The Ninth Circle: The View from Down Under #1


A continuing series by Virgil

Welcome to the Ninth Circle—the Ninth Circle, of course, of Hell. Or, as some of us call it, here Inside the Beltway—home.

Yes, Washington, D.C. in all its hellishness is where we live. From these lower depths, in this infernal realm, we survey the world above; we even keep a betting pool as to who will join us next. Every day, there are interesting new souls to meet—politicians, pundits, lobbyists, even the occasional unwary taxpayer. So who knows who’s next among the hellbound—maybe you!

But in the meantime, a bit more about life here in Hell. You might ask: Are we happy down here? Well, not really, but we’re sort of past the point where that matters, aren’t we? One thing they teach you in D.C.: you’re for what happens. That is, go along, get along, get the best deal you can. Oh, and, of course: deny everything. Whatever it is, we didn’t do it.

Yet as we suffer the torments of the damned, we still like to have fun. So we look up to the land of the living, in search of people and things to ridicule and mock. Some of our critics say we’re like jackals as we compose our snarky words and fire off our bitter barbs, metaphorically gnawing on the bones of our targets. But they ain’t seen nothin’ yet; if you like the tearing of flesh, the breaking of spines, the deracinating of limbs—well, so do we! Yes, we make the most of our sorry lot.

So here we go, this is our first hellish report: The byline is Virgil, the longtime denizen of the Dantean abyss, but many other lost souls, too, have chipped in.

One earthly figure who already probably thinks he’s in hell is Jeb Bush.

It’s been a rough year for him—and it’s likely only to get worse. But at least we can see the end of the pain for the Floridian. On Thursday, ¡Jeb!, who typically ranks fourth or fifth in New Hampshire polls, issued a startling prediction: He said, flat-out, that he was going to win the Granite State primary. Well, God bless, Jeb—and yes, we say that ironically. You’ve hoisted yourself so high in the “expectations game” that, well, you could hang yourself.

Jeb’s claim kinda reminds us of Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in the 1932 World Series. Yes, long ago and far away, the Yankees were squaring off against the Cubs at Wrigley Field; when it was the Babe’s turn at the plate, the Chicago fans lustily booed him. And so, just as a “bleep you” to the noisy locals, Ruth raised his right hand and pointed to the center field bleachers. Translation: Up yours, Chicago fans, now watch this. Of course, the home-team crowd booed all the louder. And then the Sultan of Swat proceeded to swat the ball over the fence—a home run.

Ruth’s “called shot” is one of the most famous incidents in the history of baseball: But if he had failed—if he had, say, struck out instead—then Ruth would have been a goat. Born in 1895, he was getting a little old to be a ball player; he probably would have retired after the ’32 season. But instead, rejuvenated by his smashing success—he hit .333 in the Series, as the Yanks swept the Cubs in four—and Ruth kept playing for another three years.

But something tells us that Jeb is no Babe. He won’t be active in politics for another three months, let alone three years. His attempted “called shot” in New Hampshire can be thought of as, uh, a drop-dead fork in the road. In Jeb’s mind, if he somehow wins New Hampshire, great: The Bush Apostolic Succession—41, 43, 45—can continue. But if he loses, well, that’s enough of that. He he can go back to doing cool things in the private sector.

Another Republican presidential candidate who must think that he is getting stuck with a lot of pitchforks lately is Ben Carson. Down here, we’re the last folks who should be asked to attest to a man’s character, but Carson sure seems like a decent guy. However, there’s just one little problem: He doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Whether it’s Egyptian historyUS history—or contemporary immigration policy—Carson seems remarkably unburdened by facts. Maybe that’s why he smiles so much. Of course, he wasn’t smiling after being skewered by Politico on his alleged “full scholarship” to West Point. As to those allegations, Carson hotly disputes them. Frankly, down here, we don’t care too much about the precise truth; all we know is that Carson has had a week in Hell. And verily, by the pricking of our thumbs, a bad fate to Carson’s candidacy comes.

And then there’s Donald Trump. He’s had a hell of a ride. And he’ll be huge—yuge!—on Saturday Night Live tonight. Yeah, but supernovas are huge, too, and they don’t last long. You see, there’s a concept about political acceptability called the “Overton Window”—made popular by Glenn Beck, of all people. That is, there’s a window of viability in our public life: Inside the window is okay, outside the window is not okay. As for The Donald, he is entertaining and compulsively watchable; you never know what he is going to say, or who he is going to insult. Well, the nasty-ass comedian Don Rickles was compulsively watchable, too. But he never got to be president. And neither will Trump.

Yet we do, however, look forward to his show on Fox News! He could do a whole hour of buzzy monologue, and he’d probably get higher ratings than Bill O’Reilly, that piker when it comes to being a bullyboy. And Trump might even get higher ratings, too, than Megyn Kelly—that would make the Orange One happy as hell.

Oh, we know what you must be thinking to yourself: How can this hellish voice be so sure about the fate of Carson and Trump? After all, they are #1 and #2 in the polls! And the answer: They are both but flashes in the pan—little daubs of sulphur igniting brightly, but not lasting very long.

To use another analogy: In football, when the kicker kicks a punt, it sometimes seems as if the ball floats up there in the air forever. All eyes are on the pigskin, as the players race down the field below. But in fact, the ball is only aloft for a short time; within seconds, it comes down to earth with a thud.

And that’s how we’ll remember Carson, Trump, and, of course, Jeb—as flying projectiles that hit the dirt. They each had their glorious “hang time” as the crowd watched, rapt, while they soared for that brief shining moment. But then, before they knew it, they were flat on the ground, all three, gang-tackled by professional politicians.

Okay, that’s enough for now. We’ll get to the rest of the candidates, and to the rest of the world, in future installments. It is, heh-heh, a target-rich environment. And we like company down here!

So we, in the place from which there is no return, salute you—even as we size you up. Because you never know when the hell-bound will become the hell-gone.