It comes down to a binary choice. Either he is a monster or an ignoramus.
Either Donald Trump did nothing when informed that American intelligence believed Russia was paying a bounty to the Taliban for killing American military personnel in Afghanistan, or he had no clue, didn’t even know it was going on.
A monster or an ignoramus? Well, if you believe Trump, he's the latter.
Which makes you wonder if he understands how excuses work. Your excuse is supposed to exonerate you, show you innocent of all charges. His have a tendency to show him thick as a brick, stretching credulity like taffy.
He tweeted a thank-you to some guy caught on video yelling “White Power”? Oh, he didn’t hear that part.
He needed two hands to drink a glass of water? Oh, he didn’t want to mess up his tie.
He said he had the coronavirus pandemic under control? Oh, the death toll could have been much worse.
He suggested injecting household disinfectants as a cure? Oh, he was only joking.
He fired the prosecutor investigating his personal lawyer? Oh, he was not involved in that.
Who can be surprised, then, that Trump has responded to news of Russia putting a price on American heads by saying nobody told him?
Except that apparently, somebody did. The New York Times reports that two American officials say the information was included in late February in the President's Daily Brief, a document summarizing national security concerns and assessments that is prepared by the intelligence community each morning for the president to read. In all fairness, that last word is problematic with this particular president, whose impatience with the printed word is legendary.
And besides, he's a busy man. Indeed, according to one of the Times' sources, the specific date the Russian intel was included was February 27, a day Trump met with "Diamond and Silk," two former Fox "News" personalities famed for being black and loud while supporting him. Because, you know, priorities.
Presumably, the PDB he received that day would have told him how three marines were killed by a bomb last April. Presumably, it would have informed him that this tragedy has emerged as the focal point of a probe suggesting Russia put a bull's-eye on Americans. Whereupon a normal president would surely have raised the alarm, confronted the enemy or, at a minimum, acknowledged the crime.
But again, Trump is a very busy man, what with coronavirus blame to dodge and Confederate statues to defend.
And in the end, it doesn't matter much whether he is a moral monster or an utter ignoramus. Or both. What he undeniably is is a man who has spent a lifetime oozing his way out of accountability. From his bone spurs to his broken marriages to his bankrupt casinos to his fraudulent university to his crooked charity to his failed meat company to his unpaid bills to the manifold debacles of his presidency, when has Trump ever had to stand up and take the weight? No, avoiding the weight is who he is, who he always will be.
Yet if this latest episode teaches us nothing new about Trump, one harbors a faint hope that it may be a Rubicon of sorts, a bridge finally too far, for some of his enablers, for the pundits, politicians and aides who serve as his unswerving amen corner, professing to divine perfume-scented rainbows in the steaming piles of horse manure he leaves behind. One hopes they finally understand the bottom line here: you can support your country or Trump, but not both.
That, too, is a binary choice.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald. firstname.lastname@example.org