by Michael Winship

I’m increasingly convinced that the real reason Ringling Bros. has gone out of business is that when it comes to circuses, the Trump White House was just too much competition.

For sure, it’s a sordid extravaganza with a lot more than three rings. The high wire acts alone are worth the price of admission, and the clowns — one of whom is also the putative ringmaster — are unintentionally hilarious, if sinister, as clowns so often seem to be. To some. Not me.

But as guiltily entertaining as current events may be for political wonks, nerds and sadomasochists, this whole mess of an administration, with a special emphasis on the Russia connection and Donald Trump’s clumsy, thuggish attempts at a cover-up, is deadly serious business. It’s crucial to get to the bottom of whether Trump’s campaign knew and approved the hacking of our elections, but also vitally important to remember that while we’re transfixed by that particular mayhem there’s a lot of other rotten stuff going on, too.

Like that continued stinker of a health care reform bill which the Congressional Budget Office still says will cause the number of uninsured people to increase by more than 20 million over the next 10 years.

Attention must be paid. Trump’s proposed budget released on Tuesday devastates just about everything but defense expenditures. (At bottom, when it comes to increasing employment, Trump’s exclamation of “jobs, jobs, jobs!” really comes down to “guns, guns, guns!” — manufacturing more and more weapons — which inevitably will have him itching for a war in which to use them.)

Despite Trump’s campaign promises, Medicaid is under the knife for hundreds of billions, a move that will harm millions who voted for him. Food stamps are slashed by $190 billion, the earned income tax credit by $40 billion. Money for the State Department and other Cabinet-level departments is severely cut back, funding for the Environmental Protection Agency is reduced by 31 percent to $5.65 billion, including a 25 percent reduction in the Superfund charged with cleaning up toxic waste sites.

But as The New Republic’s Alex Shephard points out, not only is this deeply immoral, “It’s also a brazen accounting scam,” claiming deficits created by the proposed budget will be offset by $2 trillion in economic growth — growth that already has been pegged to cover deficits created by proposed tax cuts. Shephard wrote:

“This reaffirms two things about Trump. The first is that, despite his campaign rhetoric, Trump is governing as a typical steal-from-the-poor-to-pay-the-rich Republican. The second is that this administration’s cynicism is only matched by its incompetence. Its Madoff-esque accounting tricks are so brazen that they would be laughable if they weren’t so horrific.”

As we’ve seen too often, the incompetent can cause irreparable damage, and this load of bull crashing through the White House china shop is taking maladroitness to new levels of pandemonium. True, once this budget proposal goes through the congressional wringer, the result will bear little semblance to what was released this week — many of the cuts will shrink or even disappear completely — but it’s close enough to the GOP wish list that the rich will continue getting richer and the lower end of the income inequality charts will feel a ton of pain. Mission accomplished.

And speaking of both laughable and horrific, the Trump administration’s nonexistent efforts to “drain the swamp” of undue influence press on with Eric Lipton’s New York Times report that the Trump gang “has moved to block an effort to disclose the names of former lobbyists who have been granted waivers to work in the White House or federal agencies.

“Dozens of former lobbyists and industry lawyers are working in the Trump administration, which has hired them at a much higher rate than the previous administration. Keeping the waivers confidential would make it impossible to know whether any such officials are violating federal ethics rules or have been given a pass to ignore them.”

This is part of a continuing feud between the White House and Walter M. Shaub Jr., head of the Office of Government Ethics, who has the effrontery to demand that Trump appointees be held to standards of conduct.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is issuing draconian edicts on drug sentencing; Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is trying to divert funds from work-study programs and student loan forgiveness to charter school vouchers and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke says extracting oil and gas in the United States is “better for the environment.”

This circus is out of control. All the animals are out of their cages.

Which tortuously but inevitably brings us back to Donald Trump and Russia, proof apparent that the wheels came off the circus wagons months ago. It was stunning on Tuesday to hear former CIA director John Brennan tell the House intelligence committee that not only had Russia “brazenly interfered” in the 2016 election but that:

“I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and US persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals. And it raised questions in my mind again whether or not the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”

But no matter what conclusions ultimately are reached as to whether or not the Trump campaign knowingly colluded with Russia, the crude attempts by Trump to quash the investigations clearly constitute an obstruction of justice. And that is an impeachable offense.

With the Justice Department’s welcome appointment of a special counsel to oversee the FBI’s investigation of the Russia scandal (including, one hopes, a thorough inquiry into Russian investments in Trump businesses and possible money laundering), the probe finally seems on track and hopefully resistant to whatever further ham-fisted attempts by Trump to shut it down.

But the special counsel does not negate the need as well for an independent bipartisan investigation so that the entire story comes out. As Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo and others have pointed out, that counsel’s inquiry can result in the indictment of those who have committed crimes, but, “The simple point is that the most important ‘bad acts’ may well not be crimes. That means not only is no one punished but far, far more important, we would never know what happened.

“…We need a fully empowered commission charged not with investigating and prosecuting criminal conduct but ascertaining, as far as possible, what happened and then bringing that information before the public.”

In other words, we can’t allow this White House circus of horrors to fold its tents and skulk away from truth under the cover of darkness. There’s too much at stake and too much to repair in its wake.

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship. This article is reprinted from www.BillMoyers.com

Graphic: Feld Brothers – [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59160932

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