Friday, January 05, 2018

Drum: Trump, Collusion, Obstruction, and Underdetermination

This is what I've been thinking for months, but I've never gotten around to typing it:
This whole subject remains maddeningly hard to make sense of. The problem is that Trump’s behavior is consistent with two diametrically opposite conclusions. Needless to say, it’s consistent with the possibility that Trump colluded with Russia in some way and is desperate to cover it up. But it’s also consistent with the possibility that Trump is entirely innocent. A person with Trump’s volcanic temper and bottomless feelings of grievance would probably react exactly the way he has if he had done nothing wrong.
   And that's, in large part, why I think that obstruction is more likely than collusion: so far we seem to have little evidence that makes it rational to believe the collusion hypothesis over the pissed off hypothesis. However, the obstruction hypothesis is just about equally strong in either case. And, of course, we know that Trump is given to petulant, irrational anger. It also seems to me to be rather silly to think that Trump is so foolish / imprudent as to do something like colluding with the Rooskies. Even if you think he'd have no moral qualms about it, I can't believe he's dumb enough to risk it. If you think he's survived and more-or-less flourished as a quasi-billionaire real estate tycoon by being that imprudent / bad at evaluating're probably wrong is what.
   (Also, of course, we have extremely good reason to believe that he fired Comey in order to derail the investigation. All that stuff provides an independent line of evidence supporting the obstruction hypothesis...but none of it favors collusion over pissed off.)
   In the end, my guess is that the following is one of the most likely scenarios: Trump didn't collude; La Resistance + MSM ( + the "deep state"? Is that a real thing?) push the idea/hope/tactic so hard that investigations threaten. This + Trump's trumpiness --> Trump gets pissed and afraid --> Trump fires Comey etc. = Obstruction --> impeachment or electoral loss or primary challenge or some other bad for Trump / good for the left outcome. Lesson: a sufficiently shrill and monomaniacal anti-democratic minority can bring down a president it doesn't like. Well...a loony one who can't control his anger, anyway.
   On a snarkier note, from the NYT story:
Some experts said the case [for obstruction] would be stronger if there was evidence that the president had told witnesses to lie under oath.
   Wow. Thanks, experts...


Blogger The Mystic said...

You know, this seems to me to be more or less a toss-up decision at this point. On the one hand, we have been given no obvious, incontrovertible evidence of collusion. On the other, we have a seemingly atypically large amount of less conclusive evidence for it.

That latter portion is definitely mitigated by observations about trump’s behavioral tendencies, as noted. However, we don’t have much more than that, if you ask me, when it comes to his defense.

1) The lack of overt and incontrovertible evidence available to the public may be an artifact of a careful investigation seeking to preclude any notion of a fair public hearing.

2) It is not unlikely, in my mind, that trump is stupid enough to risk collusion with Russia. He’s obviously legendarily ignorant of American politics, and it doesn’t seem to me improbable at all that he would be completely unaware that Russian aid in opposition research, so to speak, would be in any way problematic.

Regarding the evidentiary weight of his success in real estate as it relates to his ability to assess risk, well, I suggest looking more closely at trump’s business history. I did that here:

I may be wrong in my assessment, but the evidence seemed to me rather straightforward st the time I wrote it, and I don’t see much need to alter that position at present.

In addition, the explanation for his success as a virtually unavoidable consequence of his gathering massive monetary investments from others, resulting in his being too big to fail, as it were, coheres a hell of a lot more plainly with his demeanor and apparent lack of intelligence, care, or many redeeming qualities whatsoever, than the theory that he behaves and appears as he does despite somehow being...what? An idiot savant in a field as complex as risk assessment?

Just food for thought. I don’t think we’re as far towards the “anyone who thinks there’s collusion afoot is delusional” end of the spectrum as you seem to think we are. That said, I don’t think we’re significantly closer to the “anyone who doesn’t think there’s collusion afoot” end of that spectrum, either.

Hopefully, Mueller does his job properly and well.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ugh The Mystic, you've tripped one of my pet peeves with that article, the whole Trump, S&P index fund nonsense. A couple of things make this BS for the financially under informed. First, the benchmark they use is 1987. First, Look at the S&P in that year (it went down > 20% in a single day, Black Monday); the investment date is cherry picked Also, Trump did not actually start his business then. He had essentially generated 1000% returns on a lot of his early Manhattan investments, especially the development around Grand Central. Granted he had significant assistance from his father, but this was still really savvy work around the time when New York was a brutal place to do business.

Also, real estate investments have different rates of return than equities. It's a totally different asset with a different risk profile. You only get comparable returns by applying significant leverage (hence Trump's bankruptcies in AC and the financial crisis writ large). The S&P is the wrong benchmark, and I'm not sure a decent REIT index, which is closer to the mark, even exists that far back.

As far as discussion of Trump's abilities qua real estate developer, I think this is one of the better pieces I've seen, from the incomparable Scott Alexander. One of the upshots I got is that real estate development is a bizarro environment where BS is basically a survival strategy and Trump seems to have weirdly evolved to perfectly fit it.

12:25 PM  
Anonymous darius jedburgh said...

At the risk of being even more annoying than usual...

First, what Mystic said.

Second, about this:

Lesson: a sufficiently shrill and monomaniacal anti-democratic minority can bring down a president it doesn't like. Well...a loony one who can't control his anger, anyway.

What does 'a loony one who can't control his anger' mean? That is -- how loony and irascible, exactly would Trump have to be if he ends up being impeached or otherwise removed as a result of all this? Well, presumably, sufficiently loony and irascible to try to obstruct an investigation resulting from the unanimous verdict of the intelligence services that Russia had made a massive effort to interfere in the US presidential election. And loony and irascible enough to try to pressure his AG not to recuse himself from the investigation, so he (the AG) could shield Trump. And loony and irascible enough to fire the head of the FBI, and openly admit his purpose was to impede the Russia investigation.

So a sufficiently shrill and monomaniacal anti-democratic minority can bring down a president it doesn't like should be qualified: '...if that president engages in blatant obstruction of legitimate criminal investigations into, among other people, himself.'

So, kind of like Nixon then. Not sure the shrillness and anti-democratic nature of the minority is playing quite the explanatory role you're assigning to it here, Winston.

Third, perhaps I'm missing something, but it seems to me that, since Mueller's investigation is ongoing, and Mueller is pretty clearly runnning a tight ship, it's hugely premature at this point to be sneerily dismissive about its findings, as the Trumpkins (and many others) are being. How could we possibly know that there's nothing there (I'm talking about collusion / conspiracy now), that it's all a politically-motivated attack, etc etc? For all we know, Mueller might find -- might already have found -- serious criminal wrongdoing by Trump himself. It's not as though there's no smoke. Eg: DT jr, Manafort and Kushner taking a meeting with high-ranking Russians which Bannon denounced as 'treasonous' -- and then DT sr writing a completely mendacious rationale for the meeting to cover for his son. And there's plenty more circumstantial stuff where that came from.

12:39 PM  
Anonymous darius jedburgh said...

(Great Peirce post though. Did the godlike Smyth turn you on to that paper?)

12:41 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


Yeah, that was a stupid thing to say to indicate that only delusional people still think Trump colluded. Just flat-out dumb.

A more accurate representation of what I think: It's looking less likely that Trump "colluded" with the rooskies. Though, honestly, I now think it never looked all that likely. did... Yeah, I trust Mueller. I *absolutely* trust Mueller. (In fact, I was catching flak months ago for not being more outraged...and also catching flak for saying that I trusted the system, and was waiting to see... I still trust the system, and am still waiting to see.)

I'd be willing to bet a fair amount...say...I dunno...coupla hundred bucks? That there will be no conviction on "collusion."

I wouldn't make that bet on obstruction.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

>Great Peirce post though. Did the godlike Smyth turn you on to that paper?)

Yes, but, if you'd been reading your Peirce like you SHOULD have been, you'd know that it's one of his most well-known papers, maybe third only to "The Fixation of Belief" and "How to Make Our Ideas Clear." It's the first paper in the 1868 series published in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy.

Dude makes you work to understand his arguments, though...there's a great argument in there for a meta-regress against foundationalism...expressed in like one sentence.

5:39 PM  
Anonymous darius jedburgh said...

I freely admit that I haven't been reading my Peirce like I SHOULD have been. Mea culpa.

8:42 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yeah, almost nobody does.

It's really weird how neglected he is. I mean, there are explanations. He seems weird and inscrutable at first. There's no single, flagship book. Weird terminology. Highly abstract. Novel method... But it's still weird. Basically nobody outside the community of Peirce scholars ever does more than cite him in passing as somebody who is known to have discussed whatever they are discussing.

Over the course of the last year or so it's come to seem clearer and clearer to me that Wittgenstein had to have been more influenced by Peirce (probably via Ramsey) than has been realized. Apparently Cheryl Misak's new book is largely on that point, but it hasn't come in the mail yet.

I mean, their views are very different, and I tend to be sympathetic to Peirce and not so much to Wittgenstein. But there are really striking similarities at some points--including the private language argument. (Which everybody screws up anyway, IMO.)

8:55 AM  
Anonymous darius jedburgh said...

Funny -- I've just been rereading the 'private language' passage in the PI; about to teach Anscombe's Intention. Really interesting stuff, and also more deeply weird than I remember.

[Peirce] seems weird and inscrutable at first. There's no single, flagship book. Weird terminology. Highly abstract.

You might be speaking of Leibniz!

I just know enough to know that I should know a lot more about him. Arthur Prior, a total hero of mine, credits him with some very important advances in logic. But I have the impression that his non-standard terminology is an especially formidable obstacle in the case of his logical work.

8:34 PM  

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