Is there a connection between sequels in movies and sequels in politics? When Hillary Clinton ran, the prospect of her winning was touted or reviled as four more years of Obama. Trump ran against her as a dark-horse candidate and yet what he traded on was that we knew him from television. Somehow, the idea of Hillary bringing her experience in politics to the political arena and only slightly disappointing the American people is less appealing than the idea of a guy reading Bush’s old copy of The Guide to Being President for Overwhelmed Scions of Privilege all the while applying to politics what he learned from playing a cartoonish version of himself on TV (which, unlike Colbert he seems to have been unable to give up).
Of the rest of the field these past eight years, Mitt Romney was the son of a governor, Rand Paul the son of a Senator, Newt Gingrich was trading on his fame in the 90s but also trading on the possibility that people would have forgotten why he was famous—a lesser version of Trump’s strategy and concomitantly less successful.
As John Oliver devotes a segment of his show to merger & acquisition, HBO hints at sequels to Westworld and prequels to Game of Thrones and Disney has, at last count, bought 2 large, respectable entertainment franchises and also Star Wars; in short, as we lean towards dynastic consolidation in our politics, our consumption, and our entertainment alike, it bears mentioning: are we circling wagons against some sort of reckoning? Do we so fear what the future might bring that we can only bank on safe bets now, even if they’re not safe? Even if it means casting Johnny Depp as Tonto? How much responsibility do we as a public bear for this tontería?
I understand that the current economic conditions make it almost impossible for smaller franchises to thrive, so that if a movie is indeed successful, we must immediately ask: where does the next one come from? From the same creative process; that artistic crucible whose demands are high but whose rewards are potentially even higher? No; too risky. Just put the same characters in a similar situation and increase the special effects budget by about 10%.
Is this what a civilization does when it is in decline? By extension, are the Iliad and the Odyssey remnants, not of some old religion practiced in Bronze Age Greek but of some Bronze Age movie franchise? Archaeologists and literary scholars alike tell us that the Troy cycle would have had many stories that did not survive: individual character-pieces (like the Odyssey) and larger ensemble pieces like the Iliad.
And here, too, I’m playing into the same pattern of doom-saying. The pattern where it’s not enough to disagree with the other side; they have to be bad for America; that they’re destroying America; that they’re signs of the apocalypse. I don’t really like when someone says: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result” or something like that. That may be a symptom of insanity; it’s closer in my mind to the definition of addiction. And that’s what we are, as Americans. We’re addicts. We’re addicted to the Kennedys, to the Transformers, to the Bushes, to the Clintons, to politicians who promise spending increases paid for by tax cuts—yes cuts—and all the rest. We’re screwed.
My solution, then? Acknowledge the nature of the problem and find a guide who’s been there. I expect voting for Trump appealed to our country’s sense of self-destructiveness; in the wake of the disappointments of the last few decades, to vote for a president whose actual job before he began his campaign, was: con artist. Such a self-destructive act is like the whole country going on a bender. But the longest bender must come to an end and if this one doesn’t end in death, to whom do we turn when we wish to pick up the pieces? Obviously, to someone who has not only known despair (and everyone agrees Trump knows despair) but who has accepted responsibility for his fuckups and is following the long, slow path to redemption. There’s not one step to the solution to our country’s problems; there’s twelve. That’s right, America. Put a coat of primer on those old posters and gear up for Anthony Weiner 2020.