By Tom Lamia
Life everywhere has resembled a bad novel these past two years. Bad, but with all the ingredients needed for commercial appeal: good guys, bad guys and all shades of characters in between; intrigue worthy of Hitchcock; foreign malevolence on the scale of Peter Lorre; cryptic influences sure to be made known but fully wrapped in mystery for now; hardball politics walking the line between national salvation and disgrace; and military power in the wings. The range of characters is of soap opera dimensions, some simple, or apparently so, some complicated, or working hard to seem so, many are well known and widely admired, others well known and widely suspected, all struggling to emerge free, innocent and reputable.
As you may be doing, I search my memory for fictional equals. Several compete, but none are apposite. The Manchurian Candidate is a competitor, but I need to know how this all turns out before making a judgment. The Enemy Within, a 1990s movie and soon to be an NBC series, qualifies on the spy vs. spy opacity scale and its being on the fringe of credible makes it a serious competitor. Seven Days in May holds the distinction of being a Washington insider favorite for its accurate telling of the story of the Senate’s role in protecting the country from a military takeover of a weak presidency. The one force we seem not to have reason to fear in our present situation is our military, so no parallel is apparent.
Our present dilemma confronts the country with a strong presidency in the hands of a clumsy, ill-informed, wildly egocentric person who has no trusted, competent and strong advisers; at least none that he listens to and respects. A central consideration in assessing our stranger than fiction present real-life story is whether the President is a cunning manipulator of presidential power with his wits about him and a clear, possibly evil, objective in mind; or simply an ignorant, self-absorbed man incapable of true evil because he lacks the depth of intellect necessary to bring it about. Whichever it is, and whether either of these characterizations applies, the President has shown a great capacity for doing harm to individuals and institutions through a scattershot, heavily insulated governing style that appears designed to have his supporters see him as not delusional, but in pursuit of a noble cause that they share. Succeeding at this method of governing would seem to require another two years of showmanship, with an evolving script that seeks to justify a suspension of belief in reason, history, experience, traditions, institutions and constitutional government.
To return to my theatrical parallels, think of All the King’s Men and its prototype Senator Huey Long of Louisiana, think of Juan Peron, a people’s hero and dictator, and, of course, Eva Peron (Evita) who may have been the magic source of Peronista power all along. Closer to our shores and closer in time, think of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and the popular revolution that still has life, but seems never to have had fidelity (sorry) to coherent and effective governing policies. All of these were cults of personality. That is the most compelling parallel to our emerging story now playing on a cable news show near you.
The Story Emerges
By Tom Lamia