Opinion Columnists 03 Aug 2017 West Wing nuts in th ...

West Wing nuts in the White House

Published Aug 3, 2017, 12:52 am IST
Updated Aug 3, 2017, 12:52 am IST
White House (Photo: AP)
 White House (Photo: AP)

Back in the early 1970s, when Pakistani television audiences relied on a single channel, one of PTV’s staples was the satirical American spy series Get Smart, in which the forces of CONTROL invariably, and usually inadvertently, got the better of the agents of KAOS.

Who would have thought that less than half a century later, the latter would be in charge of the seat of executive power in America? Could there be any other explanation for White House follies?

Not surprisingly, American TV talk-show hosts are looking a bit distraught these days. They are regularly being trumped by the West Wing reality show, with its frequently refreshed cast of characters. Could Stephen Colbert possibly match the foul-mouthedness of Anthony Scaramucci, the White House’s short-lived director of communications? 

Back in 1973, when the Nobel Committee co-awarded its peace prize to Henry Kissinger, the singer-songwriter Tom Lehrer abandoned his musical career, deciding that satire had been surpassed by reality. Around the same time, another performer, Phil Ochs, updated a song from a decade earlier to come up with Here’s to the State of Richard Nixon, which contained a line that was arguably even more applicable to some of Nixon’s successors — Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush spring to mind — but perhaps never more so than now 

Nixon memorably sealed his own fate with what has gone down in history as the Saturday Night Massacre, sparked by the dismissal of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Trump seems keen to follow in his footsteps but, semi-aware of consequences, he is holding back from yelling “You’re fired!” at Robert Mueller, the former FBI chief in charge of the inquiry into the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia.

He has felt free, though, to rail at his attorney-general, Jeff Sessions, describing him as “weak” and “beleaguered” in presidential tweets. The extremely right-wing Sessions, though, has an ideological agenda of his own, and evidently intends to stay the course. Trump has no quarrel with his ideology, but can’t get over the fact that Sessions was more or less obliged to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. 

The supposed grown-ups in the administration, defence secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis and Rex Tillerson, are either on stress leave or have gone AWOL. Trump tends to admire military men, though, and former four-star Marine, general John Kelly, was this week inducted into the White House as chief of staff — fresh from his stint as head of Homeland Security, in which capacity he, like Sessions, focused his energies in a crackdown on illegal immigrants.

The advent of Kelly led to Scaramucci’s exit 10 days after his entrance — which in turn had led to presidential spokesman Sean Spicer’s exit and the ouster of previous chief of staff Reince Preibus. The Republican majority in both houses of Congress has hitherto not sufficed to advance Trump’s legislative agenda, notably including a repeal of Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

On most counts, Republican congressional leaders have been loath to take up arms against Trump, but that could begin to change once the voters realise that he is not going to live up to expectations. 

The activist and filmmaker Michael Moore, whose Broadway show The Terms of My Surrender opens this week, appears to believe that satire is the ideal weapon against this presidency. He also has a film in the works, tentatively titled Fahrenheit 11/9 — and it’s more than likely that date from last year will go down in 21st-century American history as a considerably more crucial turning point than 9/11. Trump has yet to sign the almost unanimously passed congressional bill on further sanctions against Russia. It also remains to be seen whether Kelly can succeed in his unenviable task of introducing military discipline in the West Wing. It’s easy enough, though, to respond to Trump’s “A great day at the White House!” tweet on Monday night: Mr President, may you have many more.

By arrangement with Dawn

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