Homeland’s Alt-Right Season

SPOILER ALERT: If you plan on watching the latest season of Homeland (2011-) and don’t want to know anything about what happened, don’t read this.

homeland out is back in

Homeland just finished its sixth season and has already be renewed for a seventh and eighth, with a planned end to the storyline there. When the show began it was sold as the story of Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), a U.S. Marine presumed to have been lost in action until he is found during a raid on a terrorist compound, after several years of brutal captivity. But the central character of the show has always been Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), a C.I.A. intelligence genius who suffers from psychotic episodes. Carrie is the only one who suspects that Brody may have been compromised by the enemy, which turns out to be true. This doesn’t stop her from falling in love (lust, then love) with him, breaking up his marriage, and ultimately getting him killed. There are plenty more dramatic twists and turns, along with emotionally satisfying moments in the first three seasons, both realistic and unrealistic, but the Carrie-Brody love affair is the main throughline.

Season four was set in Pakistan, where we learned that the Pakistanis aren’t really our friends, and five was primarily in Berlin, where we learn that the sneaky Russians are still our enemies. Now, in season six, Carrie has come home to New York. No longer with, “The Agency,” she is a secret advisor to President Elect Keane (Elizabeth Marvel), who is opposed by some key players in the National Security establishment and elsewhere, who are will to do anything, including murder, to stop her. There is also a blow-hard, conspiracy theorist, compulsive liar of a talk show host, Brett O’Keefe (Jake Weber), endlessly complaining on his, “Real Truth,” program about how America is lost and Keane will destroy the Republic.

homeland real truth

My first reaction to the O’Keefe character was to recall Glenn Beck at his chalkboard, when he was still ranting on Fox News. But Beck now claims to regret the divisions he helped create in the American Electorate and he did not support The Donald, so he has fallen out of favor with much of the reactionary crowd he helped cultivate.

glenn beck chalkboard

Most people seem to see O’Keefe as an Alex Jones parody, though he never gets as loud and childishly angry as Jones does – and Jones’s Disinformation War followers were offended by this perceived attack on their phony hero from the get go. They, specifically, Paul Joseph Watson, writing on Jones’s website, laments the “fact” that:

The plots of earlier Homeland seasons were usually focused around Islamic terrorism, but in later series the show has kowtowed to political correctness and allowed social justice narratives to ruin the dynamism of what was once an enjoyable watch.

In truth, Homeland has always raised questions about the justness of American actions and the handling of the War on Terror (or whatever you want to call it). If that is something you want to lump under the all-purpose, and often meaningless phrase, “politically correctness,” so be it, but it’s nothing new. I have no idea what Watson thinks a, “social justice narrative,” is, since he gives no examples and puts no thought into that charge either, but I don’t see it anywhere in the show.

Watson, and many of the fans commenting on his article, also believe that the choice of a female President Elect proves, “how out of touch the producers [of Homeland] are with reality” (as if Trump won the popular vote or was somehow inevitable).

I think their real problem with the O’Keefe character is that he is too close to the real thing; a man willing to say and do anything to whip up the mob and murder truth for his own ends and perverted sense of self-importance. [Note: You can see more about Jones in my documentary, Conspiracy Theorists Lie (2015).]

alex jones on air

What I find disheartening is how much Homeland feeds into Alt-Right, conspiracy theorist paranoia; this season more than ever. By the end of the finale it is unclear who was/is in league with whom and if anyone can be trusted, including the new President. What is the real plan and to what end? Like so many shows, which I generally like, as shows (House of Cards (2013-) and 24 (2001-2010) come readily to mind), Homeland paints a very unreal and frightening vision of our government officials at work that is closely akin to the, “Deep State,” rhetoric of conspiracy wingnuts. One in which large numbers of public servants are ruthless to a fault and disinterested in morality, the rule of law, or anything outside their personal ambitions and sinister plots. My tinfoil head wearing critics scoff at me when I point out facts like this and come back with retorts like, “You’re so naive (or stupid) to think that government officials are all good and honest.” But that not what I’m saying. Not at all. I’m simply trying to put the faults of our government officials into a reasonable perspective. If America were actually such a pathetic, backstabbing, literarily murderous, Banana Republic, where vast numbers of bureaucrats and officers are constantly scheming to commit horrendous crimes and trample our Constitutional structures to the ground, then we would not be making up wild TV fantasies to entertain ourselves because we would be too busy living miserable lives and dying horribly in the nightmare clutches of a Police State.

Homeland keeps bring two classic films to mind for me: The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Seven Days in May (1964). The first is about a communist plot to take over America, in which a soldier is brainwashed into becoming an assassin and the biggest anti-communist Senator turns out to be the real embodiment of the danger he has long been warning the people about. The second centers around a military coup, orchestrated by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who believes the President is a “weak sister” and the nation needs to be saved from. If you haven’t see them, you should.

Homeland clearly borrows elements from these two films but it lacks the Kennedy Era sense of patriotism they champion. Homeland, like too many other shows and movies today, rarely seems to believe that America is an idea worth fighting for. Carrie is simply trying to stop terrorists from killing innocent people or trying to stop her friends from getting killed, and we’re just in it to see what Carrie will do next.

Episode 612

What are my alternatives?

Last week I watched what I could of the unRepublican Convention, where the reactionaries and nationalists anointed their cult of personality candidate. This week I’ll listen to the Democrats and think about who I can bring myself to vote for in November. As soon as The Donald became the presumptive nominee I decided I would give Hillary Clinton my vote if I felt she needed it. But I live in Minnesota and we’re not going to break our Democratic streak anytime soon (we’re the only state Reagan lost in 84, don’t cha know). There are many alternatives out there to choose from but only three, from what I can tell, that are mathematically viable (only three are on enough state ballots to theoretically win).

First is Darrell Castle of the Constitution Party, who has no realistic chance of winning even one state. I couldn’t find a video ad from his ultra-low budget campaign to show here and had to settle for this clip from his audio podcast, which is the featured item on his party’s website:

If you didn’t fall asleep listening to him, you probably realized he’s a nut. He comes out of the John Birch Society tradition, who originally believed the Soviets were on the verge of taking over America in the 1950s, and finally had to change their story into a much more complicated conspiracy when the Soviet Union fell apart more than three decades later. The Birchers are just a shell of what they once were but versions of their mentality can be found throughout our society, most directly in men like Castle, Alex Jones, and Glenn Beck, but also in the wave of madness that washed Trump onto the shore of the GOP. This doom and gloom, paranoid and bigoted view of reality – be it accusing President Kennedy of being a communist agent or accusing President Obama of being a Muslim agent, born in Africa – is so far from what America needs and so very destructive.

Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party represents a different segment of the right wing and one I used to strongly identify with. I voted Libertarian in 1996 and 2000, and still see a good deal of merit in some of their “fringe” positions (e.g. decriminalizing recreational drugs) and their general faith in market forces over government planning. After 9/11/2001, however, I couldn’t get with their often isolationist view of the world; nor could I ignore the conspiracy theories and other nonsense that too often fluoresces in their ranks. Could I put these things aside and go back to voting for them?

I must say that I was impressed by this ad from Johnson and his running mate, William Weld:

They come off as sensible alternatives to politics as usual. Unfortunately, Johnson often comes off as a less serious (if not unserious) candidate; as he did in this interview:

It would be hilarious if it was an SNL sketch, with someone playing Johnson, but it doesn’t seem very presidential to me. Granted, it’s far more presidential than Trump but that’s not saying much.

The last alternative is to run to the far left wing with Jill Stein of the Green Party. She is very actively going after Bernie Sanders Fans who can’t bring themselves to support Hillary – telling them to, “Keep the Revolution Going” – but I’m not one of those people. I can’t support the socialist end of the progressive movement and I don’t think we need any kind of revolutions.

I know she strikes a chord with many people who just want an alternative to the same old, same old, but I see no evidence that other countries are wildly better off than the USA, because they have a large number of viable parties to choose from. I see a lot of fractured collisions that lead to weak, failed governments; sometimes failed republics. Our informal two party system is easy to complain about but it has served us well for longer than most other nations have been self governing. You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as they used to say. Stein may claim that she is offering people the opportunity to vote for their “values” rather than their “fears” but she sounds very fearful of the very nature of our republic.

So, where does that leave me? A moderately center-right conservative (for lack of a better term). I’m not sure but I did find some hopeful things in last night’s DNC speeches, particularly the remarks of Sen. Cory Booker and First Lady Michelle Obama. I’m still not buying most of the fears or solution that Democrats are selling, and I’m no fan of the Clintons, but life doesn’t always present us with great choices and at least I can get behind what these two are selling here:

I feel like the America they love is the America I love. I believe the America they want is the America I want. Not in terms of particular policies but in terms of the national tone. They see America as a constant improvement, despite our missteps, rather than a once great nation in rapid decline and desperate need of saving. I wholeheartedly agree.

A Trump in the Crowd

I recently rewatched a classic cautionary tale about the dangers of populism and mass media, A Face in the Crowd (1957). It’s the story of Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith), a drifter with no moral center, a talent for playing the guitar, and the gift of gab. When he is given the opportunity to become a radio personality in a small market his new career takes off and before you know it he has his own national TV show and he is an important political figure. Lonesome is billed as the, “Voice of the Mid-South,” a man of the people, and he breaks all the rules of standard broadcasting while making people laugh and telling them what to think. He also attracts a host of unscrupulous people who want to use him for their own ends, from the office boy turned talent agent to the corporation peddling useless energy pills to the corporate boss and his isolationist Senator friend who dreams of the White House.

A Face in the Crowd poster

Lonesome’s arrogant lust for power, his general disrespect for the rest of the world, and his closeted insecurity are fueled by his alcoholism until *Spoiler* everything falls apart when the general public hears what he really thinks of them over an open mic during a seemingly private rant. In some ways the film is a bit dated and tame but overall it holds up well and the message will forever be true. There will always be charming, charismatic, and seemingly good individuals who step out from the crowd and attempt to direct it with simplistic slogans and self-serving motivations. Unfortunately, if the film’s cynical view of humanity is to be taken as fact, it is fairly easy for the masses to get swept up into a mindless mob when the right (or wrong) populist figure comes along. Sadly, my own reading of history, along with my own personal history (I voted for Ross Perot and Jesse Ventura), largely agrees with this assessment of human nature.

A Face in the Crowd film strip

It’s easy to find parallels and make connections between the fictional Lonesome and many historical and contemporary American pundits, from Father Coughlin to Glenn Beck, along with American politicians, from Huey Long to John Edwards, and truly despotic international figures, like Mussolini and Hitler. The man that most viewers probably had in mind when A Face in the Crowd first come out was Joe McCarthy, despite that fact that the film’s director, Elia Kazan, claimed the story was not about McCarthy.

Senator Joseph Raymond McCarthy was a World War II Veteran – Tail Gunner Joe – from Wisconsin, who gained national fame when he claimed he had a list of communist agents in the State Department. Just how many people were on the list and why he would not produce it was never clear but many people came to see McCarthy as a champion of the common man and the American Way of Life in the global struggle against the commies (including Bobby Kennedy, who worked as a McCarthy staff member for awhile and fellow Senator John Kennedy). When McCarthy turned his attention to hunting for communists in the Army, during live, televised hearings, his lack of substance and mean-spirited nature was finally made clear to most citizens watching along at home and his fellow Senators, who publicly repudiated him in 1954. He died nearly friendless in a hospital bed three years later, most likely from a lifetime of hard drinking, the same year that A Face in the Crowd hit theaters. Some people on the fanatical fringe of the conspiratorial-minded right wing (e.g. The John Birch Society) continued to pretend that McCarthy was a hero, brought down by communist forces in the U.S. Government, including President Eisenhower, who were too powerful for McCarthy to take on alone. There are even a few fanatics today who continue to back McCarthy, like Trump Super Fangirl Ann Coulter, who wrote a book attempting to defend McCarthy. Most reasonable people, however, have come to see “McCarthyism” (i.e. behaving like McCarthy) as a bad thing.

mccarthy trump hands outWhen I first saw that Donald Trump was running for President I thought it was a big joke and poked fun at the idea by imagining what his next Reality TV show might be like:

Trump has said some crazy and hateful things during this campaign, from labeling illegal Mexican immigrants as “rapists” to belittling women as unstable when they have blood coming out of their “wherever,” none of this seems to matter to his faithful fans, who miraculously fail to see these comments as revelation about his true character. His most loyal adherents even sound giddy when they explain how much they love the fact that Trump, “isn’t politically correct;” as if his racist, sexist, and otherwise deplorable behavior could be considered correct by any measure.

For me the straw that broke the camel’s back and showed the true heart of the man was when Trump attacked John McCain. I know that a lot of self-styled “real conservatives” think McCain is too liberal, or too unreliable, or too whatever, but to attack the man on his war record and suggest that he’s not a real hero is lower than low. While Trump was dodging the draft and living the life of an up and coming millionaire playboy, McCain spent five-and-half years, two in solitary confinement, in a North Vietnamese prison camp, ironically called the, “Hanoi Hilton.” Yet, in Trump’s worldview, McCain is, “not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

mccain-pow trump draft dodger

Trump’s supporters claim that he loves the military because he has given money to veteran groups and told them what they want to hear. But the real truth is there for anyone willing to listen. “People who were captured,” that means all POWs throughout American History, are not some losers who failed to do their duty. They are, typically, men like McCain, who refused to give up even when all hope was lost. That kind of perseverance and sacrifice doesn’t register with a man like Trump, who speaks of “winning” in much the same way as Charlie Sheen.

Another canard popular among Trump supports is that he is a great businessman, which will magically make him a great President. Obviously, he has been more financially successful than most when it comes to his own, personal enrichment, but it’s not like he built the ladder from scratch himself and climbed his way out of the basement to the top of Trump Tower. He took the final steps to the top from where his daddy placed him, with a “small” million dollar loan and a network of connections. I don’t fault him, or anyone, for being born into wealth, but you’ve got to do something more impressive than real estate deals and sensationalistic TV to convince me that you are such a mega genius in business that you can solve all of America’s problems.

Trump is reminiscent of Lonesome Rhodes and Joe McCarthy, minus the alcohol problem. As one of the characters in A Face in the Crowd explains, “We’ve got to face it. Politics have entered a new stage, the television stage. Instead of long winded public debates, the people want capsule slogans. Time for a change. The mess in Washington. More bang for a buck. Punchlines and glamour.” That reality in many ways has only gotten worse with the birth of the Internet and Trump is the embodiment of populist politics at its worst in our 140 character attention span age, where fame comes without importance and everyone’s right to have an opinion is more significant than the facts. Like the fictional Rhodes and the real life McCarthy, I am confident that Trump will come to a very unglamorous end. The only question is: What damage will this self-centered braggart inflict on the rest of us before he goes down?

mccarthy trump america

 

Back when McCarthy was riding high on the populist wave, almost none of his fellow Republicans would speak out against him. Even General Eisenhower, who privately told McCarthy in very blunt terms how much he disliked the Senator, stood beside the blowhard in public while running for the Presidency. Perhaps McCarthy could have been taken down much faster if Ike had acted differently, or perhaps it would have only inflamed the reflexively anti-establishment “patriots” to greater levels of madness? We’ll never know. What I can say is that there was one man who didn’t cower in the face of McCarthy’s one-hit-wonder popularity, Senator Prescott Bush (father of President George H. W. Bush). At a campaign appearance, with McCarthy seated behind him and a vehemence crowd in front of him, Bush said that he disapproved of his fellow Senator’s methods. His words went over no better than his grandsons’ warnings about Trump today but the similarities in both cases should give thinking people reason to pause.

I have never been so disappointed in my fellow citizens than I am now at the prospect of a President Trump. As the French philosopher Joseph de Maistre famously proclaimed two centuries ago, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.” If the American people choose a bigoted, sexist, flip-flopping, conspiracy theorist, repeat adulterer, who studied at the feet of McCarthy’s attack dog, Roy Cohn, who thinks nothing of abusing eminent domain and throws out insults like candy, then they will have proved de Maistre correct.

trump take that america