Questioning Trump's (In)sanity

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On Friday the press was abuzz with the news that former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn had pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI about his contact with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the period between the 2016 election and Donald Trump's inauguration. Over the weekend anti-Trump hysteria reached its highest pitch in months, fueled by yet another cycle of op-eds questioning the president's sanity, alongside feverish speculation about the odds of his surviving the coming tempest. Rigorous political analysis was again conspicuous by its absence.

Two exceptions stood out. Amid all the sound and fury of the Flynn revelations and the ensuing Twitter storm, Harvard historian Niall Ferguson yesterday endeavored to explain how Donald Trump's admittedly "uncivil" and apparently "unstable" behaviour has distorted a fairly impressive political record: 3.5 per cent economic growth, record high U.S. stock markets, reduced business regulation, and the passage of tax reforms that "respectable economists" believe will benefit "not just the rich" but also working- and middle-class families. On foreign policy, too, says Ferguson—and particularly on the Korean missile crisis—Trump is holding his own. Conclusion: things are not as dire as the press would have us believe.

A second breath of fresh air came from Thomas Walkom, national-affairs columnist for the Toronto Star, who yesterday departed wholesale from the anti-Trump bent of the Canadian press corps to ask why Flynn thought he had to deceive the authorities in the first place. "I expect Flynn wouldn’t have bothered lying to the FBI about conversations with, say, the Canadian ambassador on matters of mutual interest," Walkom observed. If Trump's enemies imagine him as "Putin's malleable tool," it is because they accept the "improbable" premise of the "reigning conspiracy theory"—namely that the Russian president is some kind of "evil genius." Conclusion: whatever else they might be, Flynn and now Trump are victims of the media's overblown, Cold War-styled "paranoia" about Russia.

Neither Ferguson or Walkom are much enmoured of Donald Trump. Ferguson condemns his "incorrigible crassness" and the damage he has inflicted on social civility with his "hasty, crude, and error-strewn" tweets. Walkom has used the term Trumpism to denounce what he sees as the shameful populist drift in Canadian human-rights talk, among other worrisome trends. Both writers are discerning, studious and impartial; as it happens, neither is American. This may be what makes their dispassionate analysis of the Trump presidency so trenchant.