The Smell From Here

On September 2, 1974, the Wall came down.

If you were around at the time, you understood the meaning at a glance. Garry Trudeau had drawn the wall in front of the White House, a reference to “stonewalling” on the Nixon tapes. Nixon resigned August 9; three weeks was the quickest a syndicated comic strip could acknowledge the event.

“Our long national nightmare is over,” Jerry Ford had said three weeks earlier, a line that might not have worn well, but felt right at the time. Watergate was consuming, consuming in a way we wouldn’t feel again for more than forty years. You couldn’t escape it.

And then it was past.

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We do not have the olfactory acuity of dogs, but as a species, our noses take care of themselves. We know when something smells. We know when something stinks. And, in extreme cases, we know when something has a stench.

Which is an interesting twist of construction. Bathrooms smell. Shit stinks. But shit doesn’t have a stench. What has the stench is something other than what gives it the stench. Stench is an invasive species.

We know from stench. Certain streets in certain cities at a certain time of the morning have a very certain stench from the night before. If you’ve ever lived in a moist part of the country — say, Oregon — you know the stench of mildew, and you can see it spreading across your walls like a dark presence from the deep.

Stench creeps. Stench gets into something, and it’s almost impossible to get it out. Stench lasts. Stench is forever.

And if not forever, well, long enough. Stench doesn’t go away overnight.

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We’re having a hard time coming to terms with the obsessive cruelty of our nation’s leaders.

Which shouldn’t be that difficult, really. We were weaned on Vietnam and Watergate. We spent our early adult years under Reagan and Bush. Cynicism comes to us easily, because that has been the only rational conclusion throughout most of our life, given the evidence at hand.

But even cynicism fails us today.

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However you game it — impeachment, resignation, 25th Amendment, cholesterol poisoning, capture by flying monkeys — the one person who stands to immediately benefit from Donald Trump’s involuntary rapture is Mike Pence.

And honestly, that would be fine with us. Mike Pence may be evil, but he’s conventionally evil, predictably evil, the kind of evil that doesn’t make you seriously question whether humanity itself will survive him. We can work with that.

Pence is also smart as a weasel, ably distancing himself from the chaos surrounding his boss. He has no role, public or rumored, in the mess that’s unfolding, aside from being pissed that a notorious liar would, heaven forfend, lie to him. Mike Pence is stalwartly Above the Fray.

But when the moment comes for Mike Pence to step up and lead America out of its latest national nightmare, there’s just one problem:

He’s complicit.

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Trump Tower.

“Omarosa got hired at the White House,” our friend who, unlike us, prefers not to swan dive into the cesspool of American politics, told us this week.

And really, as an emblem of the horrors to come, that was as good as anything, a recognizable manifest absurdity that requires no explanation. If you know Omarosa, we can spare you Mike Flynn, and Jeff Sessions, and Ben Carson, and Rick Perry, and Secretary Exxon, and hey, how much time do you have? You get the point.

But, as we explained to our friend, this is still the Preshow. Trump holds no actual power yet. We may be getting a steady diet of announcements and tweets, but they’re still all digestible, even when they cause indigestion.

This will all change — dramatically — in two weeks. Après Obama, le deluge.

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The House is now in session.

Making our peace with Hillary Clinton last spring was like making our peace with watered-down Obamacare seven years ago: The legislation was poorly conceived and managed, it was neutered to appease an opposition that never intended to vote for it, but compared to the alternative, it was all we had. The Damn Bill Passed. Maybe they could fix it in Post.

And now that the initial version is beginning to self-destruct as predicted, we’re starting to hear happy chatter that Hillary may reintroduce our only protection — well, besides universal Medicare — against insurance-company mergers, pullouts and price hikes: the Public Option.

Fat chance.

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The Arc of History induces nausea.

One day in 1982, when we were a reporter, we got into a curious conversation with the local school superintendent. We were 23; he must have been in his early 40s. We mention the ages because of what he said, a line we haven’t been able to shake for decades:

“The Sixties were an aberration.”

What he meant was that the social liberalism of the era was an exception in American history, and that now, at the dawn of Reagan, the country was reverting to norm. We protested, without success — problem was, at the time the Sixties and Seventies were all we knew.

Which makes us an aberration.

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