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The Not-So-Secret History of Eating Secret Documents

Could Trump’s alleged paper-swallowing actually be… smart?

The reports of turmoil and backstabbing that reliably emanate from Trump’s inner circle don’t exactly fit the bill as “palace intrigue” stories. Why? Basically, nobody involved is all that intelligent. Because no one seems able to carry off the kind of scheme that Nixon could have nailed down during his morning shit, today’s West Wing squabbles have the tenor of petty playground politics instead. There is no drama in seeing children lie to and tattle on each other.

Omarosa Manigault-Newman — fired White House aide, breakout villain of The Apprentice, and (until recently) Trump’s only black friend besides Ben Carson — is in the midst of a publicity/snitching tour as she promotes the tell-all book that was her raison d’être for embedding within this racist administration. Amid her many accusations of juvenile stupidity in the Oval Office, one anecdote stands out: She claims that after a meeting Trump had with longtime lawyer Michael Cohen, she saw the 72-year-old leader of the free world eat a piece of paper, presumably to destroy whatever information was written on it. “I saw him put a note in his mouth,” reads the excerpt quoted in the Washington Post. “Since Trump was ever the germaphobe, I was shocked he appeared to be chewing and swallowing the paper. It must have been something very, very sensitive.”

Cohen and others have vigorously denied the claim, but the nice thing about a den of deceitful rats is that no rat-ass bastard is any more credible than the last. I’m actually disposed to believe Omarosa here because 1) I want to, and 2) I’m skeptical about her conjuring so odd and precise a fabrication, and 3) Trump is a paranoid criminal with a pile of old shoelaces where his brain should be.

Which leaves us with a burning question, and it’s not what secret Trump was looking to protect — it’s too late to subpoena his fecal matter from that week, plus Cohen flipped on him weeks ago. No, what I’m asking myself now is just: Could eating your private documents be … smart?

Paper Eating GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

The realization that it’s possible to consume paper is momentous in elementary school, when each note furtively passed between desks contains a ruinous potential. Your missive may get into enemy hands (even the teacher’s!) and read aloud to an audience it was never meant for. To crumple it up or throw it in the trash is hardly a secure solution. Ditto the advertised finality of a paper shredder: What if someone meticulous, say a Robert Mueller figure, tapes the pieces together?

No, ingestion is the only foolproof option, and it’s all in-house, so to speak — perfect for a man who prefers to keep everything in the family. Put another way: An office machine is not loyal to Trump, whereas his own intestines serve no one else. Except McDonald’s.

If true, Trump would be in some fairly dimwitted fictional company. Let’s look at a brief pop-culture history of paper-eating.

There’s Mac chomping down on an unfavorable contract in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (only to learn that it’s one of a hundred copies). There’s Jenna Maroney of 30 Rock announcing that she’s on the “Japanese porn star diet,” which entails eating only paper, “but I can eat all the paper I want.” As noted on Splinter, Eleanor Shellstrop of The Good Place has eaten paper to destroy evidence.

And of course there’s a true medical history as well: Outside of this goofy TV trope, paper-eating, or xylophagia, suggests a disorder known as pica, which presents as a craving for and ingestion of non-foods, including pencils, hair, dirt, toilet tissue or paint chips — a condition that largely affects young kids and has shown links to schizophrenia and learning disabilities.

As to the physical effects of regular paper consumption, I’m sorry to say that the many nutritionists and dietitians I contacted — including the experts of the USDA’s National Agricultural Library — were not prepared to speculate. One dietitian specializing in plant-based foods commented that “this is not something I am well-versed in,” which is a real shame, because what is paper if not a plant-based delicacy? The online consensus appears to be that ink and chemical treatments present a greater health risk, the paper itself being made from cellulose, an indigestible organic compound and dietary fiber that supports bowel function. In theory, then, the occasional paper snack might help Trump pinch one off on the toilet. He’s obviously not eating the fruits and veggies recommended for superior pooping, and he needs something to counteract his constipation-courting dinners of steak, ice cream, chips, fried chicken, etc.

That’s not to say we should all start working on our paper salad recipes. Whatever kind of paper you’re munching, it’s bound to be an unpleasant dining experience, as Deadspin’s Drew Magary found out:

I had to choke down the first few morsels of paper. After that, I didn’t feel all that great. That paper was probably produced in a Chinese uranium-enrichment facility and sprayed with 9,000 coatings of rayon for extra sheen. I couldn’t finish the sheet. If I ate 100 of them, I would die. Guaranteed. The shit just won’t break down.

Still, you have to admire paper-eating as a way of controlling information. Especially in an age when digital footprints are difficult to erase, and in an executive branch plagued by incriminating emails and voice recordings, it would surely give Trump, or any paranoid lunatic, some peace to have a damning secret sitting in his gut, not in the cloud — assuming he knows what the latter is. By the way, are we sure he didn’t eat printouts of the Paris climate agreement or Iran nuclear deal? Don’t tell me it’s far-fetched. I’d be shocked if he bothers to unwrap his Starbursts.