The Rube Goldberg Machine is Broken

Here’s a little something I learned this morning from watching the news with the sound off.

 

It’s just a theory, but it might help illustrate what the hell is going on.

 

The press is digging into the infamous Russia meeting – again – the way it digs into everything else – with little soundbites based on what an embattled and intellectually challenged president calls “leaks” as he vows to hunt down the “leakers” and defeat or humiliate them.

 

But at the heart of a lot of this research and investigative journalism is the same kind of slow, detailed methodical analysis that lawyers use to slowly tighten the snare on a subject or target.

 

Here’s an example from today’s news cycle – CNN reports on a tagline that Donald Trump Junior said, that his father “may have commented” on his June 8 statement “through Hope Hicks.”

 

Why is this little soundbite important? It’s of note to the public, at least marginally (and technically it’s news) which is why it’s plastered all over the television screen, and it could potentially be used as one more little tidbit for lawyers to try to catch out Trump or Trump Jr. or whoever in perjury.

 

However, thinking really hard about both of these adversarial strategies – the public shaming and the legal entrapment, you can see how the prey could wiggle out of both of them, or alternately, how either could spring the trap closed. It’s kind of the Schrödinger’s cat scenario – we just don’t know.

 

Let’s start with the legal strategy. A good lawyer might, at the end of some months and pages and pages of testimony, be able to hang some kind of perjury charge on Donald Trump Jr. for saying that somebody commented on something. However, I don’t think that lawyer could ever, in many months or hundreds of pages of testimony, ever entrap Trump Jr. for saying that his father “may have” commented through Hope Hicks. That simple three-letter word, “may,” is one of the hedge words that lawyers and copywriters and professional liars know so well – it automatically encapsulates the statement from use as perjury fodder. It’s like when the accused always says “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall.”

 

So while some soundbites like the one I mentioned could be used to close the trap on someone who is under investigation, that specific comment, again because of that one word, is not useful.

 

It’s where we come to the second point that we understand that the machines that have always driven our public discourse have inherently changed – the machine is broken – it’s not working the way it should. Its ineffective machine arm keeps flapping back and forth.

 

The idea with public shaming and the revelation of new details every day is that a presidency or administration is supposed to collapse under the weight of them. In theory it would only take one, or two, or three for public opinion to shift. It would only take several of these shameful episodes for the public to turn against a public figure – and for the lawyers, emboldened by this public sentiment, to come forth and do their job.

 

But we have one or more of these every day – for a year and a half! – and it just doesn’t do what it used to do. Maybe the flap that holds up the machine arm of shaming and outrage has just broken off somehow during the 2016 election.

 

Maybe it was a little cheap plastic clasp that was supposed to hold the arm in place, and it had just been tugged on too many times. Maybe there’s a little plastic sliver laying on the ground showing us why the machine just isn’t working.

 

It’s aggravating. It infuriates us. The press and the legal community spend hours and hours of effort trying to make the machine work the way it always has. People talk about the networks and whether they’re fake and how they could improve and what they could do to make things be like they used to be.

 

You’ve seen the Rube Goldberg machine – the little ball drops into the groove and slides past the water glass, which tips over and makes the baby cry so his hand flips over a lever and tickles the cat, which drops the ball on the button which triggers whatever action you’re supposed to be initiating.

 

What do you do when a Rube Goldberg machine is stuck? Do you try to isolate the part that’s not working, the circuit break that’s preventing you from gaining the satisfaction of a job well done? Do you scratch the whole thing and start all over?

 

Our political physics are in turmoil. Our ideas about ourselves and others are under radically new analysis. (See Childish Gambino “This is America”)! We just can’t understand anymore how our personal lives correspond to the personal lives of the people at the very top of our food chain – those leaders of the free world that we’ve always had some kind of strange consensus about.

 

This is not an adversarial post. This is an analytical post. This is an idea about how to understand the ideas that are bombarding us every day. If you’ve read this far, please comment and let me know what you think – what’s up with this machine? What is the machine made of? How does it work? And what in God’s green earth can we do to fix it?

 

 

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