During this past week in Washington, DC the political ideals to which we aspire ran head-on into the reality of the people we have become.
It began with a memorial tribute to the late Senator John McCain, whose life was described as being motivated by bipartisan civility and commitment to the higher calling of service to country and fellow man.
I had differences with McCain’s approach to foreign policy and argued with him about his stubborn refusal to recognise abuses endured by Palestinians as a result of Israeli policies.
I also took issue with his penchant, as I once put it, “to never see a conflict that he didn’t want to bomb” and I disagreed with McCain’s conservative domestic policies.
But I recall his bipartisan efforts in the 1990s to pass meaningful campaign finance and immigration reform, along with his strong stand against the Bush Administration’s torture policy.
On a personal note I cannot forget how, after 9/11 when McCain heard that my life had been threatened, he called and asked what he could do to support and protect me and my family.
During the memorial, former President Barack Obama best captured McCain’s approach to Washington when he said: “So much of our politics can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult, in phony controversies and manufactured outrage.
“It’s a politics that pretends to be brave, but in fact is born of fear. John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that.”
For a moment, I allowed myself to hope this might have an impact on our politics in Washington.
But the rest of the week was filled with the partisan and profoundly disturbing Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve on the Supreme Court.
Then in the midst of all of this rancour, we were hit by two separate but related bombshells.
First was the release of excerpts of a soon-to-be-published book, “Fear”, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Bob Woodward.
The book quotes senior Trump administration figures who describe the president as “unhinged” and “ill-informed”, with these same senior officials asserting they often found ways to circumvent the president’s orders to protect the country from his dangerous impulses.
A day later, the New York Times published a column by an unnamed “senior official in the Trump administration”.
“Despite, not because of, the president’s leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty, and ineffective... senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander-in-chief’s comments and actions,” it said.
“Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims... he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed, and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.”
However, the writer reassures readers that “there are adults in the room” who recognise what is happening and “are trying to do what is right even when Donald Trump won’t”.
Reactions to the book and the Times’ piece were fascinating. Trump termed the op-ed “treason” and demanded the newspaper turn the writer over to the government.
Most senior White House officials immediately stepped forward to say they didn’t write it and quotes attributed to them by Woodward were not true.
Meanwhile, operating in a crisis mode we hear reports of a “witch-hunt” within the White House to ferret out the “traitors”.
A number of Republican Senators have shrugged off the book and the column, acknowledging: “This is nothing new. We’ve known this from the beginning.”
Many Democrats and media commentators appeared to agree with the White House that the writer of the column was a coward, denouncing the “Faustian bargain” some Republicans have made to work for and to support a president they claimed was “unfit to lead” in order to get the tax cuts, deregulation and the conservative Supreme Court they wanted.
By the week’s end we found ourselves confronting the chaos, partisanship and paranoid dysfunction that have come to define the real Washington, DC.