It’s back-to-school week in Crazytown, and there have already been disruptions in class.
“Marco Rubio the snake,” heckled Alex Jones, the Internet crackpot, as journalists questioned the senator from Florida on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. “Little frat boy here.”
“Hey, don’t touch me again, man,” said Rubio, not taking kindly to a pat on the shoulder. “I’m asking you not to touch me.”
The topic was supposed to be foreign meddling on social media, but important matters of state were, as usual, swarmed by strangeness and nonsense and sincere fretting over the direction of the country.
“Things in D.C. are getting weird,” said a Code Pink activist wearing a condom costume outside the Senate’s hearing on Judge Brett Kavanaugh, nominated to the Supreme Court by President Trump.
And inside the hearing room?
“Nothing about this is normal,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said from the dais, accusing his Republican colleagues of expediting Kavanaugh’s confirmation process at the expense of transparency and oversight and basic human decency.
Labor Day has given way to a laborious week, sun-blasted and ill-tempered. Outside the Capitol it’s too hot for joggers and too September for summer tourists. It’s quiet. You’d never know how “not normal” things are inside the federal buildings of Washington.
The Supreme Court, absent its swing vote, is about to lurch to the right for a generation. Facebook and Twitter executives are swearing to tell the truth, as their platforms are overtaken by fantasies and fabrications. A senior official in the Trump administration is sending up smoke signals of resistance through the New York Times. The president is “unhinged,” according to Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, and his administration is suffering a “nervous breakdown.”
Aren’t we all. We’re 62 days until the next “most-important election” of our lifetime and Congress has returned from summer break to preside over its own demise as a meaningful institution. The handmaids have come with them, sprung from the pages of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel into our dystopian reality. On Tuesday they stood sentry along the second-floor walkway in the Hart Senate Office Building, their bright red cloaks a creepy contrast to the colorless suits of Capitol Hill.
The fake handmaids in white bonnets were not to be confused with the real nuns in white habits.
“Who are they, exactly?” Sister Deirdre Byrne said, watching the costumed activists, who object to any infringement on women’s rights. “Personally, I’m for the little woman in the womb. It’s unfortunate that they are not.”
“We fear that he will end abortion care as we know it in America,” said handmaid Nadine Bloch, referring to Kavanaugh, who progressives believe will provide the fatal blow to Roe v. Wade.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) gently tapped the gavel to start the hearing, and the interruptions began immediately. Every few minutes another member of the public, almost always a woman, stood up and shouted, throwing herself into the gears of the process. By 10:19 a.m. Tuesday, less than an hour into the hearing, 22 people had been arrested for disorderly conduct. Some were hip-checked and dragged into a side room, where they chanted “Hell no, Kavanaugh!” through the walls.
“I will die!” a protester shouted, standing from her seat.
“Mr. Chairman, I think we ought to have this loudmouth removed,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah). “We shouldn’t have to put up with this kind of stuff.”
The White House would have you know that it wasn’t just protesters doing the interrupting, and it kept a public tally of Democrats’ rudeness: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) jumped out to an early lead with 13 interruptions before noon. Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) had 10 and eight, respectively.
Kavanaugh, with the genial temperament of a T-ball coach, met each interruption with a pinched, patient look, as if an 8-year-old player was whiffing repeatedly at-bat. On Tuesday he wore a navy suit with a blue tie. On Wednesday he wore a navy suit with a blue tie. He looked and sounded like the quintessential Washington creature: white yet ruddy, bland but handsome-ish, polished in prep school, crowned with a law degree and Supreme Court clerkship, inducted into the Republican “deep state” by Ken Starr and George W. Bush, and now on the brink of his reward.
“You are a smart, decent, normal person,” Hatch said to Kavanaugh.
“This democracy is on trial,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
“Sham president! Sham justice!” yelled a protester.
The president, meanwhile, was tweeting, bedeviled by excerpts from the Woodward book, which says that Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has referred to Trump as a “a fifth- or sixth-grader” and that White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly has called him “an idiot.”
“The already discredited Woodward book, so many lies and phony sources, has me calling Jeff Sessions ‘mentally retarded’ and ‘a dumb southerner,’” Trump tweeted at 11:01 p.m. Tuesday. “I said NEITHER...”
The next morning, the president’s alleged porn-star paramour — and persistent existential threat — forecast further chaos.
“Hope some of you have enjoyed this momentary calm before the storm,” tweeted Stormy Daniels at 8:10 a.m. Wednesday, as if the storm hadn’t already been raging for months now.
Inside a massive hearing room on the ground floor of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg was aglow in blinding yellow light as senators struggled to keep their eyes open.
“We’re making progress on ‘fake news,’ ” she claimed.
Just outside the room, a limping Alex Jones was bellowing incoherently. He’d come to Capitol Hill, he said, to face the social media executives who’d banned him for violating harassment rules.
“We’re making crazy people superstars,” Rubio said to journalists after his prickly encounter, “so you’re going to get crazier people.”
The handmaids were back Wednesday, and the line for Day 2 of the Kavanaugh hearing extended outside the Hart building.
“I think we’re going to make it,” said Sonja Jimenez, in town from Sacramento with her family.
Like, make it inside? Or make it as a country?
“I meant make it inside,” she said. “But yeah, I think we can pull it together and make it as a country.”
Over by the Supreme Court, an anti-gay activist dressed as a chimney sweep sang a pro-Kavanaugh song to the tune of “Chim Chim Cher-ee”:
In him we’ll see
A justice as just
As a justice will be.
Again, Kavanaugh’s testimony was repeatedly hobbled by women, their voices strident but faraway on C-SPAN, which showed security banishing them one by one from the hearing room.
“Stop Kavanaugh!” shouted a handmaid Wednesday afternoon as she was carried out. “Our bodies, our choice!”
“Judge Kavanaugh,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), ignoring the outburst, “tell us a little bit about Sept. 11, 2001.”
Over in the White House, reality TV star Kim Kardashian met with Jared Kushner to talk about prison reform.
Over in the House of Representatives, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said: “Mr. President, it is time for you to resign.”
Later in the afternoon, an alt-right conspiracy theorist interrupted Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey’s testimony in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“Please help us, Mr. President, before it is too late,” said the woman, apparently live-streaming herself, “because Jack Dorsey is trying to influence the election . . . so that the Democrats can steal the election. That is why he is censoring and shadow-banning conservatives.”
Committee member Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.), a former auctioneer, began rattling off meaningless numbers to drown out the drivel.
“Now five, seventy-five, seven and a half, eighty-five, ninety,” Long said in a relentless stream of auctioneer — gibberish overriding gibberish. “Seventy-five, four hundred. Four, four and a quarter, four and a half . . .”
Minutes later, the New York Times published an op-ed written by a senior official in the Trump administration who claims to be part of an internal effort to thwart the president’s worst instincts and decisions.
“It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era,” the official wrote, “but Americans should know that there are adults in the room.”
The op-ed was unsigned, and so the adults remain nameless and invisible.