A statue in the United States Capitol pays homage to Clio, the marmoreal muse of history. Floating above the political fray, she rides in a winged chariot that allegorically represents time and has a clock for its wheel. Looking over her shoulder as she writes in a large stone book, she follows events with a serene retrospective. Journalists reporting on events in Washington today are working at a more frantic and hectic pace, rushing to catch up with the chaos of the breaking news. Jonathan Karl, ABC News correspondent, seems constantly on the brink of breath. In Treason, he runs for safety during an emergency lockdown at the White House, with grenades exploding in the distance. He is awakened after midnight by the announcement of Trump’s Covid diagnosis; later, he must rush to the hospital, abandon his car, and get into position before the presidential helicopter lands on a strip of road that is suddenly “the center of the broadcast universe.” And on January 6, Karl continues to comment live as the Capitol is invaded by a mob determined to lynch Vice President Mike Pence – vilified like a “cat” by Trump for refusing to undo the victory of Biden – on a makeshift gallows.
The Capitol was designed as a classical temple dedicated to democracy, which is why Clio is at home there: imagine the Parthenon on steroids, topped by the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica. In Treason, however, it is the setting for a mock heroic battle between thugs wearing horned helmets wielding fire extinguishers as weapons and politicians preparing to retaliate with ceremonial hammers ripped from shop windows and a sword left behind by the civil war. Dismayed and incredulous, Karl exhausted his reserve of synonyms; this final act of the expiring Trump regime is mad, weird, mad, bonkers, and bonkers.
Worse follows when weird conspiracy theorists come together to explain to Trump how the election was rigged. Detective claims China-made wireless thermostats for Google reprogrammed voting machines in Georgia. An obscure figure by the name of Carlo Goria accuses an Italian company and its “advanced military encryption capabilities”; Trump has asked two government departments to investigate the claim, though the photo on Goria’s Facebook profile identifies him as the deranged scientist played by Peter Sellers in Dr Strangelove. Many senior officials slyly justify themselves by telling Karl that the administration’s main concern was to control or at least frustrate its CEO. During the Black Lives Matter unrest, Trump ordered troops to impose martial law on Washington. His crafty Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, deployed an army unit, but confined it to a fort outside the city. The trick was a pacifier; rather than calming the streets, Esper’s goal was “to quell dangerous and dictatorial pressures from his commander-in-chief.” Our Prime Minister may be a clown, but for four years the United States had a madman as president.
Like any reality TV show, what Karl calls âthe Trump showâ is the product of fantasy and deception; his star is an existential impostor who confesses his discomfort by referring to himself in the third person. âYou must hate Trump,â Trump says when Bill Barr, his previously submissive attorney general, refutes his lies about a stolen election. He then says, “You must hate Trump” a second time, making an exhortation as much as an accusation. He cannot command love and suspects that he does not deserve it: will hatred act as a last resort? Elsewhere, Trump recreates an exchange for Karl with his brooding teenage son. “Do you love your father? He cuddles, needy as a black hole. âUh, I don’t know,â Barron growls. “Too cool,” remarks the paterfamilias, frozen.
Karl’s anecdotes offer a sharp insight into Trump’s compulsions. He makes fun of autocratic thugs like Putin because he’s a weakling himself. While he calls for “total domination” of the demonstrators in front of the White House, he is taken to safety in a fortified basement, which prompts an Internet spirit to nickname him “bunker bitch”. As a populist, he only cares about popularity and buys it with cheesy freebies; While hospitalized with Covid, he sends lackeys to hand out “M & M’s boxes featuring his signature” to fans outside. When Karl urges him to denounce the riot at the Capitol, he fondly remembers this “beautifully beautiful day” and complains that the fake news does not give him “credit” for drawing such a large crowd. Negotiating with Karl over his attendance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where the president usually gives a pleasant speech, Trump asks, âWhat’s the concept? Am I supposed to be funny up there? Yes, the psychotic shtick of this so-called dictator is dictated by the audience he plays.
When the counting of the electoral votes resumed late on the night of January 6, Karl notes that the senators made their way into the chamber through shattered wood, broken glass and a wave of ransacked documents, smelling of gas. peppery lingering in the air; President Zachary Taylor’s bust had been smeared with “a red substance that looked like blood.” In a poem about the statue of Clio written in 1851, President John Adams regretted that she had to listen to “The Conflicting Pot / Delusions, Delusions”. Adams didn’t know half of it. Perhaps Clio’s marble pallor reflects her state of mind: she must be dismayed at what she has recently had to write down in her open book.