Tuesday, August 14, 2018

'A plausible theory of mind-boggling collusion'

Why is Trump alienating our European allies?
Why did Trump support Brexit?
Why did the Republican party remove a plank advocating helping the Ukraine?
Why was a Trump server communicating with the Russian Alfa Bank?
Why has the top leadership of the FBI all (but one) been fired?
Why has Trump failed to execute the congress-approved sanctions on Russia?
Why was, and is, Trump having secret meetings with Putin?
Why has Manafort clammed up? Is he afraid for his life?
Why does Trump charge the free press as “enemy of the people”?
Why did Russia, Putin really, interfere with the 2016 election to help Trump and hurt Clinton?
Why is Trump ignoring his intelligence community’s conclusions about 2016? And 2018?

Is there a coherent explanation that ties these questions together?

Yes. As I blogged back in July, “There are just too many … pieces of verbal evidence, publicly available, that as a whole are consistent with the hypothesis that Putin has something big on Trump.”

Yesterday (Aug. 13th), at Blog for Arizona, Michael Bryan asked What if Trump Really is a Russian Dupe? The motivation for that question is this Daily Intelligencer piece by Jonathan Chait, Will Trump Be Meeting With His Counterpart — Or His Handler? A plausible theory of mind-boggling collusion.

The above list of questions is a small sample of the ground covered by Chait. Below are teasers from the beginning of Chait’s essay.

The media has treated the notion that Russia has personally compromised the president of the United States as something close to a kook theory. A minority of analysts, mostly but not exclusively on the right, have promoted aggressively exculpatory interpretations of the known facts, in which every suspicious piece of evidence turns out to have a surprisingly innocent explanation. And it is possible, though unlikely, that every trail between Trump Tower and the Kremlin extends no farther than its point of current visibility.

What is missing from our imagination is the unlikely but possible outcome on the other end: that this is all much worse than we suspect. After all, treating a small probability as if it were nonexistent is the very error much of the news media made in covering the presidential horse race. And while the body of publicly available information about the Russia scandal is already extensive, the way it has been delivered — scoop after scoop of discrete nuggets of information — has been disorienting and difficult to follow. What would it look like if it were reassembled into a single narrative, one that distinguished between fact and speculation but didn’t myopically focus on the most certain conclusions?

Chait is on the right path. Consider three pieces of evidence, each explained by a unique “surprisingly innocent explanation.”

Evidence A is explained by W
Evidence B is explained by X
Evidence C is explained by Y

Then consider a simpler explanation of A, B, and C:

Evidence A is explained by Z
Evidence B is explained by Z
Evidence C is explained by Z

According to the principles of explanatory coherence, we should prefer the second case because of the explanatory breadth of Theory Z. The British Psychological Society asserts that “The criterion of explanatory breadth is the most important criterion for choosing the best explanation. It captures the idea that a theory is more explanatorily coherent than its rivals if it explains a greater range of facts.”

And that is what Chait aspired to in his essay.

Consider this one required reading. Set aside a half hour or so. Be prepared to be scared.

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