Wanting and Having




These guys...





...really miss this guy.


After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.--Mr. Spock, "Amok Time," Star Trek, 1967.

They've wanted this a very long time: single-party control of Washington, the chance to open the floodgates and release volumes of pent-up legislation that's been stymied by a stubbornly thoughtful, responsible President. For all that time, they've been able to deflect criticism of their utter ineffectiveness as lawmakers, with their Senate majority too small to overcome a veto. Give us a President we can work with, they've said, and watch how much we accomplish.

And it came to pass that, through a Constitutional quirk that gives more a voice to rural states than urban states, the election did miraculously go the way in which the Republicans had hoped it would, and there was great rejoicing, for lo, there would be a new King in Washington who knew the harsh and miserly God of Mitch and Paul and would act righteously in their eyes by advancing their agenda.

So at last, the right-wingers got what they wanted, as with great joy they anointed King Donald I. He marched into the Oval Office and began signing whatever executive order his Grand Vizier handed to him. It was everything the legislators had hoped for, longed for, prayed for, and more, because he did it with panache, proudly displaying every one of those orders for the cameras. Those pictures were salt in the wound and sand in the eye to the many Democrats who had just voted, as an overall majority, for their candidate rather than this pretender, as the pictures captured the Trumpy smirk, while conveying the sense that the new President was flaunting his power, proudly holding up his handiwork like a Cub Scout showing off his Pinewood Derby car.

His day's signing work completed, he went home to the residence, watched a lot of Fox News, and, in the middle of the night, tweeted abhorrent things for all the world to read.

Soon the news cycle shifted from covering the content of the executive orders--most of which had been hastily drafted, inadequately vetted, and were crammed with legal errors, easily challenged in court--to the spectacle that was the President's very public personality. His Twitter feed teemed with reactionary attacks on his detractors, exaggerations and lies about the margin of his victory, appeals for support from his populist voter base even as the orders he signed began to strip them of entitlements and to endanger their fledgling access to affordable health care.

The pandering, carnival-barking nature of many of the tweets could be easily dismissed. Not so the attacks on individuals, institutions, and entire sovereign nations, reaching a climax (for now) with unfounded accusations that his predecessor had illegally tapped his phone.

From any other citizen, however famous, such tweets would be easily ignored by all but the most celebrity-driven of news media, and be greeted on Capitol Hill with shrugs of indifference. This was no longer any other citizen, though: it was the President of the United States, a man with more real power than any other human being in existence. Nothing he said could be ignored. Congress had to deal with these words, investigating their credence just as seriously as if they had been leveled by the director of the FBI or CIA. Both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees did just that, demanding the Justice Department hand over any evidence supporting the claims. None was forthcoming. Sean Spicer, the President's press secretary, has, on various occasions, sought to spin, deny, downplay, or justify the President's words, as has every other member of the White House staff except the President.

It's no use: the man will not back down.

All this has left the House and Senate leadership in an extremely uncomfortable position: at a time when they would like to be pushing their agenda, they are instead on cleanup detail, sweeping up the huge piles of excrement left behind by the elephant leading the parade.

It's been suggested that all of this was planned to distract the media and public from the most virulent aspects of the Republican agenda: rather than getting worked up over the draconian cuts to health care, social programs, environmental protections, diplomacy, and everything else being sacrificed on the altar of building a useless wall and inflating a military budget already far bigger than it needs to be while simultaneously cutting the taxes of a tiny sliver of obscenely wealthy Americans, people are talking about the drunken clown show that is the President's personality. If that were the case--if this really was just Donald Trump being crazy like a (satanically evil) fox to cover all the damage he was getting away with behind his back--then, in fact, that agenda would be making rapid progress. Instead, Paul Ryan's signature health care plan has been pronounced dead on arrival by legislators on both sides of the aisle in both chambers of Congress, as has the President's misanthropic budget outline; judges are putting stops on his latest attempt at a Muslim travel ban before it can even take effect; and the flimsy majority of white voters who put Trump in office are finally beginning to see through the flimflam of his campaign.

Which leads me to speculate that, like the amoral, if logical, couple Spock lectured in "Amok Time," Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are realizing that having this thing is not nearly as pleasing as wanting it. As long as they were the opposition, they could rail against the intractability of the Democratic President, pass weekly ACA repeals they knew they would never have to implement, and satisfy themselves that, while they could not turn back the advance of progressivism, they could at least slow it down.

Instead, they now find themselves owning this mess. As their President endangers alliances throughout the Western world and threatens war with parts of the Eastern world that have not been a threat since the 1950s, as his rabid paranoia calls into question every decision he makes and renders him useless as a promoter of any part of his, or their, agenda, they must be wondering if things really would have been all that bad had Hillary Clinton won the election.

And I am absolutely certain they miss the days when the most infuriating thing they heard from the White House was a dignified, thoughtful "No" from Barack Obama.

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