I was out of the country for a few days and news from this great republic reached me only fitfully. I have learned to be wary of foreign reporting of U.S. events, since America can come off sounding faintly deranged. Much of what reached me didn’t sound entirely plausible: Did the entire U.S. media really fall for the imaginary dead girlfriend of a star football player? Did the president of the United States really announce 23 executive orders by reading out the policy views of carefully pre-screened grade-schoolers (“I want everybody to be happy and safe”)? Clearly, these vicious rumors were merely planted in the foreign press to make the United States appear ridiculous.
And indeed, upon my return, it seemed to be business as usual. ABC News revealed that in 2007 President Bush’s secretary of the interior — oh, come on, it’s on the citizenship test: “Name a secretary of the interior. Any secretary of the interior.” Anyway, ABC revealed that Bush’s secretary of the interior spent 220,000 taxpayer dollars remodeling his (or her, as the case may be) office bathroom. Who knew the gig was really secretary of the interior design? I’ll bet the guy who made Saddam’s solid-gold toilets was delighted to get a new customer. But what can be done? If we changed the name to secretary of the exterior, he’d have blown a quarter-million on a new outhouse.
Meanwhile, hot from the fiscal-cliff fiasco, the media are already eagerly anticipating the next in the series of monthly capitulations by Republicans, this time on the debt ceiling. While I was abroad, a Nobel Prize–winning economist, a Harvard professor of constitutional law, a prominent congressman, and various other American eminencies apparently had a sober and serious discussion on whether the United States Treasury could circumvent the debt constraints by minting a trillion-dollar platinum coin. Although Joe Weisenthal of Business Insider called the trillion-dollar coin “the most important fiscal policy debate you’ll ever see in your life,” most Democrat pundits appeared to favor the idea for the more straightforward joy it affords in sticking it to the House Republicans. No more tedious whining about spending from GOP congressmen. Next time Paul Ryan shows up in committee demanding to know about deficit-reduction plans, all the treasury secretary has to do is pull out a handful of trillion-dollar coins from down the back of the sofa and tell him to keep the change.