Should we consider Mitch McConnell the Moriarty of American politics? So far, all of his intricate maneuvers are working to perfection. First he decided, way back in 2008, that a strategy of total obstruction was the best hope for frustrating Obama, even if it involved opposing measures the GOP had supported in the past (cap and trade, market-based universal health care). McConnell rightly figured that people would blame the president, not Congress, for any inaction.
McConnell then abused the filibuster, once used sparingly, so that every Senate measure needed 60 votes to pass. His unprecedented refusal to consider Obama’s Supreme Court nominee helped elect Donald Trump since anti-abortion Christian voters turned out in droves. Then this past summer he made sure a bipartisan report on Russian interference in our election—interference designed to elect Trump president—didn’t go forward since it might undermine the GOP nominee.
So now McConnell has a Republican president, a Republican Congress, and a soon-to-be Republican Supreme Court. His wife, meanwhile, may well be the next Secretary of Transportation. Life is good if you play your cards right and don’t let Democratic norms get in your way.
Here’s how Sherlock Holmes describes Moriarty in “The Reichenbach Falls”:
He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans. But his agents are numerous and splendidly organized. Is there a crime to be done, a paper to be abstracted, we will say, a house to be rifled, a man to be removed — the word is passed to the Professor, the matter is organized and carried out.
Eventually McConnell’s actions are revealed to the world, as Holmes reveals Moriarty’s. By that time, however, the GOP is in control of all three branches of government.
In the past I’ve applied Doyle’s passages about Moriarty to the crazy conspiracy theories that dominate much rightwing thinking. The conspiracy nut in the story, however, is Sherlock himself, who sounds like any number of Truthers. Forget for a moment that he’s a great detective and that Moriarty is real (in Doyle’s fiction, that is). Doesn’t Sherlock sound a bit unhinged?
For years past I have continually been conscious of some power behind the malefactor, some deep organizing power which forever stands in the way of the law, and throws its shield over the wrong-doer. Again and again in cases of the most varying sorts — forgery cases, robberies, murders — I have felt the presence of this force, and I have deduced its action in many of those undiscovered crimes in which I have not been personally consulted. For years I have endeavored to break through the veil which shrouded it, and at last the time came when I seized my thread and followed it, until it led me, after a thousand cunning windings, to ex-Professor Moriarty of mathematical celebrity.
Yes, and Barack Obama was born in Kenya and set up a “military training exercise” (Jade Helm) to take over Texas. Hillary Clinton was running a child prostitution ring in a pizza parlor and had millions illegitimately vote for her. It’s amazing where the thread you seize can take you.
But what about Trump himself? In his case, I find him to be almost an anti-Moriarty. By this I mean that he doesn’t even try to hide his plots. He all but signals them for everyone to see, figuring that he can just deny them whenever they start getting him into trouble.
Perhaps Trump is like the eponymous hero in Beaumarchais’s Marriage of Figaro, which I saw performed over the weekend. To set up the parallel, look at how Trump has been handling his Russian connections.
First there was his advisor Paul Manafort, who hid his consulting work for the pro-Russia president of Ukraine before he was overthrown. Manafort resigned after the news came out but then, not very secretly, was back advising Trump not long thereafter and is still doing so. Then Trump went out of his way to make sure there was no anti-Russia language in the GOP platform (this after ignoring virtually every other issue), and he regularly speaks favorably of Putin. When the CIA discovered that the Russians intervened in our election to elect Trump (!)—apparently they hacked the e-mails of both party committees but only shared those of the Democratic Party–Trump first attacked the CIA as unreliable and then seemed to signal that his next Secretary of State would be the head of Exxon, who is the American closest to Putin and who stands to gain the most from a thawing of America-Russia relations. (A gigantic Exxon deal with Russia was put on hold when NATO applied sanctions on Russia after the Ukraine invasion.) And let’s not forget that Trump actually called upon Russia to hack Clinton’s e-mails, although he afterwards said he was joking.
Since we haven’t seen Trump’s tax returns, we don’t know for sure that Trump has large business dealings with or indebtedness to Russia. Every sign indicates that he does, however, and Trump isn’t even trying to disguise that there is something there.
Now to Figaro. The pleasure of watching him at work is in the elaborate lies that he concocts and then in how he piles on more elaborate lies when he is caught. The tighter the jam, the more the fun.
Here’s a sampling. The plot is too convoluted to explain in detail, but all you really need to know is that Figaro is covering for a lover of the count’s wife (“the Page”), who has jumped out the window, but that, once this lie is established, it leads a second complication:
Figaro: It was I who jump’d out of the window into the garden.
Figaro: My own self, my Lord.
Count: Jump out of a one pair of stairs window and run the risk of breaking your neck?
Figaro: The ground was soft, my Lord.
Antonio: And his neck is in no danger of being broken.
Figaro: To be sure I hurt my right leg, a little, in the fall; just here at the ankle—I feel it still.
(Rubbing his ankle.)
Count: But what reason had you to jump out of the window?
Figaro: You had received my letter, my Lord, since I must own it, and was come, somewhat sooner than I expected, in a dreadful passion, in search of a man.—
Antonio: If it was you, you have grown plaguey fast within this half hour, to my thinking. The man that I saw did not seem so tall by the head and shoulders.
Figaro: Pshaw! Does not one double one’s self up when one takes a leap?
Antonio: It seem’d a great deal more like the Page.
Count: The Page!
Figaro: Oh yes, to be sure, the Page has gallop’d back from Seville, horse and all, to leap out of the window!
Antonio: No, no, my Lord! I saw no such thing! I’ll take my oath I saw no horse leap out of the window.
Figaro: Come, come, let us prepare for our sports.
Antonio: Well, since it was you, as I am an honest man, I ought to return you this paper which dropped out of your pocket as you fell.
Count: (Snatches the paper. The Countess, Figaro, and Susanna are all surprised and embarrassed. Figaro shakes himself, and endeavors to recover his fortitude.) Ay, since it was you, you doubtless can tell what this paper contains (claps the paper behind his back as he faces Figaro) and how it happened to come in your pocket?
Figaro: Oh, my Lord, I have such quantities of papers (searches his pockets, pulls out a great many) No, it is not this!—Hem!—This is a double Love-letter from Marcelina, in seven pages—Hem!—Hem!—It would do a man’s heart good to read it—Hem!—And this is a petition from the poor poacher in prison. I never presented it to your Lordship, because I know you have affairs much more serious on your hands, than the complaints of such half-starved Rascals—Ah!—Hem!—this—this—no, this is an Inventory of your Lordship’s sword-knots, ruffs, ruffies, and roses—must take care of this— (Endeavors to gain time, and keeps glancing and hemming to Susanna and the Countess, to look at the paper and give him a hint.)
Count: It is neither this, nor this, nor that, nor t’other, that you have in your hand, but what I hold here in mine, that I want to know the contents of.
Notice that Figaro resorts to classic Trumpian distraction on the matter of the paper.
Previously I’ve compared Trump to Mac the Knife and now, with this Figaro parallel, I’m convinced that much of Trump’s attraction comes from his ability to play the trickster figure. Trump can weasel out of anything whereas conventional politicians like Hillary find themselves entrapped in political correctness and minor scandals. Figaro types thrive in the anarchistic world of comedy, where we take a vacation from serious business.
Figaro never becomes the Count, however. Trump would be a lot funnier if the future of our country and our planet were not at stake.