Okay, 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.