As stated above, this familiar question doesn't exactly make sense: Last Friday morning, Professor Goodman tackled a nagging problem. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, he criticized the widespread use of the term "collusion" in our recent discussions and debates.
"Can We Please Stop Talking About ‘Collusion’?" That's what the professor asked in his headline. Early on, he started trying to define the problem surrounding the ongoing use of that term:
GOODMAN (11/3/17): For one reason or another, “collusion” has become the term of choice for discussing what the Trump campaign may or may not have done with Russians. Those in the Trump camp use it regularly: “I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government,” Jared Kushner told Congress this summer. “I did not collude with any foreign government,” Donald Trump Jr. said. “I deeply resent any allegation that I would collude with the oppressive Russian state,” the Republican strategist Roger Stone harrumphed.There is no question that this term has been in widespread use. For our money, the professor quickly got into the legalistic weeds when he started trying to explain what's been wrong with use of the term.
It isn’t just those in the Trump camp, though, who have settled on using this word. Among the first to refer to collusion was John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, who raised the specter on “Meet the Press”: “I would argue that there’s very, it’s very much unknown whether there was collusion.” In that same week, Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said of Trump campaign connections to WikiLeaks, “So there is collusion there, clearly.” The term has been a touchstone ever since.
As a general matter, he notes that committing "collusion" isn't a crime—unlike, let's say, committing burglary or committing a murder. But we think his argument soon becomes narrow and hard to follow.
That said, the term is being thrown around in a promiscuous, imprecise way. A few notes here on the term "collusion:"
You have to collude in something: First, you can't engage in "collusion," full stop. You have to collude with somebody—in this case, with the Russkies, by which we presumably mean with Russian officials.
(While we're at it, please note the imprecise, promiscuous way the term "Russians" gets thrown around.)
Beyond that, though, you have to collude in something. If you're going to accuse Person A or colluding with the Russkies, you are going to have to say what the parties colluded in.
It has to be something illegal, unseemly, improper: When Jimmy Carter joined poor people in building low-cost houses, he didn't "collude" with them in that act. The term "collusion" implies that Person A and Person B have joined in some action which is illegal, unseemly, nefarious, improper or wrong.
In the current circumstance, the term routinely gets thrown around in ways which fudge that distinction. Consider one widespread example from last week:
To the extent that he tried to arrange a meeting between Candidate Trump and President Putin, was George Papadopoulos "colluding" with the Russkies?
It feels good to make such a claim; it makes us feel that our hunt for collusion is done. But in and of itself, on its face, there's nothing illegal or improper about arranging or holding such a meeting.
Example: Candidate Trump flew to Mexico City to meet with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto during the last election. On its face, there was nothing "wrong" (or even unusual) with such conduct.
It would be strange to describe such a meeting, in itself, as an act of "collusion." And yet, that's what cable stars were doing last week as they excitedly said that Papadopoulos had engaged in or suggested "collusion" when he lobbied for, and apparently tried to arrange, a meeting between Putin and Trump.
(Note: This is the way the children behave when they go on a stampede. Everything starts to look like an example of the deeply desired conduct.)
Donald J. Trump's blanket denials make no apparent sense: Stampeding pundits are eager to refer to all sorts of actions as "collusion." On the other hand, Donald J. Trump recently offered a trademark pair of tweets, in which he offered these thoughts concerning the criminal charges against Paul Manafort, an extremely junior staffer on his White House campaign:
Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????There is NO COLLUSION? How could Trump possibly know that? Conceivably, he could know that he himself didn't join with the Russkies in any nefarious activities. But how could be know that other members of his campaign engaged in no such conduct?
....Also, there is NO COLLUSION!
Trump's claims almost never make sense. Those on cable tend to be sad as well. In and of itself, an attempt to arrange a meeting with Putin wouldn't have been an example of "collusion" in any obvious way. This remains true no matter how much the gods of cable long for a simplified world in which their favorite story lines have prevailed.
Our cable stars just aren't real sharp. In truth, they're rather childish. They spend lots of time in makeup and hair. They may spend a bit less time sharpening their analytical techniques.