WASHINGTON, D.C. — It’s 9 a.m. on a Wednesday. There’s a line outside the Rayburn House Office Building waiting to get through the building’s security.
It’s nothing unusual. Whenever Congress is in session, it’s a routine feature of a weekday morning. Waiting in this line are House staffers, a few lobbyists and a journalist or two.
Also in this line are many out-of-towners far removed from any of the usual congressional proceedings. They’re here for the tour of the U.S. Capitol or the White House with the idea of getting a glimpse at how their government operates.
That glimpse is more theoretical than practical. It’s how we’re taught to view the federal government — a system of checks and balances that operates with a backdrop of stately buildings and monuments memorializing the greats in our country.
Stationed nearby at the corner of Independence Avenue and Capitol Street is a camera crew with political adviser turned TV producer Mark McKinnon in tow. He is the brains behind Showtime’s “The Circus,” a show about all the interminglings of Washington. That is a show watched by some of the people wanting to get a glimpse of how their government operates.
That glimpse is mostly for entertainment purposes. It’s the infotainment view of how we view the federal government — a system that thrives on power and narcissism.
A lot is going on for this episode of “The Circus” because it’s a big week in Washington.
French President Emmanuel Macron had been in town meeting with President Donald Trump. Later in the day, Macron addressed a joint session of Congress. Also, later this week is the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which is called “Nerd Prom” by people that find a red-carpet event showcasing the glitz and glamour of the nation’s capital just to be nerdy, and not needlessly grotesque.
That’s just one of the many sideshows in Washington, which exists to feed those who consume news as if it were a combination of cheering for their favorite and having a favorite character in a made-for-TV mini-series. It’s supplemented by the hot-button-issue-of-the-day coverage that airs on cable news. That might be Russia collusion, Hillary Clinton’s emails, a Cabinet secretary’s expense account or who said what at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.
None of this is irrelevant. It keeps people engaged, and that’s the point. Often the feigned outrage borders on the realms of professional wrestling.
In baseball, there are what is known as semi-professional leagues, which are baseball teams with amateur players and a professional player or two who gets paid for playing. It falls into a category somewhere between amateur and professional baseball, and hence the moniker “semi-professional.”
Thus, “semi-professional wrestling” is an appropriate metaphor for American politics. It’s not all fake, as is the case with professional wrestling. However, a lot of it is.
What if there were no drama of Russian collusion? What if Sean Hannity wasn’t on Fox News every night relaying the same talking points he has about Clinton’s emails for the last two years? What if the federal government just sort of functioned the way it was probably meant to, which is in the background until an election came up every two years?
This enormous beast of an industry that has sprouted up around our politics would starve. There would be no need for all the consultants employed to perform public relations and marketing. People would be less inclined to donate money to a candidate or a cause outside of an election year.
People might even not pay as much attention to their pet causes, such as the environment and gun rights. It also might hurt big special-interest players such as Greenpeace and the National Rifle Association.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes away from all of this, hardly any it of matters. Once in a lifetime, something like “Obamacare” gets passed into law, which has a distinct impact on people’s lives.
Otherwise, the federal government lives spending bill to spending bill to stay open, and much of the negotiating for that has nothing to do with any of the previously mentioned things going on in the background.
However, it does motivate people to participate in elections, which is the actual fuel for the whole machine. Keeping one side more motivated than the other is the new name of the game. If that means getting into the ring and offering up a metaphorical sleeper hold with a stem-winding speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, then so be it.
That Washington D.C. game takes place in what has come to be known as the “swamp.” Trump vowed to drain that “swamp.” With so many livelihoods at stake and the need to feed these “swamp” inhabitants, it’s probably never going to happen entirely.
Last year, then-Sen. Luther Strange was going to be the guy to help Trump achieve this goal. He campaigned as being a Washington, D.C., political outsider, given the only office he had held before being appointed was attorney general at the state level.
He was reluctant to mention he had spent decades in our nation’s capital as a lobbyist. But things were going to be different. If he had won the GOP nomination, and beaten Doug Jones in the U.S. Senate special election, he would do what it took to end the swamp-like atmosphere in Washington, D.C.
He lost and left his appointed U.S. Senate seat later that year.
Last week, Strange returned to the District of Columbia to work for a regulatory consulting firm. It’s possible Strange thought, if you can’t beat the swamp, join it.
The lesson: Strange’s pledge last year to work to drain the swamp appears to be nothing but the act of a semi-pro wrestling character wanting to be elected. Otherwise, if he were sincere in his convictions, he wouldn’t have gone back to Washington.