Untitled, Pencil, 20" x 15", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy Van Wagoner Family Trust* (sketched in preparation for his *Christ Ministering to the Homosexuals in Salt Lake City)**


I grabbed my yellow LIVESTRONG jacket with the Nike logo from my closet and threw it on as I raced out the door to my bike class. After the doping scandal, my wife picked it up at the bike shop for almost nothing. In today’s GOP, it would be a collector’s item. Priceless. Correction: everyone has his price.

One of my favorite SNL skits features Kevin Neelan color-commentating Sergei Akmudov’s attempt to clean-and-jerk 1,500 pounds for the new world record. The power lifter, Neelan explains, had consumed a panoply of steroids and other chemicals including a fish paralyzer, all of which, of course, is not only allowed but encouraged at the All Drug Olympics. It’s worth a look:

Had Akmudov’s arms not torn off at the shoulders (“Oh, that’s gotta hurt”), a world record would not have registered on any books, even with an asterisk, unless the devious means of winning — the cheating itself — were the event. Why? Seems obvious.

The ubiquitous got-caught-cheating part of sports rocks high-profile athletes, teams, events, franchises, the gambling industry and, of course, fans. Why we care seems obvious.

Once exposed, the cheater is often defrocked and sanctioned, the results recalculated and medals redistributed. Some people are sent to prison. Most athletes found with PEDs in their systems deny it at first then come up with some innocent explanation or justification that seldom withstands even nominal scrutiny. Also ubiquitous in sports is gambling although, for reasons that again seem obvious, wagering by contest participants is discouraged. Exhibit A: Pete Rose. Baseball took that one seriously.

What bothers us about cheating in sports? Seems obvious.

We want the outcome to be on the merits. A merits-based outcome can be assured only if a set of rules exists by which every athlete or team abides. The meta rule — compliance with the underlying rules that apply to everyone, say, the rule of (sports) law — assures no one obtains an unfair advantage over the other competitors or teams. Some rules are prescriptive, others proscriptive. An outcome “on the merits” means everyone complied with and no one violated the rules of the game. The winner is, by definition, the best. Maybe just for that moment or on that day. Maybe until a record is broken. Maybe for all time.

What bothers us about sports cheaters? Seems obvious.

Cheaters are liars. They deceive. They break the rules. The integrity of the contest or sport is, at best, secondary to the cheaters’ selfish interests. They behave as though the rules do not or should not apply to them and in this manner gain unfair advantage over their competitors. Cheaters are not only willing but eager to achieve an outcome through deception, manipulation, misrepresentation and fraud — the appearance of merit is conjured to obscure the cheaters’ dearth of skill and authenticity. When caught, they usually deny having cheated or try to excuse or justify their behavior. The unsuccessful cover-up simply exposes the level of corruption and, possibly, obstruction. By definition, cheaters can never be the best, except at cheating, because the outcome was not on the merits. Cheaters are morally bankrupt.

I realize the metaphor may not play well or even hold. Sports is, after all, much more important in our national psyche than politics, and we are much less tolerant of corruption in sports than in politics. Given our campaign finance system, cheating and corruption should be presumed. However, a survey of history finds outliers in cheating in most — correction — every corner of American politics. At this historical moment, however, the cheaters have overcome their outlier status. Led by someone whose life and career are defined by extraordinary cheating (the best-of-the-best [just ask him]), these mainstreamed cheaters now control the mechanisms and institutions established by the meta-rules (Constitution, Oaths of Office) and the rules themselves (e.g., Criminal Code, Special Counsel regulations) for policing, catching, exposing and sanctioning the cheaters. Their highest virtue — correction — their only virtue is “winning,” and through whatever means are required. Indeed, nothing is of merit to these folks except the level and quality and effectiveness of their deceptions — The Art of the(ir) Cheat. And so they undermine and dismantle the very mechanisms and institutions designed to root out the rot and thereby protect merits-based governance. In exercising its control of the United States government, the GOP is employing the most transparent deceptions the United States has historically criticized in the world’s most corrupt regimes. MAGA!

Why do cheaters cheat? Because they are unable to withstand a merits-based challenge and unwilling to forgo the victor’s spoils.

Set aside, for the moment, the mass cheating that occurs within American politics.

Set aside, for the moment, cheating via gerrymandering, designed by partisan cheaters to assure elections are not on the merits.

Set aside, for the moment, cheating via voter suppression, designed by partisan cheaters to assure elections are not on the merits.

Set aside, for the moment, sustained cheating by lying about extensive contacts throughout the campaign with Russian operatives, all designed by cheaters to assure the election was not on the merits.

Set aside, for the moment, cheating by accepting Russia’s illegally-obtained opposition research, designed and enthusiastically adopted by cheaters to assure the election was not on the merits.

Set aside, for the moment, endorsing and engaging in treasonous behavior with Russia in its cheating by infiltrating social media and information systems with false sources and narratives and disinformation, all designed by a conspiracy of cheaters to assure the outcome was not on the merits.

Set aside, for the moment, that the American people were very likely cheated out of a merits-based election (and certainly a majority-based election).

Set aside, for the moment, that none of Trump’s decisions are reliably on the merits because he lacks any capacity for principled thinking, is incapable of thinking outside his fragile ego, is easily manipulated by flattery, is pathologically insecure, sells his office for access and influence, solicits and accepts emoluments from foreign sources, and places his financial interests above the Constitution and citizens of the United States.

Let’s instead focus for a moment on the a priori question of whether our constitutional form of government accommodates Trump’s assertion he is above the law. That he is not seems obvious. Still, by undermining any rule of the game that requires merit (which we now know the cheaters could never attain), the current GOP is doing everything it can to assure Trump and the rest of the gang are not held to account

The GOP has become its lowest common denominator: Trump, a brazen and transparent cheater. With Trump and the current state of the GOP, nothing is on the merits except the quality of the cheat.

We have been cheated and the offending GOP is doubling down on its cheating in order to obscure just how cheated we were (and continue to be).

The GOP takes gold at the All Drug Olympics. Its high crimes are of constitutional magnitude.

*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to

**My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed nearly 500 pieces of my father’s work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in are hers.

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