I can’t forget that I’m bereft

Of all the pleasant sights they see,

Which the Piper also promised me.

For he led us, he said, to a joyous land,

Joining the town and just at hand,

Where waters gushed and fruit-trees grew,

And flowers put forth a fairer hue,

And everything was strange and new.

—”The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” Robert Browning

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Well, we’re back in the once-majestic capital of a once-great nation for the week in which all the ceremonies and pomps of government will be summoned to pretend that abandoned wrath and a constitutional fluke have not set a constitutional republic aloft in what is not merely a leap in the dark, but also a leap into a dark in which ominous growling and snarling already has been audible for months. As we point out semi-weekly in another context: This is your democracy, America. Cherish it.

On the stump, the president-elect used to tell the story of the snake, which isn’t much different in its basic lesson from the story behind Browning’s poem, the latter of which has been banging around in my head ever since it began to dawn on people that the president-elect’s plans were a strange mixture of keeping his promises and denying that he ever made them in the first place.

(Concerning the Affordable Care Act, he seems to be doing both at once. He’s going to blow a cognitive hamstring very soon.)

The latest spelunk into the mind of the president-elect is an interview with The Times of London in which he was asked about the concept of heroes. The answer is, well, fascinating.

Well, I don’t like heroes, I don’t like the concept of heroes, the concept of heroes is never great, but certainly you can respect certain people and certainly there are certain people — but I’ve learnt a lot from my father — my father was a builder in Brooklyn and Queens — he did houses and housing and I learnt a lot about negotiation from my father — although I also think negotiation is a natural trait, I don’t think you can, you either have it or you don’t, you get better at it but basically, the people that I know who are great negotiators or great salesmen or great politicians, it’s very natural, very natural . . . I got a letter from somebody, their congressman, they said what you’ve done is amazing because you were never a politician and you beat all the politicians. He said they added it up — when I was three months into the campaign, they added it up — I had three months of experience and the 17 guys I was running against, the Republicans, had 236 years – ya know when you add 20 years and 30 years — so I was three months they were 236 years — so it’s sort of a funny article but I believe it’s like hitting a baseball or being a good golfer — natural ability, to me, is much more important to me than experience and experience is a great thing — I think it’s a great thing — but I learnt a lot from my father in terms of leadership.

The guy is talking about his “natural ability” as a president as though it’s something you can tell in advance and as though it’s tantamount to being able to hit a sand wedge. You can almost hear the spark gaps sizzling in his brain as he formulates the answer. The question, as always, to the newly astonished is: Did you listen to this guy on the stump? Every speech he ever gave was a jigsaw puzzle with all the corner pieces missing.

And all the children of Hamelin looked around and thought to themselves, “Jesus H. Christ on a four-day bender, how in the everloving fck did we ever get inside this big-ass rock.” If there is hope in the analogy, however, this may be it. You will recall that the story of Hamelin really is nothing more than the story of a subcontractor who got stiffed and took his revenge. There are modern parallels to that, I’m thinking, and if, one day, a flautist dressed in motley shows up at the White House, we may all survive this yet.

With him I proved no bargain-driver,

With you, don’t think I’ll bate a stiver!

And folks who put me in a passion

May find me pipe to another fashion.