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Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Gene Weingarten: Below the Beltway column

By Gene Weingarten Washington Post Writers Group

At exactly 4:44 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 4, unable to sleep after an anxiety nightmare featuring Donald Trump, I fired up my laptop, and the very first thing I saw was: “In a series of early-morning tweets, Mr. Trump …,” at which point I stopped reading and emailed my editor: “It is Begun.”

He and I had recently discussed the possibility of my spending a workweek off the grid, fanatically evading any current events, and reporting the results in a column. Initially, I was reluctant – we are in hair-raising times where all news is bizarrely accelerated and supposed “news cycles” no longer exist. News is now a continuous, hemorrhagic blast fueled by a wildly irresponsible presidency. Bad news can morph to worse news in an instant, and it is the duty of decent citizens to keep track of all this – but the 4:44 a.m. message seemed to encourage my experiment, as though by a secret urging from the Almighty.

I did it, I’m back, and am ready to report.

1. In the age of social media, the Need to Read has become overwhelming, particularly in the bathroom, where I wound up wallpapering the floor with old newspapers and rereading them compulsively. A beer garden has been approved on 14th Street, but with limited seating because neighbors were up in arms. The Virginia Bank a Million lottery drawing for Nov. 16 was 2-3-10-17-25-39 (*)11.

2. Staying away from the news is possible, with varying degrees of effort. (When I walked into a restaurant and was surrounded by TVs set to CNN with closed captioning, I merely removed my glasses and happily dined enveloped by a cozy, clueless blur.) Other precautions were more complex, but successful. There was only one serious security breach, on Day 3, when an actual news item got through to me, involving a neighborhood crime. My dog, Murphy, started yowling and dancing, and led me into the kitchen, where Barnaby, the cat, was stealing dog food from an open can. Roommate Rats Out Cat Burglar.

3. Social media has stoked egomania by absurdly heightening the need to be heard. On Day 1, around Hour 14, this pressing question occurred to me: After the meeting of the two Thumbkins, considering their formal and mannered behavior (“How are you today, sir?” “Very well, I thank you”) … why do they … run away? What undisclosed threat or sordid development has arisen? I desperately wanted to tweet this question but could not risk inadvertently seeing news on Twitter. I felt devastated. Likewise, on Day 4 around Hour 11, I discovered exclusively that the name “Jennifer” is a modernization of “Guinevere.” Alas, you are reading it not on Twitter on Dec. 7, but here, today, an inexcusable three-plus weeks late.

4. Finally, you are blind to the Truth. You think you are not, but you are. When I finally rejoined the world at 4:44 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 8, I discovered the following had occurred in my absence:

Confronted by a new holiday-season posse of Frankincensed victims of his sexist kissy-face butt-cupping scumminess, the Democratic senator from Minnesota announced he would step down, bitterly noting that a man accused of far worse behavior was still in the Oval Office. And that man in the Oval Office, at great global risk and to no discernible strategic advantage, suddenly recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, setting off sputtering outrage in the Arab world and threats of a new intifada. Also, he formally lent his presidential endorsement to a Senate candidate credibly accused of having hit on teenagers when in his 30s. Also, in a speech, the guy in the Oval Office slurred words so badly, and so comically, that speculation about the cause ranged from incipient stroke to advancing dementia to loose, previously undisclosed dentures, prompting an online #DentureDonald hashtag attack bluntly aimed at driving him further up a wall. His decision to attend the dedication of a new museum honoring civil rights heroes caused the indignant withdrawal from the event by John Lewis, an actual civil rights hero. And that was just as of Friday morning.

Why are you blind to the truth that hit me like a forearm shiver from a 250-pound linebacker? Because you are the apocryphal frog sitting in the pot of water. The heat keeps rising, but so steadily that you don’t jump out before your brain is boiled into sloppy goo. The Trumpian tweetstorm that started this all – the one I never read to conclusion – turns out to have been this: On Dec. 3, he savaged the FBI, suggesting it is an agency of hacks and incompetents. He seems to have been trying to pre-emptively whip up support for an eventual firing of the special counsel investigating him for possible obstruction of justice, something that would likely provoke a Constitutional crisis.

It was probably the most important story of the week. But by week’s end, it was essentially forgotten.

Gene Weingarten can be reached at Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon Eastern at

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