“I don’t see this as some Faustian bargain, Devil’s bargain or whatever it is you call it.”
— House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to Jake Tapper, asked about whether he “personified the Devil’s bargain the GOP has signed with Trump”

Paul Ryan did not make a deal with the devil. That much is obvious.

His piano-playing has not improved. He has not become any wiser. He has not been able to travel widely and see the great sights of the present and past. Helen of Troy has not made him immortal with a kiss, and he has not gotten to go to a single witches’ sabbath (although he has heard continually about witch hunts).

He has not become able to fly. (Scott Pruitt has, and Tom Price has, often, and at great expense.) There is no picture of him in a closet that ages and becomes hideous while he himself remains boyish. The picture of him that has become more and more embarrassing to look at is the one that appears on TV, every day, where everyone can see it.

His golf game has not improved (nor has he really gotten the opportunity to practice, as the president has). He cannot become flame and ride a motorcycle. He has not managed to bring anyone back from the dead, or even gotten to eat half a pomegranate. The Senators, his favorite team, have not been victorious. (Well, they have, but seldom, and by very narrow margins, and not on every issue that he hoped, and usually Mitch McConnell got the credit.)

He can walk on land now, but he is pretty sure he could do that before.

Some mornings he looks in the mirror and wonders whether it was worth it, just to increase the deficit.

Sometimes — he is almost too afraid to voice the thought aloud — he thinks that increasing the deficit was not always his cherished wish. That it was something different. Something to do with Jack Kemp, maybe.

(He got to see Jack Kemp, once, in a dream, but Jack just looked disappointed and turned away.)

Undermining the institutions of this democracy? Was that the wish? He does not think that was the wish. If he was doing this to protect the institutions, then what were all these hearings casting vague suspicion on the FBI?

He tries to remember.

Tax cuts were a wish, and entitlement reform, and there must have been a third thing. To see Greg Gianforte seated in the House after he body-slammed a reporter? No.

To stand behind a president who spouted racism about “shithole countries” and equated the white nationalists at Charlottesville with those who protested them? To allow President Trump to fill his White House with family members and conflicts of interest leagues deep and fathoms wide? To support a man who never released his tax returns?

At least Ryan managed to preserve the integrity of his beloved Republican Party, a party of ideas, not of people who are banned from malls and want to do unspeakable things to schoolchildren in the name of the Second Amendment. He has lost himself, maybe, but he has protected his party’s image as a group of people who were united by something more than greed or identity. And at least the majority has been preserved.

Why does he hear laughter? Is none of this true? Has there been some horrible mistake?

He has sacrificed so many big, beautiful ideas — the notion that there are things more sacred than party loyalty? That you should persuade people, not insult them? That there are things you should not tolerate just to win some sort of hollow victory or get the chance to maybe saw the government safety net out from beneath an elderly lady? (And Ryan has not even gotten the opportunity to do that.) He must have received something truly remarkable in return.

It must have just been tax reform, but that seems so small and specific and deficit-increasing.

No, there can have been no deal with the Devil.

The Devil at least makes a point of giving you something you want in return. Trump has no such scruples. He is happy to take your labor, for months, and then walk away, leaving you with a shattered reputation and an agreement with no signature on it. Ryan may have given away his soul, but he has started to wonder, as Stormy Daniels did, whether Trump even bothered to sign his side of the thing.

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