Spiders don’t get stuck in their own webs because they know how to tiptoe along the dry connecting strands, the ones that do not bear the glue that traps prey. Any human who has ever walked into a spider’s web knows only how unpleasant the sticky stuff feels and how difficult it is to free oneself from it. We don’t tiptoe along the dry strands.
Why do otherwise intelligent, decent people sacrifice their dignity and risk their political futures by striding willingly into the sticky web of deceitful politics?
On Monday, Americans witnessed masterful web spinning by our president at his cabinet meeting at which each member in turn baptized him with effusive praise. Vice President Pence set the tone, saying, “The greatest privilege of my life is to serve as vice president to a president who’s keeping his word to the American people.” White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus topped this kissing festival by thanking Trump “for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.” Only two managed not so sing in the embarrassing chorus. Were all the others being honest with the president? You decide.
Such flattery feeds the president’s fragile ego, but it doesn’t help him serve us any better. Besides being degrading to the people involved, such sycophantic displays make it difficult or impossible for factual information to flow. This president’s pattern of untruthfulness doesn’t help.
We witnessed self-degrading behavior on display yesterday when Attorney General Jeff Sessions sacrificed his personal dignity as he struggled with the truth in his efforts to protect the president from accusations of wrongdoing. Sessions and a growing army of Trump sychophants are showing their willingness to walk into the sticky web and risk their political futures and those of an army of brothers and sisters in Congress.
No, the art of spinning sticky webs is not confined to the Oval Office. Daily, the population of those who in positions of power are willing to practice deception grows before our eyes and ears. These are not evil people. They love their country and want to serve it, but they are caught in a sticky web, extrication from which comes at a political price that for some is too dear to pay.
We owe a debt of thanks to a poet for his wisdom on this subject. Sir Walter Scott, 18th century Scottish novelist, poet, historian, and biographer, who is considered the inventor and a practitioner of the historical novel, penned one of history’s most telling quotes in his epic poem Marmion:
“O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!”