusion’.
Call me an optimist, but I incline towards the second possibility. The material facts are that Trump is 72 years old. He doesn’t exercise, he’s fat, and he eats cheeseburgers in bed. The Helsinki meeting was the last stop on a week-long trip to Europe. You could see him run out of steam as he went along. It was classic tourist stuff, familiar to anyone who lives on the East Coast and tries to do Europe in a week. Compound that by trying to combine business and leisure, and you have the perfect conditions for a jet lag that isn’t quite bad enough to make you fall asleep on your feet, but which is more than bad enough to turn you into a drooling fool within three days.
The adrenalin carried Trump through the first couple of days with NATO—as the old tourist comedy has it, If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium. But he was already tottering by the time he reached London on Thursday night. The Queen, who is 92, looked sprightlier. By the weekend, he was worn out, wobbling on his pins as he descended the steps from Air Force One. Of course, he went on to overdo it as we all do when we visit the motherland, by playing golf in a heatwave and eating funny foreign food in Scotland. By the time he reached Helsinki, he looked exhausted. No wonder it took him 24 hours to correct his ‘would’ into a ‘wouldn’t’. The jetlagged old geezer must have slept all the way back to Washington.
There are ways to minimise the effects of jet lag: melatonin pills, physical exercise, gingko biloba enemas, avoiding state dinners, avoiding off-the-cuff remarks during the press conference with your ‘competitor’. Trump doesn’t seem to have taken any of these measures on his holiday of a lifetime. His bumbling, incoherent performance in Helsinki was embarrassing, but not in the way of The Manchurian Candidate. Trump isn’t Agent Orange. If he’s a Russian sleeper, it’s in the way of second-term Ronald Reagan, the victor of the Cold War who was tucked up in bed with an old movie by the middle of the afternoon.
Trump gives similar performances at home, too, in the way of an aggressive, punch-drunk uncle who fancies himself to be handy with William of Occam’s razor. What you see is what you get, and what he thinks at any given moment is what we hear.
The truth, if that is a word to be used in this context, is that Trump is incapable of following any script. He can’t subordinate his mouth to anyone else’s words. He can’t even read a simple pre-prepared statement without going freestyle. He is constitutionally incapable of sustaining a public subterfuge in which his every word and action is determined by his fear of Putin spilling the kompromat. Anyone who believes this has succumbed to a conspiracy theory for which there is, thus far at least, no plausible evidence.
Reaching for William of Occam’s truth-telling toy once more, Trump’s three-stop European tour was a success, for him if not for everyone else. Yes, he embarrassed half of the American people, but a strong case can be made that he advanced the interests of the other half.
Trump forced his NATO partners to promise that they would honour their commitment to allocate 2 per cent of GDP to defense spending—and by doing so ensured that NATO will be more than a paper tiger. He reminded Theresa May that her shabby proposal for a diluted Brexit deal was a betrayal of the 2016 referendum and her 2017 election promises—and by doing so ensured that Britain will remain indentured to America.
The outcome of the Helsinki meeting is less clear. Perhaps Trump has begun to establish a working relationship with Putin; perhaps Putin, chuckling behind his Botox mask, is already thinking how to exploit Trump’s vanity. At the very least, the prospect of direct military contact between American and Russian forces—freely and recklessly evoked by Hillary Clinton over Syria in 2016—has receded somewhat. It certainly sounds as if some kind of co-ordination over post-civil war Syria was discussed.
Revile him if you will—and I’m appalled by him—but if you don’t want to succumb to the unreality on which he thrives, you must admit that, as that other portly impostor Meat Loaf once sang, Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad. It’s enough to make you take William of Occam’s nuclear option, the vow of silence.
Dominic Green is Culture Editor of Spectator USA.