On Watch: White House of Cards

The U.S Treasury honored Grant by putting his image in the $50 bill. Does that seem fitting? His administration certainly moved more currency than that during his eight years in the White House so I think Secretary Mnuchin needs to revisit this move.

White House of Cards

By Marcus Fisk

ALEXANDRIA, VA-Sorry y’all, but what’s going on at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the elephant in the room, or maybe Blue Room is more fitting. Today the National Enquirer seems to be on equal journalistic footing with the New York Times as they peer over the Rose Garden wall, under the bushes, and rifle through the trash looking for any hint of skullduggery, malfeasance, amorous trysts, or just plain “Felony Stupid.”

Unsatisfied with the Mueller Report,(1) investigative journalists are examining everything and attempting to hack into every PC looking for that “smoking email.” One reporter from People magazine dug up a bid proposal for installing a revolving door on the West Wing. The Marine guards were particularly excited because it’s been exhausting holding the doors for every Tom, Dick or Harry that came and went over the past two years.

Complain as you will about Donald Trump, but you have to admit the one thing that this president does well is entertain. He is the master of gushing profusely over his new hires as the greatest thing since peanut butter and then disposing of these former gladiators like a Roman Emperor at the Coliseum.(2) And lest you think that Trump is unique in this arena, he may well be a prince in comparison to some of our previous presidential vultures in the White House.

Martin Van Buren was the new wave of American politicians. He was what we know of today as the “professional politician.” He created the Albany Regency, one of first and most powerful political machines in the country, and was elected everything: Governor, Senator, Secretary of State, Vice President, and President.

Van Buren was big into handout bills (forerunner to bumper stickers), campaign songs, and paying voters’ bar tabs, and he was one of the founding fathers of dirty tricks. He endured the economic Panic of 1837, but his popularity nose-dived when Congressman Charles Ogle of Pennsylvania made a big deal out of his White House renovations and his haute couture clothing. During three days on the House floor, Ogle spoke to packed houses about Van Buren’s “golden spoons” at the White House table and his natty designer style attire (3).

Voters became convinced that Van Buren was out-of-touch with the common man and he lost his second term to William Henry Harrison. The fact that he looked like Danny DeVito on a bad hair day also didn’t help with the voters.

Then there’s the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant. Grant is the original “comeback kid.” He really took to soldiering and did a terrific job during the War with Mexico, but then he decided to go into business. Everything he touched turned to dross. After a dozen years living under an ominous fiscal cloud, the Civil War mercilessly happened and Grant’s fortunes changed. After the war, he took a breather, then ran for president, and just barely kept his nose above water because of all the corruption in his administration.

Martin Van Buren or Danny DeVito? –You be the judge.

It wasn’t his fault. Grant liked people and he did what any enterprising leader would do when inundated by the get-rich-quick impresarios of the Gilded Age. He did a 19th century version and “friended” everyone he knew, liked, or passed on the street. He gave them all jobs and let his friends cut deals. This hands-off leadership style opened the doors to all sorts of entrepreneurial activities, the likes of which would have made Trump look bush league in comparison. The icing on the cake was the Credit Mobilier railroad scandal. The railroad hired a company, Credit Mobilier, to build the Union Pacific railroad and link it to the west. The ultimate costs were multiplied and the difference between what building the railroad cost and what Credit Mobilier charged went to some really well-connected guys. That led to the investigation of 13 Congressmen and ousting of Vice President Schuyler Colfax.

There was also the Whiskey Ring, which involved distillers and Treasury Department officials getting cozy and wouldn’t you know it? Taxes went down and everyone was happy. The additional revenue somehow found its way into Republican headquarters and that’s when the you-know-what hit the fan.

Raids across the country resulted in 350 arrests, 110 convictions, and $4 million returned to the government. Grant’s Interior Secretary Columbus Delano got caught passing contracts to his son John. Attorney General George Williams had an entrepreneurial wife who received $30,000 and – poof – an indictment against the merchant house Pratt & Boyd for fraudulent customhouse billings magically disappeared from the Justice Department.

When the dust finally settled from his eight years in the catbird seat, Grant’s administration saw corruption uncovered in the Departments of War, Justice, Navy, Interior, Treasury, Post Office, and State as a result of the gold speculation scandal. The Gold scandal, the Salary grab, the Star Route Postal ring, the New York custom house ring, and the safe burglary conspiracy—well, these names and events would just confuse you now, but they were bigger than Watergate.

Grant left office penniless and dogged by scandal. A benevolent Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) offered a whopping 75 percent of royalties for Grant’s memoirs. Grant worked ceaselessly, they were published, and he made a tidy estate (4) for his wife Julia and kids. (See the Comeback kid reference.) Grant’s memoirs set the trend for future presidents and other politicians writing books, lecturing, painting, or even producing Oscar-winning documentaries (5). He died a few days after completing them.(6)

I haven’t even tapped into James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, or Warren G. Harding, which is too bad because that revolving door had to be continually oiled during their administrations. These guys made John Gotti look like a Sunday School Teacher. But my editor won’t let me go on that long, so maybe next time….

Marcus Fisk

Marcus Fisk is a retired Navy Captain, Naval Academy graduate, sometime actor, sculptor, screenwriter, pick-up soccer player, and playwright. He and his wife Pamela are former long-time residents of Alexandria and currently live in Connecticut where they travel the New England shore in their 42′ Grand Banks Trawler ADAGIO.

(1) What happened to Mueller? Oh, right – he’s former FBI Director Robert Mueller. He dropped off the report on Attorney General Barr’s doorstep, got into an Uber and disappeared in the night, right off the radar. A sharp reporter from the National Enquirer thought she saw him sipping a Mojito in a beach chair on Miami Beach. But then again, EVERYBODY living in Florida looks like Robert Mueller.

(2 )I think the Christians at the Coliseum fared better. Remember Bannon? Flynn? Comey? Spicer? Kelly? And how about the ‘Mooch?’

(3 )Sound familiar?

(4) $450,000 – That’s $12.5 Million in 2018 money. Let’s see if The Donald could top that with The Art of the Deal.

(5 )Ask Al Gore how he did it? Given his charisma it may be his only IMDB credit but an Oscar’s and Oscar and even Ronald Reagan never got one.

(6 )This should be a warning to you aspiring writers out there.