Dana Milbank: The government that goes wrong

In this Jan. 14, 2019 photo, President Donald Trump talks to the media about the table full of fast food in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, for the reception for the Clemson Tigers. The partial government shutdown is hitting home for President Trump in a very personal way. He lives in government-run housing, after all. Just 21 of the roughly 80 people who help care for the White House _ from butlers to electricians to chefs _ are reporting to work. The rest have been furloughed. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

“The Play That Goes Wrong,” a British slapstick comedy, finished a short run at the Kennedy Center this month, so most Washingtonians didn’t get to see its characters stepping on each other, getting struck by falling objects and stymied by stuck doors, forgetting their lines, missing their cues, and eventually having the whole set fall down around them.

But that's okay. Here in the capital, we see a similar performance every day. Our version is The Government That Goes Wrong. President Trump is, if nothing else, a slapstick genius for the comically disastrous way in which he runs the country.

Large parts of the government have ceased to function for the longest time in U.S. history. Eight hundred thousand people are furloughed or forced to work without pay. Trump, who proudly said he would take blame for the shutdown, now says "the buck stops with everybody." This mayhem has been created in service of Trump's vision of a walled fortress on the border (an idea Trump's own chief of staff once called "almost childish") of the sort seen in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" ("Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!").

In the last several days alone:

Trump, hosting the Clemson football team, ordered Big Macs and Whoppers because White House food preparers are on furlough. His tweet about the fast-food fest misspelled hamburger as "hamberder."

Trump, after publicly disparaging Jeff Sessions, his old attorney general ("Mr. Magoo), for failing to protect him from special counsel Robert Mueller, was reportedly “startled” to learn on TV that — uh oh! — his nominee to be the new attorney general, William Barr, is a dear friend of Mueller’s.

Trump's lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, undermined two years of Trump administration denials by telling CNN "I never said there was no collusion" between Trump's campaign and Russia.

Trump, in a fit of pique because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested he postpone his State of the Union address, used his awesome presidential powers to ... ground a government airplane that was supposed to take Pelosi to see U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

On top of this, Trump found himself assuring the public that he's not a Russian asset (after the New York Times reported the FBI investigated exactly that possibility), and BuzzFeed reported that Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about Russian contacts.

It would appear Trump is following the immortal advice of Curly Howard: "If at first you don't succeed, keep on sucking till you do suck seed."

Watching Trump's serial bumbling brings to mind the famous "Pink Panther" scene in which Inspector Clouseau flies off the parallel bars, tumbles down the stairs, destroys a suit of armor and a piano, strikes a beekeeper, burns himself, knocks himself in the head with a vase and falls on a shotgun, which fires.

Anybody who still believes in "American exceptionalism" will have to account for this week. How did the nation that liberated Europe and put a man on the moon come to be led by Peter Sellers?

But what if we could use Trump's status as international laughingstock to America's advantage? What if we could weaponize Trump's slapstick buffoonery?

In Syria, let us suppress Islamic State with precision-guided stink bombs. In Afghanistan, likewise, covert operatives can thwart the Taliban by putting Vaseline on their doorknobs, "accidentally" hitting them while carrying ladders and putting their fingers in warm water while they sleep.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who has earned a second meeting with Trump next month even though he hasn't denuclearized, will be weakened into making concessions when, at the summit, his bed is filled with itching powder and his side of the stage is strewn with banana peels. Other geopolitical foes will be neutralized by upturned rakes and strategically placed mousetraps.

Here at home, Democrats can likewise defeat Trump in his own style. Rather than postponing the State of the Union address, they should:

Leave fake dog poo on the lectern where the germophobic president will speak and put soy sauce in his Diet Coke. Pelosi will greet Trump with a shock ring and a water-squirting lapel pin. Vice President Pence will discover a whoopee cushion when he sits. Republicans will find themselves stuck to their seats with Krazy Glue. Trump will discover that his teleprompter has the lyrics to "I Feel Pretty."

After suffering through a dismal two-year run of The Government That Goes Wrong, this is the showstopper we deserve.

Dana Milbank | The Washington Post

Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist. He sketches the foolish, the fallacious and the felonious in politics.