Russian Roulette

It may be about time to add a new chapter to Charles Mackay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Mackey dilated on scams like the South Sea Bubble and wild speculations like Tulipmania in 17th century Holland, when a single tulip bulb could sell for more than a mansion.

There was the distinct aroma of fraudulence, abetted by naïveté, about most of the enterprises Mackay described. And so it is with the new chapter I am proposing. It might be called "Russian Roulette." I am thinking not of the messy game with a revolver, but rather the insinuation sweepstakes currently being deployed against Donald Trump by the Democrats and their pets in the media.

Since the game is still in process, we cannot quite finish the chapter. But we know how it starts. It starts with groundless accusations that Donald Trump and/or his surrogates somehow "colluded," had illicit ties with, the Russians. Maybe he helped them "hack the election." Maybe he is Putin's puppet. We don't quite know. But this calls for a "special prosecutor" (even though such a thing doesn't exist), a criminal investigation, the impeachment or at least the delegitimization of Donald Trump and all his works.

Last week, Holman Jenkins had an excellent, sobering-up piece on the Left's "Putin Fantasies." He quickly dispatches all the usual suspects: Paul Manafort, Roger Cohen, Carter Page, et al. He quotes "veteran foreign correspondent Susan B. Glasser," who treats readers of the New York Times to this breathless animadversion:

Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and actions as president bear more than a passing resemblance to those of Mr. Putin during his first years consolidating power. The similarities are striking enough that they should not be easily dismissed.

Oh, yes: "The similarities are indeed striking," Jenkins observes. "Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump both have arms and legs. When it comes to distinguishing noise from signal, however, two men could not be less alike":

Russia was a country in chaos. Its president was a drunk seeking a successor to protect his daughter and friends from corruption investigations. Mr. Putin, a former KGB agent and head of the secret police, ran one of the few, after a fashion, functioning institutions in Russia, albeit arm in arm with organized crime.

Mr. Trump’s rise couldn’t be more different. He’s a reality TV star and brand manager. To an unusual degree, he’s a president who lacks even a party. Meanwhile, the courts, the bureaucracy, the media, the political parties all continue to function as they always have.

"Striking similarities" underwritten by categorical differences.

No, when it comes to this new game of Russian Roulette, Ted Cruz got it right: it is a "nothingburger."

Well, not quite nothing. So far, there is no evidence of malfeasance, of anything improper or illegal. But there is plenty of anchorless animus directed at Trump by the Democrats and their media pets. So far, it amounts to what William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection has called "The fact-free Intelligence Community-Media trial of Trump by innuendo."