Timothy’s Tragic Tale of a Terrible Toxic Trainwreck in Trumpland

Monday, February 20, the United States of America celebrated what is widely known as President’s Day, one of what are now, with the addition of Juneteenth, eleven federal national holidays. Legally, though, the holiday is named “Washington’s Birthday,” as clearly specified in section 6103(a) of Title 5 of the United States Code. That law does, however, allow other institutions, such as state and local governments and private businesses, to use alternative names, thus opening the door for, say, Henry McMaster, the Governor of South Carolina, to issue a proclamation deeming the holiday be known there as “Robert E. Lee’s Great-Uncle’s Birthday,” for example. When he does so, I promise not to demand credit for the idea.
George Washington, the first President of the United States, is a man surrounded by considerable myth. So mighty a man was he, it was said, that at his home in Mount Vernon, he once skipped a silver dollar, like an ordinary mortal skipping a stone on a pond, from one bank of the the Potomac River to the other (never mind that the Potomac river at Mount Vernon is well over a mile wide). It is also said that Washington’s artistic talents were so profound, he designed the American flag, giving the exact specifications to one Betsy Ross of Philadelphia. (In fact, he never even met her, and the Star Spangled Banner was designed, like many other products of the federal government, by a committee.) He is further reputed to have had a special relationship with the Almighty, one that gave him a direct channel to God Himself, which he used to gain a personal audience with Him while kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge Pennsylvania, thus securing victory after victory in the Revolutionary War. (Actually, he lost almost every battle he fought during that conflict, and the prayer at Valley Forge story was one of several charming fairy tales about him, spun by one Parson Mason Locke Weems.) The most famous of the Parson’s fanciful fabrications involves the young Washington, just a tyke in Weem’s telling of the tale, a hatchet and a cherry tree, and expounds the most absurd myth of all, that George Washington never told a lie. (More about that later.) Such outlandish tales as these concerning Washington spread all over the early United States, resulting in, for example, his depiction as the Greek god Zeus in Horatio’s Greenough’s 1840 monumental marble sculpture The Enthroned Washington, where, in a mixed-metaphor salad of absurd proportions, he is clad in a Roman patrician’s toga and holds forth a medieval style sword resembling Excalibur with his left hand, while pointing aloft with his right to the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Deity. Such folderol culminated in, most famously, the fresco painted by Greek-Italian artist Constantino Brumidi in 1865, visible through the oculus of the dome in the rotunda of the United States Capitol Building. Known as The Apotheosis of George Washington, it is suspended one hundred and eighty feet (in the USA or, fifty-five meters, in the rest of the world) above the rotunda floor and covers an area of four thousand, six hundred and sixty-four square feet (four hundred and thirty-three square meters). It depicts him sitting in an exalted manner amongst an incongruous throng of characters drawn from Greek and Roman mythology, accompanied by assorted angels and cherubim, ascending to Heaven and becoming a god.
And while Washington’s cult of personality surely pales in comparison to a number of fellows who came later, like Napoleon, Mussolini, Stalin and Mao Zedong, his boosters thought of it first, and did a bang-up job of it, no doubt. And just like those other guys’ bogus backstories, the whole megillah is a ridiculous mulligan stew of total hokum, utter malarkey and complete balderdash.
Most significant of all, when it came to lying, George Washington distinguished himself early in his journey to historical immortality by telling a bunch of astonishingly, self-serving and unbelievable whoppers. Dispatched, a the age of twenty-one, by Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwidde, on the behalf of the British Crown, to lead a company of Virginia Colonial Regiment troops as an emissary to the French in the Ohio Valley, there to negotiate a treaty with them and their Native American allies, Major George Washington, during his initial encounter with the French at a place known as Jumonville Glen, managed to kill the French ambassador, which, short of Genghis Khan or Idi Amin, would most likely amount to some decidedly undiplomatic behavior in anyone’s book.
After, that, realizing he was deep in French occupied territory, he sent back to Virginia for reinforcements, receiving a troop of British regulars. While awaiting them, his force, operating under his brilliant orders, constructed Fort Necessity, a round wooden stockade in a clearing surrounded by woods on elevated ground in every direction, a fortification described by one astute modern military analyst as “a death trap.” When the British regulars arrived, they were astounded at such incompetence, naturally, but there was no time to correct the situation, as the French and their Iroquois allies had likewise showed up. In the ensuing massacre, the British commander was killed, and, according to Washington, transferred command of the entire expeditionary force to him, verbally, of course, as his last mortal act. Thus empowered to lead, Major Washington negotiated, under a flag of truce, with the French, who offered him a document of surrender, written, of course, in French, which Washington did not speak.
What Dinwidde was thinking, sending a twenty-one year old who didn’t speak French out into the frontier wilderness to negotiate a major treaty involving millions of square miles of the American continent with a French ambassador, history does not record, but the upshot was, Washington ended up signing an article of surrender which stipulated that he, George Washington, had assassinated the French ambassador. Oblivious to this (he didn’t speak French, after all), Washington proceeded to fatuously fabricate a passel of prevarications that would challenge inventiveness of George Santos. Major George Washington of the Colonial Virginia Militia was, according to those letters he wrote and sent back to Williamsburg, a singular hero, savior of the expedition, and architect of a triumphant diplomatic victory. And always the inveterate social climber, after his return from the field, he also managed to use his carefully cultivated contacts to get those bald faced lies spread far and wide, up and down the Colonies.
The objective of all that… shall we say… embellishment was to get Washington what he had always wanted – a commission as an officer in the regular British Army. The son of a colonial subject of modest means whose father had inconveniently died before he could fund young George’s education, Washington had more or less no other choice but to advance himself in eighteenth century English society by pursuit of a career in the military. And if he had to embroider, enhance or magnify certain accounts of his experiences, well, who would know? It was all out there in the frontier wilderness of the Ohio Valley, wasn’t it?
Well, it was, until word of what was actually in that article of surrender, so cunningly stylized by Washington as a cleverly negotiated cease-fire pact, finally reached the Colonies, after which, as we say in America, Washington might as well have been named Mudd (although that expression would have to wait more than a century to make sense – Dr. Mudd was the fellow who unwittingly set John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg). As a result, Washington’s popularity fell quicker than Joe Biden’s did when gasoline hit six dollars a gallon, and it quickly became apparent that George Washington was never, ever going to be given a commission in His Majesty’s Royal Army.
Apropos of those crushed ambitions, it could easily be argued that, if by some miracle of monumental stupidity, the British had ignored Washington’s egregious display of incompetence and mendacity and given him the officer’s commission he so fondly desired, Benedict Arnold would be lauded as the Father of His Country, and this town where I work, had it ever been built, would have been named after him.
But dumb luck, of which Washington had plenty, and continually attributed as the Will of Divine Providence, worked in his favor throughout his life, rendering him to be rather a sort of historical Forrest Gump. As it happened, his stupendous, numbskull blunder in the Ohio Valley touched off what became known as the Seven Years War. And after that war ended, it was the taxes imposed on the Thirteen Colonies by King George III which provided the initial, fundamental and most potent impetus for the American Revolution. Which Washington rather ineptly lead on the battlefield, until Benjamin Franklin rescued him and everyone else who signed the Declaration of Independence from being hanged, drawn and quartered, by convincing Louis XVI to send a real army and a real navy with real generals and admirals in charge of them, to fight the British in America on behalf of the vaunted American Revolutionary ideals of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of the Almighty Buck. For that, Louis XVI eventually lost his head, while Franklin’s, most deservedly, adorns our one-hundred-dollar bill.
Such were my admittedly jaded musings Monday morning, when Gretchen informed me via a text message during my consultation with the Second Assistant Undersecretary of Defense for Materiel and Logistics (one federal employee who definitely did not get the day off), who sought my advice on options and strategies to replenish DOD’s rapidly depleting stocks of bullets, artillery shells, mortar rounds and sundry other quotidian means of mass destruction currently being consumed in vast quantities to kill clueless Russian conscripts and desperate Russian criminals in Ukraine, that “a pathetic little redneck in a green flannel shirt, blue jeans, work boots and a red MAGA hat is out here in the reception area asking for a free initial consultation.”
Well, as regular readers of the Web Log know, there’s nothing I like better than talking to people like pathetic little rednecks for free. So naturally, I told her to book him for an appointment at the first available opportunity. That ended up being four hours later, but to his credit, the pathetic little redneck stuck it out with the stoic patience of an Appalachian miner waiting for the water pumps to clear the latest subterranean flood from the coal face.
“Come in, sir,” I beckoned, as he stood in the doorway, peering into my office, staring awestruck at the picture window behind the couch that overlooks and perfectly frames the White House, “make yourself comfortable.”
I have learned to assess quite a bit about my visitors by which seat they choose when they enter my office. A large, comfortable leather upholstered chair is situated to the immediate right of my desk, a second at a somewhat larger distance set at forty-five degrees to the left, a third directly in front, and fourth positioned further back near the bookcase on the opposite wall. And there’s the couch, of course. He chose Chair Number Two. This guy was very concerned about something, but clearly intimidated, apprehensive and even a bit afraid – Gretchen, true to her practiced eye, was spot on: here was a pathetic little redneck, indeed.
“How can I help you today?” I opened.
“Uh… this here… consultation…” he answered in a hushed tone as he surveyed his surroundings, his gaze lingering for a moment on the handmade antique silk oriental rug, “it’s free… right?”
“Absolutely,” I assured him. “Initial consultations are always free of charge. It’s part of my marketing program.”
“I’ve heard,” he murmured, “that you’re the smartest person in Washington DC.”
“Which is a lot,” I replied, “like being the tallest building in Baltimore.”
“Baltimore?” My visitor stared back at me, uncomprehending. “I heard that’s there’s nothin’ but [expletive] and Jews in Baltimore.”
“Actually,” I informed him, “there are plenty of Hispanics, Arabs, Greeks, Hindus, Sikhs, Catholics and East Asians there, too. It’s a typical large, old American city.”
“Them Jews in Baltimore,” he wondered, suddenly curious, “you ever see them without their shoes on?”
“Yes,” I confirmed, “I have. What about their shoes?”
“No, not their shoes,” he confided, leaning forward a bit, as if sharing a closely kept secret, “I hear tell that they always wear shoes ‘cause they don’t want you to see they got hooves. And,” he continued, with a slight air of excitement, “that they got this ritual, called a ‘bris’ where they cut the horns off their babies.”
“No, sir,” I gently corrected, “their feet are just like yours and mine, and the part that gets cut off during a bris is on the other end.”
“You sure?” he inquired, squinting a bit, “’cause that’s what I always heard tell about ‘em.”
“May I ask,” I probed, “where you hail from?”
“East Palesteen,” he mispronounced, “Ohio; and uh… I’m Timothy Hiram Samuel Hallelujah Bodine, Chairman of the East Palesteen, Ohio, Train Disaster Emergency Committee. My friends call me Sam. You can call me Mr. Bodine.”
“And who,” I pressed, “recommended you come here to the Nation’s Capital to seek my free advice?”
“Uh, that would be Mortimer Snerd,” he revealed, “a man I spoke to in the office of Senator J.D. Vance.”
“Oh, really?” I pondered. “Do you by any chance know what the word ‘facetious’ means?”
“Um… can’t say as I rightly do, Mr. Collins,” he sheepishly confessed.
“Of course not,” I mused. “May I inquire as to what you were discussing with this ‘Mr. Snerd’ when he advised you come to Washington and contact me?”
“I was tellin’ him about the Ohio Train Disaster,” Bodine related, “the one what spilled all them chemicals all over East Palesteen a couple weeks ago; and that big fire the railroad company set afterwards that made all that nasty black smoke what smelled like a chlorine pool in the air and killed all the fish and the animals and made it so everybody couldn’t breath and like that there.”
“And you put together an Emergency Committee to do something about it?” I sought to confirm.
“Yes, sir,” he averred, “we did. And I got elected Chairman, so we had a meetin’ and it was decided since FEMA wasn’t gonna do nothin’ to help us, I should call our senators and our congressmen and ask them to help us do something about all that stuff the railroad done to us.”
“And you contacted both Ohio senators, and the offices of Representative Bill Johnson, of Ohio’s Sixth Congressional District?” I asked.
“Yessir,” Bodine confirmed. “And, uh, at Bill Johnson’s office, the person I spoke with said that it’s un-American to complain about the environment, ‘cause it sends jobs to Mexico. And at Sherrod Brown’s office, they said they’d get back to us right after they helped out all the other people in Ohio who didn’t live in a congressional district that went ninety-six percent for Donald Trump in 2020.”
“And J.D. Vance’s office referred to you Mr. Snerd,” I concluded.
“Yes sir,” he muttered in a hushed tone.
“And Mr. Snerd,” I surmised, “said something like, ‘I guess you better go to Washington and ask for some free advice from Tom Collins,’ or words to that effect.”
Bodine stared at me incredulously, as if I had read his mind. “Them was Mr. Snerd’s words, exactly.”
There was no way around it, then: “I regret to inform you, Mr. Bodine, that there is no one by the name of ‘Mortimer Snerd’ on Senator Vance’s staff. That person was expressing the typical contempt J.D. Vance and other MAGA Republican politicians like him have for people like you, who were foolish enough to vote for them. You realize, don’t you, that Trump and his ilk all think you are a bunch of ignorant suckers who can be easily manipulated into voting against your own interests by stirring up your hatred for outsiders, minorities, and people with different cultural values.”
Bodine considered my remarks for moment. “Well, then, guess I better be on my way,” he sighed as he began to rise from his seat.
“Hold on there, Mr. Bodine!” I admonished. “Certainly, you don’t want to have come all the way from East Palestine, Ohio to Washington DC and go back there without your free advice.”
Bodine paused, midway between sitting and standing, then looked me in the eye, with a beseeching expression. “I don’t?”
“No,” I assured him, gesturing that he should resume his place in the chair, “you don’t. Despite what you folks in places like East Palestine, Ohio think of us here in the Nation’s Capital, we are genuinely touched, to a measurable degree, by the way your flagrant displays of ignorance and irrationality at the ballot box constantly come back to bite you in the [expletive]. Before you go back there with tales confirming all your friend’s and neighbor’s preconceived notions about the heartless elites and faceless bureaucrats of Washington; or, worse still, having now realized the utter, cynical disdain with which you have been treated, decide to pay Senator Vance a visit to demonstrate your unshakable faith in the Second Amendment, for once in your miserable life, take true advantage of a genuine opportunity. Please, sit. And listen, if you will.”
Bodine resumed his seat, slightly fuming. “Them’s mighty pretty words. Be careful they don’t get you punched in the face some time for speakin’ ‘em.”
“Pardon my frankness,” I begged, “but you gotta admit, there’s a point to my saying what I did. You know the story of the farmer and his mule, I assume?”
“Yup,” he grudgingly conceded, with a grave nod of his head. “‘What you hittin’ that there mule in the head with an axe handle for?’ ‘That’s the only damn way I can get his attention.’ Consider my attention got. Go ahead, mister, shoot.”
“In 2016, the Republicans did to you, the ‘Forgotten Americans’ in the Rust Belt, the same thing they have been doing since the 1980’s when the term was invented – Donald Trump reminded you that you had been forgotten; he and the MAGA Republicans came Washington; they passed a bunch of legislation that gave tax cuts to rich people and big business; they enacted a bunch of environmental and industrial safety de-regulation that benefited big business and their rich stockholders; and, they promptly forgot about you. Now, here we have Trump and his MAGA Republicans once more, stumping in Ohio for the 2024 elections, and they’re doing the exact same thing again. Why? Because they know it will work. And how come they know that? Because social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and such have completely destroyed news media in places like East Palestine; you folks live in what’s known as a ‘news desert,’ where your ability to access actual, unbiased, true information about current events simply doesn’t exist. With the help of the Republican fascist propaganda machines, otherwise known as Fox News, and online extremists Web sites to which you all get driven by artificial intelligence algorithms controlled by social media, every single one of you is completely brainwashed. You and your friends and neighbors in East Palestine are suffering now because the Trump administration rolled back and blocked railroad safety and environmental regulations, the enforcement of which would have prevented what happened to your town. And when the Biden administration came in, every attempt it made to change things back to where they were during the Obama administration…”
“Obama’s a [expletive]!” Bodine interrupted. “And he ain’t even American! He’s from Africa and he’s a Moslem!”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” I persisted, “ever since Nixon, the Republicans haven’t given a damn about anything except using every dirty trick they can to retain power as a minority party.”
“The Republicans ain’t no minority!” Bodine objected. “They got the most votes in that there Elector College, didn’t they?”
“The Republicans haven’t carried the popular vote in the United States since 2004,” I shot back, “and there quite a few elections before that where they didn’t win it, either. There are simply fewer Republicans, for one thing. Their grand strategy is to rely on duping independents and Democrats to vote for them in swing states. You see, when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, they had no concept of a modern political party. Consequently, there are flaws in the Constitution, like the Electoral College and the way the Supreme Court is structured, that provided opportunities for people like Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes and Trump to game the system and assume power, even if the actual majority of Americans oppose them. So, if you will allow me to continue, it has been the Electoral College system, corrupt Senate rules, especially the filibuster, and a continual campaign to install politically biased judges on the Supreme Court that are not only allowing disasters like yours to occur, but, more importantly, are eroding the very fabric of free government in the United States.”
“Okay,” Bodine shrugged, “so what? Where’s that advice you were talking about?”
“My advice,” I recommended, “is that you return to East Palestine, Ohio and tell your friends and neighbors what I just told you – that they have been turned into puppets of a fascist conspiracy that has been going on for decades, a conspiracy which uses them to seize and maintain its power over them and that all they have to do to stop it is quit voting for it. And that they need to quit voting for it right away, too, because if they don’t, they will lose the ability to get rid of it that way and there will never be another way to stop it in their lifetimes.”
“Aw, [expletive]!” Bodine barked back. “I cain’t do that! If I did, them folks in East Palestine would burn down my [expletive] house and [expletive] kill me!”
“You think so?” I challenged. “Your friends and neighbors won’t listen if you tell them the facts and reason with them?”
“Well, [expletive],” he observed, “you’re the one who just told me they’re all [expletive] brainwashed! No [expletive] way they’re gonna listen to me if I tell ‘em that! You think I haven’t figured out why that [expletive] Pete Buttigieg won’t come see what his [expletive] Department of Transportation is supposed to be takin’ care of? It’s because his life wouldn’t be worth a [expletive] hoot in Hell if he came to East Palestine, that’s why! And neither would mine if I went back there with that load of bull [expletive] you just told me!”
“Fair enough,” I conceded. “How about you stay here in Washington for a while? I could set you up with a job as a field worker in an environmental activist organization funded by George Soros.”
Bodine gave me a suspicious look. “How much?”
“Oh, I think we could arrange for about ninety thousand dollars a year,” I estimated, “to start.”
Bodine’s eyes narrowed to tiny slits as his brow furrowed in skepticism. “To start doin’ what?”
“To start trying to talk some sense into the folks in places like East Palestine,” I explained, “but not, of course, in East Palestine itself. You could go back there and live quite well off ninety grand a year, I suspect. And you could just tell your friends and neighbors them pointy-headed [expletives] in Washington couldn’t do nothin’ for ‘em, and they’d be none the wiser.”
Bodine consider the proposition, stroking his chin meditatively. “I’d have to be workin’ mighty far away from East Palesteen, I reckon.”
“We’ll start you off out in the West,” I proffered, “Idaho, Montana, places like that. There’ll be travel, but it will all be on expense account.”
“Expense… account?” Bodine’s eyes widened. “I… would have… a expense account?”
“Sure,” I verified, “vehicles, foundation funded credit card, the whole package. All that’s required is your extensive background with Forgotten Americans and a commitment to the environment. Which, considering your recent experience with the Norfolk Southern Railroad, should be pretty firm by now. Sound good?”
“Sounds really good,” Bodine allowed. “But am I gonna have to deal with [expletive], Arabs, Jews and such?”
“Yes, you would,” I replied, “and we will have to work on your… vocabulary… a bit, but I don’t foresee any significant obstacles there. And anyway, you would be spending most of your time with people much like yourself.”
Bodine looked up at the ceiling and drew a long, deep breath. “Aw [expletive]! For that kind of money, why the [expletive] not? Got a place I can stay while you work out the details and [expletive]?”
“How about the Hilton?” I suggested. “On me.”
“What?” Bodine was shocked. “The [expletive] Hilton? On… you?”
“No problem,” I explained. “I’ll get a finder’s fee. Effective environmental field operatives with experience in target populations are a rare skill set.”
At that, Bodine rose, strode forward and extended his hand. “Mr. Collins, I cannot tell a lie. By George, you got yourself a goddamned deal!”