Perhaps the new administration will find its way back to this type of apparent guilefulness. Because so far all we’ve seen from President Trump is the wrong kind of crazy: capricious, counterproductive, cruel and dumb.
So much was evident with the president’s refugee ban on Saturday. And with Steve Bannon’s elevation to the National Security Council, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s demotion from it. And with the announcement Wednesday that Mexico would pay for the wall. And with the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal on Monday and the aggressively protectionist themes of his inaugural. And with his performance at CIA headquarters. And with his incontinent fixations on crowd size and alleged voter fraud.
Come to think of it, nearly the only thing the president did in the past week that conveyed any appearance of measure and moderation was his phone call Saturday with Vladimir Putin—itself another instance of the wrong kind of crazy.
Above all, the right kind of crazy requires sufficient ambiguity to provide room for political and diplomatic maneuver. With Mr. Trump, it can sometimes be hard to tell whether his utterances are serious or in jest—a semi-ironic pose that served him well in the campaign. But so far, what this administration has mainly managed to do is paint itself into corners, where it either has to back down or double down. That’s crazy of a particularly dangerous sort.
Maybe I’m misreading the administration’s intentions. It may be that its idea of crazy is to throw half the country into a state of semi-constant apoplexy, to the point of national exhaustion with its own outrage. But I doubt it. A proper theory of crazy requires a presumption of smarts that nobody in this administration has yet earned. Like Sigmund Freud’s cigar, sometimes crazy is just crazy.