What is the Trump administration?
Is it a highly organized, populist-nationalist team, led by an iron-willed President, pursuing a carefully conceived plan to remake the economy and rewrite the American-led international order?
Or is it an executive office whose salient organizational feature is its almost complete lack of organization, led by a President who likes the perks of office, isn't much interested in governing, chooses loyalty over competence, and who issues endless streams of half-baked statements that his crew of retainers struggle to implement or even understand?
It's only Week Four of President Donald Trump. But his confusing time in office has already been marked by a frantic pace of announcements, reverses, embarrassments (see: cooking up a response to a North Korean missile launch over dinner in a public club), trouble getting cabinet secretaries approved by a Republican-controlled Congress and now – again, we're only in Week Four – the resignation of one of his most senior appointees.
Michael Flynn, the National Security Adviser, is out. As far as it goes, that's a good thing. But the reason he's gone, and the backstory of how he ended up as a star on Team Trump, raises more questions about the most disconcerting administration in modern American history, and where it's headed.
Mr. Flynn, a former army lieutenant-general, was until 2014 the director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, but he left the Obama Administration under a cloud. He was accused of managerial incompetence, and of having a love of alternative facts that came to be mocked as "Flynn facts." He also appeared to be drifting into the camp of those who see international relations as a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West.
Mr. Flynn threw his lot in with the Trump campaign last year. He spoke at the Republican National Convention, attacking Hillary Clinton and leading the crowd in chants of "Lock her up!" He did not mean it metaphorically. His fellow generals, guardians of a non-partisan fighting force, were dismayed.
But what Mr. Flynn did the year before he officially joined Team Trump caused far more worry. After leaving the military, he became a frequent guest on the RT television network, the Russian government's propaganda vehicle. He also attended a 2015 gala hosted by RT, where he gave a paid speech and was seated next to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
That somebody who knew all of U.S. intelligence's secrets was apparently in bed with the Kremlin set off alarm bells across Washington. But Mr. Trump, instead of backing away from Mr. Flynn, named him as National Security Adviser.
Because Mr. Trump refuses to even mildly criticize Mr. Putin, while regularly berating traditional U.S. allies, the appointment of Mr. Flynn sent an ominous signal.
But as they say in the sales world: Wait, there's more! Before Mr. Trump's swearing-in, Mr. Flynn met with his friend, the Russian ambassador. In fact, they met on the very day that the outgoing administration of Barack Obama, responding to ample evidence of Russian interference in the American election, imposed retaliatory sanctions against Russia. Mr. Flynn denied that sanctions, or their possible softening once Mr. Trump came to power, were ever discussed. And Vice-President Mike Pence, apparently relying on Mr. Flynn's denials, publicly backed him up.
And then Mr. Flynn's story started to fall apart. He himself backed away from it, saying that, come to think of it, he couldn't recall exactly what was or wasn't discussed. The meeting turns out to have been taped by American intelligence operatives, and The Washington Post reported this week that numerous sources say sanctions were on the menu. This may have been a breach of a U.S. law; it certainly leaves the impression of an incoming administration official being more loyal to Moscow than to his own country's elected government.
But wait, there's still more.
On Tuesday, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said that the President has known since late January that Mr. Flynn had not told the truth about his Russian meeting. It's not clear why Mr. Flynn was not fired then. And as of Tuesday, the Trump administration was insisting that the canning of Mr. Flynn was solely a matter of having lost trust in him, as a result of his lying to the VP. The legal, moral and policy concerns, all of which strike us as ultimately far more important, have been brushed aside by the administration.
Also on Tuesday, no doubt entirely by coincidence, the White House announced: "President Trump expects the Russian government to de-escalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea."
Is this a new tack for Trump policy? A perfunctory statement, signifying nothing? Both? Neither?
The world anxiously awaits Week Five.