Retro novel and film shed light on Trump era

‘Grifter’ is a much favored term among President Trump’s critics for the tawdry crew that the commander in chief has assembled to operate or profit from the operations of the federal government. Commonly used to describe those who cheat others out of money, the associated words are chiselers, defrauders, gougers, scammers, swindlers, and flim-flam men.

After less than two years in office, space prevents a full description of those in or already or out of Trump’s orbit to whom this applies, but as Roy Hoope’s Our Man in Washington, a somewhat neglected 2000 fictional telling of the Warren G. Harding administration of the 1920s makes clear, it’s not the first grifter invasion of Washington, D.C.

Cartoonist Clifford Berryman's contemporary take on Teapot Dome

(Library of Congress)

Harding died in office just as the scandals were exploding, generally featuring bribery, unexplained deaths and graft on a lavish scale. The best known is the ‘Teapot Dome,’ bribery case in which Secretary of the Interior Albert Bacon Fall leased Navy oil reserves in Wyoming to private companies without competitive bidding. Fall became the first presidential cabinet member to go to prison. The machinations of current Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke with western public lands suggest kinship with his illustrious predecessor.