It was not long after the first telephone conversation in 1876 — Alexander Graham Bell to his assistant, “Mr. Watson. Come here. I want to see you” — that the White House opened a public comment line.
OK, I exaggerate. Elasticity with the truth seems to be in fashion.
But seriously, the comment line has been a sounding board for the public for quite some time. No longer. It has been shut down — whether at the inauguration or earlier is not clear — and the madman currently in residence there has replaced it with a wall. This one is not between the U.S. and Mexico but between him and the public that he fantasizes is so adoring.
Call the main White House switchboard (202-456-1111) and a recording answers with four options, none of which connects you to a living person.
The first — press 1 — is to the now-defunct White House comment line. Another recorded message announces that the comment line is closed and invites you to access the White House website or leave a message on Facebook Messenger, which is not quite as simple as it sounds. But there is still no option to talk to a living person whose salary you are paying.
Since this runaround is typical of the commercial world’s voicemail hell, to which we are all accustomed, I experimented to see whether it could be bypassed by pressing 9 or 0. 9 worked. A live human being answered. I said I wanted to leave a message about the dearly departed comment line.
She refused to take it.
“You have to go to www.whitehouse.gov or mail a letter,” she said.
“You mean I can’t talk to a real person, as I do with my senators and congressman?”
“You are talking to a real person,” she said, “but I can’t take a message.”
There is no guarantee that a message on the website will be read, much less counted. Snail mail will take forever, as a letter has to go through multiple stages of security to ensure that it contains nothing harmful, such as the truth.
And if you’re one of the many, many Americans who don’t own computers or dwell on the internet, Madman Trump won’t be hearing from you very soon … if at all.
But this I would recommend to everyone reading, and to their friends. Call the White House switchboard. Press 9. Make the same complaint. Demand that they restore the comment line. Never mind that she won’t take down your name or message. Do it often enough, and that’s a message they WILL get.
The comment line, I read, was staffed by volunteers. Is it possible that unlike Barack Obama and his predecessors, Trump just can’t get any?
Meanwhile, the madman who doesn’t want to hear from us continues to indulge himself in the delusion that he would have won the popular vote but for millions of phantasmal people who voted illegally for his opponent.
He has announced a major investigation. To suspicious ears, it sounds like yet another Republican voter suppression scheme.
That news wasn’t even several hours old when it came out that his far-right guru Steve Bannon and his daughter Tiffany are two of the many people who had been on more than one voter roll.
That doesn’t mean they voted illegally. It’s against the law only to actually vote more than once. Otherwise, millions of people would be scrounging for bail money.
We’re a notably mobile society. When we move, whether to another state or even just across the street, we’re supposed to file a new voter registration. There’s a place to note whether and where we are already registered. It’s the responsibility of the new registering agency to notify the old one to drop us from their rolls. But sometimes this isn’t done, or it isn’t done in time to clear the books for an imminent election. We’re doing nothing wrong unless we vote in both places, and to hear the nation’s election supervisors — most of whom are Republican, by the way — that does not happen often enough to worry about. In any case, the numbers would work both ways.
Oh well, let Trump go on a hunt for those millions of people who voted illegally and against him. While he’s at it, perhaps he’ll help O.J. Simpson search for the real killer.
Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in North Carolina.