The Critical Mass

The Dung Beetles of White House Policy

I’ve been out of town a lot recently, trips accompanied by self-imposed media blackouts. A period during which I don’t read newspapers, listen to the radio, watch television news or, the worse of the bunch, surf the internet. Sometimes you just have to get away from the craziness. Chase the moths from the cerebral attic.

Most recently I was in Cleveland, staying with my mother in her apartment for a few nights. The only rule I impose is: No Fox News. It’s the only television she watches, a constant companion. So we changed the channel to Turner Classic Movies: Tarzan of the Apes with Johnny Weissmuller. Mom and I talk about how various relatives are doing as a river full of angry hippos and alligators consume a raft of Jane’s African porters. Jane’s reaction seems to be it’s the porters’ fault that they were eaten.

But Mom’s got a bad cold, so she goes to bed for a nap. Where she turns on the radio, she says it helps her sleep.

And I hear shouting from her bedroom. I can’t make out most of what’s being said, but I recognize the angry tone. It’s Rush Limbaugh. Mom’s pulled an end-around on me. Conservative talk shows, it’s a tough addiction. Listening to Limbaugh, every fifth word is “OBAMA!” That’s a reference to the 44th president of the United States, who we seem to have forgotten. It seems like decades, but that was only 14 months ago. Whether or not you agreed with the policies, it was an era of calm, thoughtful, dignified, scandal-free leadership in the White House.

When I returned home after a couple of these recent trips to Ohio, and caught up on the news, the craziness had gotten… crazier. The NRA and the upside-down world of conservative commentary were calling the teenagers from Parkland, Fla. – you know, the people who were actually being shot at and watched their teachers and fellow students as they were killed and wounded – “crisis actors” who were politicizing a tragic event by demanding action on gun control.

An honest dung beetle at work.

And in the world of Trump, his spokespeople were scrambling like dung beetles, following his trail of tweets and unscripted nonsense, rolling the shit into balls and trying to tuck them out of sight, to clean up the stench. Insane statements from the president about arming teachers and punishing our world trade partners with tariffs. Yet the biggest stink was emitting from Jared Kushner, the senior White House adviser who’s been placed in charge of bringing peace to the Middle East, reforming the criminal justice system, smoothing relations with China and heading the White House Office of American Innovation, which Kushner said he would use to modernize the Department of Veterans Affairs, solve the opioid crisis and develop a national infrastructure plan. Henry Kissinger never had such a vast work load.

It seems Kushner’s globetrotting has also involved shaking down other countries for hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to keep the family real-estate business afloat. And if you don’t pay up – that’s you, Qatar – you will feel the might of American political influence wielded on behalf of private interests.

Imagine: A key White House official – so close to the president he’s sleeping with the man’s daughter – whose financial woes and naiveté make him an easy target for foreign nations intent on infiltrating the U.S. government. As a result, Kushner now has a lower security clearance than the White House calligrapher. That’s not a joke. The White House does employ a calligrapher, who officially has access to more U.S. government intelligence than one of the president’s top advisers.

It’s all so improbable, it sounds like a political thriller. Or more likely a satire, like Catch-22. The first year of the Trump presidency has seemly been drawn from the pages of novels. Here are a few best sellers:

Women Trouble. When a porn star threatens to reveal her affair with a presidential candidate just days before the election, his lawyer pays her $130,000 to stay quiet. And when the story comes out after the candidate is elected, it becomes a question of who to believe: Him, or the 20 or so women who have accused the president of sexual harassment and assault. Him, or his own words on that Access Hollywood tape?

Little White Lies. A former model and now adviser to the White House – let’s give her the improbable name of Hope Hicks – must protect a truth-challenged president from his lies with a series of “white lies” of her own.

The Russia White House. An American president and his clumsy children have turned to loans from Russian oligarchs in the hope of saving their economic empire. But when the bills come due, the White House’s promises to modify U.S. policy to suit Russian interests come under increasing scrutiny. Will the Russians play their ace card: A video that allegedly depicts the president watching Russian hookers urinating on a bed in a Moscow hotel room?

Donald Trump: Conspiracy Sleuth. It’s Obama’s fault! It’s the mainstream media’s fault! China is a currency manipulator! No, China is not a currency manipulator! It’s the fault of those Florida high school kids for not stopping their own killer! But what about Hillary…!

The Madness of King Donald. With his cabinet in tatters and his advisers cooperating with FBI investigators closing in on his corruption-riddled administration, the president is left to wander alone in the White House hallways before going to bed at 6:30 in the evening with a cheeseburger dinner, tweeting about what he sees on Fox News.

That’s what’s become of the U.S. government. It’s not leadership, it’s cheap entertainment.

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