May 2, 2017

I actually like ants a lot. They have fascinating societies built around incredible adaptations. They display incredible industriousness and admirable perseverance in the face of monumental obstacles. As they march around the house in ones and twos and threes, I smile and wish them good luck. I’m even secretly excited to live in my own little David Attenborough documentary.

But there comes a point… The problem is this: the particular species, or community, of ants sharing our space these days likes cat food. We have three cats. Let me amend that: we have three picky cats who often leave food behind in their bowls. They’re also all quite old, so they can’t eat hard food all the time. The choices, then, are to (1) starve the cats by always giving them less food than they need, (2) quit our jobs so we can stay home all day and feed the cats small amounts of food more or less constantly, or (3) err on the side of over-feeding them and hope they finish it off before the excess gets stale and the ants discover it. If you’re wondering why we don’t just figure out exactly what the cats will eat and feed them that amount, then you obviously don’t own cats.

So here are the ants in their dozens, in their hundreds, probably in their thousands if you include the nest. They send out advanced scouts in every possible direction—these are the ants in ones, twos, and threes that we tolerate on a regular basis. A few of those scouts find leftover scraps of cat food on the floor, in the bowls, and in the trash can. They return to the nest laying down scent trails for the other ants to follow. Within minutes, the troops are on the march. They have their mission and their directions. They follow the trail, find the objective, pick up a load, and march back toward the nest. Meanwhile, other scouts are still fanning out randomly around the house. While they’re at it, these guys collect other scraps of edible material, presumably for inspection. Other than maybe sugary treats, though, nothing brings the troops in D-Day numbers like the cat food.

So what does this have to do with our President? This: Donald Trump’s mouth is like a scouting ant. Back at the nest—what we might loosely call Mr. Trump’s mind—his mouth has been informed that it likes a particular thing. Then it goes out into the world in a series of random expeditions hoping to find that thing. When it finds the thing (or thinks it has found the thing), it lays down a path toward it. At this point, it becomes a troop ant, unwaveringly following that path no matter what gets in its way. By God, it says, I will make my way to that thing I want so much, even if I see a hand, a broom, or a vacuum tube descending from above. It’s tenacious in search of the prized commodity it seeks.

Donald Trump seeks popularity. I suspect this is why he identifies as a Populist. I’m not kidding: I really believe he thinks that Populists are by definition popular. Popularity is the President’s cat food. His mouth, then, embarks on hundreds of random adventures every day in search of this craved substance. Recently, his mouth took a path it has taken several times before, the path that leads to President Andrew Jackson. ‘Jackson was a Populist, Jackson was a President, I am a Populist, I am a President, Populist means popular, I am popular’—and the scent trail gets laid down.

This time, though, there’s something else in the air—kind of like a bit of cookie that fell off the counter and disappeared just beneath the fridge. The Andrew Jackson ant diverts the trail slightly to add the cookie crumbs to the route. The cookie is the talk of war. Everyone’s talking about North Korea and war, so the mouth, on its way back from Andrew Jackson, decides to detour toward war. This is what it says:

“I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. And he was really angry that – he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, ‘There’s no reason for this.’ People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War – if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

Now, in the same way that I’m willing to tolerate a few ants in my house, I’m willing to tolerate a President who’s questioning the need for war—especially in this case. I mean, I live on the west coast after all. But there are so many elements of this particular scent trail that make me want to follow the mouth back to its nest and thrash it to bits. Others in the media have already done a good job at such thrashing, however, so let me just point out three things:

  1. Andrew Jackson died in 1845;
  2. Andrew Jackson was a chauvinistic white supremacist; and
  3. Slavery.

I recently read an engaging, thought-provoking work of alternative history called Underground Airlines. The premise of this book starts with Abraham Lincoln being assassinated on his way to assume the presidency, which allows accommodationists to take over and avoid the Civil War. Of course, slavery still exists in four states in the 21st century, but that’s another issue. My point is that I have no objection to playing the historical What if? game. Clearly, in many ways, the country would have been better off if the Civil War had been “worked out.”

The problem is that Mr. Trump’s mouth isn’t engaging in thought-provoking historical hypotheticals. It is in search of one thing: popularity. He is an ant who thinks the trail to what he wants runs through random collages of historical names and associations, holding up virulent racists as paragons of leadership and ignoring essential national phenomena like slavery. He is an ant that lays down trails of fantasy out of hunger for approval. But his fantasies make life less livable for the rest of us.

And do you know what the saddest part of all is? The ant nest is in our blueberry bush. It’s the plant we most cherish. We keep putting off the necessary nest destruction because we’re afraid it will kill the bush along with it. It’s a quandary, it really is. How long do we let these guys tromp through our house and steal our crumbs before we go all nuclear? You understand the dilemma, I’m sure.

If only we could train our cats to eat the little buggers…