January 7, 2018

Barnum and Bannon’s 3-Ring Circus

by Hal Gershowitz

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Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsOkay, our headline is a play on words, but our government is rapidly devolving into a three-ring circus.

As Mark Twain reminded us over one hundred years ago, referring to the legislative branch of government, “no man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

The second ring, the Judiciary, is having a make-over as the Trump Administration, with surgical precision, assiduously remakes the face of the federal judiciary.

More on these two rings of this three-ring circus in a later essay. Right now, let’s focus on the center ring, under Washington’s Big Top (aka The White House).

It is, indeed, a circus—The Greatest Show on Earth, with high-wire artists balancing precariously overhead, twirling dervishes (spokespersons) in the briefing room, wild animals (clawing at one another) on pedestals here, flame swallowers there, and knife throwers, well, everywhere.

The thing is, it’s not entertaining—it’s not funny. Nor, we must observe, is all of the circus atmosphere and the discontinuity of our public life the ringmaster’s fault.

Donald Trump, like it or not, is the constitutionally elected President of the United States. Many politicians, media talking heads, and a plethora of highly opinionated bloviators on both the left and the right just can’t stand that reality. Their mission has become to bring him down, to nullify the last election. As the likelihood of finding evidence of illegal campaign collusion between Trump and the Kremlin fades, the President’s antagonists pin their hopes on some finding of wrongdoing, somewhere, sometime, something.

California billionaire Tom Steyer has committed to spending $20 million to promote an impeachment movement. Well, impeachment isn’t, or shouldn’t be, about movements. Impeachment should result from a finding by the House of Representatives of an offense such as “Treason, Bribery, or other (emphasis added) high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” as specified by our constitution. It is true that no one can say, with specificity, what was intended by misdemeanors, other than to say that the constitution clearly put it in the same league as “or other high crimes” with specific reference only to treason and bribery.”  But we digress.

The news of late has been dominated by Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” in which all manner of White House insiders are alleged to have referred to President Trump, at one time or another, as an idiot, a moron, dumb, and a variety of other damning descriptions, and Steve Bannon having referred to those  who met with Russian intermediaries to get dirt on Hillary (Donald Jr., Jared Kushner or Paul Manafort) as “treasonous,” which proves only that Steve Bannon has no idea what the definition of treason is.

While there are, apparently, somewhat inconsequential inaccuracies in Wolff’s book, we find little startling in what he writes. We don’t mean that these quotes from White House insiders aren’t damning; we just note that they are not really new. We’ve heard nearly all these alleged statements before in many newspaper stories and television commentaries, and we have no trouble believing that in the frustrating, three-ring circus and presidential twitter world that is The White House, such descriptions have been thrown around quite a lot and with ample pique, even if not with any technical accuracy.

Today, they are simply terms of derision. For the record, an “idiot” would be described (if used at all) technically, as a person having a mental age of less than three years old and an intelligence quotient under 25. A “moron” would be a person of borderline intelligence having an intelligence quotient of 50 to 69. They are meaningless, albeit derisive terms today, other than to denote frustrating, if not wrongheaded, behavior or decision making.

Michael Wolff’s book is, of course, sensational but neither surprising nor unprecedented in its descriptions of staff utterances with respect to this President.

So, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has become a laughing stock, or worse, a place over which we should shed tears. Sadly, it is the institution of the Oval Office that suffers the most.

While House Senior Advisor, Stephen Miller,  called the book “grotesque” and writer Michael Wolff “the garbage author of a garbage book.” Miller referred to Steve Bannon, Wolff’s primary source, as “angry and vindictive.”

CIA Director Mike Pompeo called Wolff’s description of Trump “ludicrous,” and UN Ambassador to the United Nations, Nickie Haley, said she meets with the President weekly and is in constant contact with White House staff and, she insisted, those around Trump respect their president.

As someone who, many years ago, spent many years in Washington, and attended briefings in the White House, in cabinet offices and on Capitol Hill, I think what we and the rest of the world are observing is sad and unprecedented. As President Trump likes to remind other nations, the world is watching.

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9 responses to “Barnum and Bannon’s 3-Ring Circus”

  1. Susan duman says:

    Thank you.
    I needed this message NOW.

  2. marc slavin says:

    We have become a country of classless narcissistic people. In the real business world you run into so many people that you don’t like, but the reality is that you must work together for the betterment of the organization that you represent. Politicians have yet to grasp this basic Management 101 concept. They believe tearing the other person down is productive. So who are the real morons really.

  3. Janice Marcus says:

    I looked up The definition of treason, and I would say that A number of the pundints on CNN and MSNBC are committing treason along with Tom Steyer and all the other people that are trying to Force this president out of office!

    • No, the First Amendment and subsequent court decisions pretty much allows unfettered criticism, especially of a public figure, and political “speech”, in an effort to bring down any politician, is never Treason. In some rare cases, maybe slander or liable laws could be invoked, but Treason, never. We, thankfully, let the Alien and Sedition Act die a natural death during the Jefferson Administration, so prosecution for criticizing politicians is a well-established no no.

  4. Judy says:

    The swamp needs to be cleaned for sure…. but Oprah…? Hollywood! Hollywood !

  5. Sheila says:

    Wolff’s book may be tasteless and sensational, but he claims he has dozens of tapes to back up his quotes. Importantly, you don’t hear denials from those he quoted — only from Bannon, who is back peddling now since the Mercers just pulled all their financial support from him and Breitbart.

    As to collusion: If there was no collusion or obstruction of justice, why are Trump and the Congressional Republicans hysterically scrambling to block the Mueller investigation? Why not let him do his job? Mueller’s professional integrity was uniformly applauded by Congress when he was appointed by Rosenstein. Rosenstein has given Mueller free rein to explore wherever the facts take him. Mueller is a consummate professional, doing his job.

    Ken Starr was hired in 1994 and released his report in 1998. This was ok with the Clinton haters back then. Mueller is working at warp speed compared to Starr. He has indicted two of Trump’s former staff, and has two guilty pleas who are also cooperating witnesses. This is clearly no hoax. If there is nothing to see there, we’ll find out soon enough. Let Mueller finish his job!

  6. Sheila says:

    Correction: apparently there were three quote denials on Wolff’s book, aside from Bannon: Thomas Barrack Jr., a billionaire Trump crony, Katie Walsh, former Deputy Chief of Staff and Hannity. Hannity, in my opinion has no credibility whatsoever – he doesn’t even try to present unbiased news. Katie Walsh and Barrack are more important. However, if Wolff has tapes, he will presumably be asked to produce them at some point. At the end of the day, this book really holds no surprises — anyone paying attention to tweets and behavior, could not help but feel alarm at the unmitigated chaos that emanates from the highest levels of our government.

    I do agree with you, Hal, that it is the institution of the Presidency, that suffers from the Wolff revelations. Steve Schmidt, former McCain campaign chair, nailed the whole tragic scenario on the head a few nights ago:

    “ And truly when you look at their comportment in this majestic place in the West Wing of the White House, they couldn’t be more vile than if they were monkeys hurling excrement at each other in a cage.”

    Let’s hope the Generals will keep their cool. They’re all we’ve got at this point.

  7. Robert borns says:

    Not only Elvis has left the building. Reason has left also. Our president and our government have platefuls of problems to solve. And the press and opposition politicians are worrying about Melanie’s shoes, how many colas the president drinks and what is written by a low class national enquirer type of writer. Meanwhile trump and his group of advisors and associates are advancing the best interests of this country and its citizens. God bless our president!

  8. Mike says:

    An outstanding post. What most miss is that “if you pitch you’d better be able to catch.” In other words, payback can be a B*****. So right now, the Left’s mission is to denigrate and degrade the Trump Presidency. What they overlook is that when we have a Democratic President, you’ll witness the same treatment. To a certain extent we saw members on the Right do the same thing with Obama. The main difference is the mainstream media dismissed the Obama attacks. With Trump, they are fueling the attacks. Your essay really nailed the current situation. Thank you

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