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House of Cards

May 17th, 2017

So, we finally joined the 21st Century and got Netflix. We are watching House of Cards (US version), an episode most nights. Based on one season per year of time passed in the show, that’s about four weeks of dystopian fantasy per night. But, when we wake up in the morning, the day’s news almost always has more and crazier stuff packed into it than that, with subplots and story arcs being passed over for lack of space ( will the emoluments clause come back to bite Trump? did he suggest that Comey should imprison journalists? Who can keep track of it all).

Looking at the main plotline of Season 1, what would it take for life to imitate art and elevate Pence to the White House? There’s clearly no likelihood that the House Repubs will impeach Trump as long as they still hope to push through a big tax cut for corporations (which apparently depends, for arcane procedural reasons, on passing some kind of repeal of Obamacare). As Liam Donovan says in Politico

The criticisms may grow louder with each unforced error by the White House, but as long as the legislative dream is still alive it’s hard to imagine any sort of full-scale break. If that dream dies, however, it’s every man for himself.

But maybe this really is a house of cards. Suppose that three Republican Senators defected to the Democrats. That would kill the dream, at which point lots of Republicans might start thinking that a fresh start with Pence would offer them a better chance of survival in 2018. And, hey, they got Gorsuch. Once a dozen or so jumped, it would indeed by sauve qui peut for the rest.

It’s easy to name two Repub Senators (McCain and Collins) for whom it would make personal and political sense to switch sides. Given two, there must surely be a third. Still, I can’t see it happening any time soon. On the other hand, every day brings a new humiliation. Perhaps someone will find a hidden reserve of decency, or just frustration, and say that enough is enough.

Coming back to the show, I found it a bit disappointing where it followed the storyline of the British original, but better once they diverged. Urquart is a more compelling villain than Underwood, and I found both Matty and Roger O’Neill more relatable than their US counterparts. But Claire Underwood is a huge improvement on Mrs Urquart (I can’t remember if her first name was ever revealed), a one-dimensional Lady Macbeth. Doug Stamper is also more interesting than his British namesake, if a bit over the top. The same is true of Underwood’s political allies and antagonists, who don’t roll over as easily as Urquart’s victims. Partly, all this reflects the fact that the US writers could plan on multiple seasons, while the British version, based on the book by Michael Dobbs, was planned to wrap up in one, with the sequels coming only when the series was a success.

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  1. derrida derider
    May 17th, 2017 at 14:51 | #1

    I agree that the US version should have been more loosely based on the British one from the start, but not because of the prospect of multiple seasons. Rather because the political culture and (especially) the institutions that formed those cultures are very different.

    They correctly retained quite similar characters to those in the Brit version (though of course the original F.U. was quite inimitable – Spacey was correct to go his own path rather than try and reproduce Ian Mackellar’s deservedly famous performance). But I think they needed to alter the plot lines more to accommodate those transnational differences. I do think all the women are better portrayed in the US version – that is more likely the scriptwriters’ than the actors’ doing. OTOH I thought the guy playing Roger O’Neill was just terrific in the Brit version.

    A fun game – which actor would you get to portray the private Trump? His public persona has of course already been perfectly parodied by Alec Baldwin. Capturing his impulsiveness and bluster is easy – it’s harder to capture the blend of narcissism and insecurity beneath it.

  2. Smith
    May 17th, 2017 at 15:05 | #2

    “There’s clearly no likelihood that the House Repubs will impeach Trump”

    Even if they do, so what? Bill Clinton was impeached. He didn’t resign.

    Trump would need to be convicted by 2/3 of the Senate, which is a much higher hurdle.

  3. Newtownian
    May 17th, 2017 at 15:09 | #3

    On Pence you would have to ask how he can appear in most whitehouse shots and presumably was present when all this was going on – but will then say with a straight face “I knew nothing” continuing the post truth tradition currently ensconced.

    Shades of John Banner of Sgt Schultz fame “I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing!” (or, more commonly as the series went on, simply “I see nothing–NOTHING!”). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hogan%27s_Heroes#Sergeant_Schultz

    Guarantee if it comes to this neo-Spiro Agnew we will see lots of Sgt Schultz in Banner’s uniform but with Pence’s face followed by his disappearance and rise to office of……..Paul Ryan……Chesty Bond chinned prez in training, until it was discovered he is as much of a dolt as Bolt or humbug in chief McConnell unless the latter gets a job as a Col. Sanders imitator.

    This clowning would be hillarious if it wasnt so damn serious.

  4. May 17th, 2017 at 15:45 | #4

    There’s a good article on this issue in the Graud:

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/16/donald-trump-impeachment-russia-investigation-nixon

    One thing to note is that impeachment requires a 2/3 majority in the Senate. In other words the Dems need 19 Repugs to reach across the Beltway (or whatever it is that Septic politicians do).

    As for Pence: I get the impression that he’s Trump’s insurance policy. As in “be careful what you wish for”. While Pence is a more experienced politician, he’s also an ideological hardliner. The Indiana Repugs, led by his successor Holcomb, were glad to be shot of him when he moved to the White House.

    http://www.indystar.com/story/news/politics/2017/02/09/pence-gone-fellow-republicans-undo-his-work/97699694/

  5. John Goss
    May 17th, 2017 at 19:55 | #5

    ‘Chairman of the House oversight committee (Republican) Jason Chaffetz wrote a letter to the FBI Tuesday requesting that the bureau hand over all documents or recordings related to President Donald Trump’s communications with former FBI chief James Comey.’
    Chaffetz in his letter said “these memoranda raise serious questions as to whether the President attempted to influence or impede the FBI’s investigation as it relates to Lt. Gen. Flynn.”, and this is the reason Chaffetz gives as to why he wants the Comey documents.
    So the Republicans are finally moving. And I predict they will move under the 25th Amendment whereby a majority of Cabinet declares to Congress that the President is ‘unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office’. If the President contests his Cabinet’s recommendation, it requires a 2/3 majority of Congress to uphold the Cabinet’s recommendation.

  6. John Goss
    May 17th, 2017 at 20:29 | #6

    The Democrats would face a quandary with the 25th amendment process, as Pence as President would reduce the Democrat gain at the mid-term elections. But weighing up playing Russian Roulette with the country versus electoral gain, I think the choice is clear.

  7. May 18th, 2017 at 00:44 | #7

    Advert for a blog post outlining the mechanics of the six ways Donald Trump’s presidency can end. Capsule: if the Congressional Republicans turn against Trump, they have every political and practical reason to pick a declaration of mental incapacity over impeachment.

  8. sunshine
    May 18th, 2017 at 09:07 | #8

    Trump was elected to run the country like a fascist business boss.The far right now says the ‘deep state’ is about to intervene, even though Trump seems only to be implementing Republican policy anyway. I have some sympathy for his many tens of millions of supporters in that they didnt elect him to act normal and now he may get punished for it. No doubt he is a barbarian -but after him it will just continue to be business as usual. Not withstanding the fact that the US mindset may have changed w.r.t. govt funded healthcare, Obama just wasnt good enough. ‘Where are the Left alternatives ?’ people ask .Blanket coverage of drama between Right of centre options crowds out true alternatives .

  9. Ikonoclast
    May 18th, 2017 at 12:09 | #9

    It’s claimed, by Micheal Moore and his producers, that Moore’s new documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9 will strip the Teflon off Trump and destroy him forever. Let’s hope so.

    http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/movies/fahrenheit-119-new-michael-moore-documentary-to-change-donald-trumps-presidency/news-story/9bc2ae7e041ad0288e1578b0c37fdbb9

  10. May 18th, 2017 at 12:13 | #10

    @derrida derider
    Wrong Ian. Ian Richardson.

  11. Tim Macknay
    May 18th, 2017 at 14:39 | #11

    @Ikonoclast
    Moore’s previous films, while certainly interesting, failed to have any impact on the political landscape, as he was largely preaching to the converted. Perhaps this time will be different, but I wouldn’t count on it.

  12. paul walter
    May 18th, 2017 at 17:16 | #12

    Nothing more bizarre than the mindset of Conservative America.. a group of people who swear black is white, joyously seek to cut off their noses to spite their faces, inward-looking people who will stop at nothing to avoid being dragged out of fantasy and denial.

    What can you say?

  13. derrida derider
    May 18th, 2017 at 21:21 | #13

    @ChrisB
    Yep, sorry

  14. May 20th, 2017 at 11:01 | #14

    The truly bizarre thing is that it is so clear that a very significant proportion of people who sought or agreed to work for him were so quickly chagrined that the place has been leaking like a sieve from virtually the first week. Why do none of them resign and feel completely free to disclose their concerns about his competence and judgement? Because they fear they will never work again? Maybe a Democrat philanthropist should offer a pool of money for replacement income for 3 years for anyone who does this. 🙂 First in, first served.

    As for Trump himself – photos give the impression that he has put on weight since moving in, his twitter feed shows he is not sleeping well, and he is clearly stressed by how hard the job has turned out to be. It would not be a surprise if sudden ill health took him down, and Republicans would breathe a sign of relief if does pan out that way.

  15. May 20th, 2017 at 11:03 | #15

    Or even , a sigh of relief…

  16. D
    May 21st, 2017 at 01:51 | #16

    “Nothing more bizarre than the mindset of Conservative America…”

    Except the mindset of mainstream partisan “left” America (ie Democrat supporters), which managed to lose the unloseable election to Trump and still refuses to examine itself and see that its blind support for sell-outs, cons and crooks is the sole reason for Trump’s victory (and still pretends it was the “soviets” that did it).

    THAT is bizarre.

  17. Ikonoclast
    May 21st, 2017 at 04:46 | #17

    @D

    The Overton window has left the building.

  18. Ronald B
    May 21st, 2017 at 12:27 | #18

    I think we can preserve the rational voter hypothesis. All we need to do is assume voters rationally vote for the candidate with the least number of flaws. Hilary Clinton had flaws, as in more than one. But Donald Trump was composed entirely of flaw, uninterrupted by any gaps of virtue or competency to be President. This made him one gargantuan, but singular, flaw. As a result, people rationally voted for the person with the least number of flaws and he became President.

  19. Ikonoclast
    May 21st, 2017 at 16:36 | #19

    @Ronald B

    If there are two vials of poison on the table it is best to drink neither.

  20. Ronald B
    May 21st, 2017 at 18:38 | #20

    In their last Presidential election US citizens were faced with the following options:

    (a) Vote to put Hilary Clinton in charge of nuclear weapons.
    (b) Vote to put Donald Trump in charge of nuclear weapons.
    (c) Not vote.

    In my personal opinion, (a) was the only rational choice because in my system of values I place greater value on there not being a nuclear war than I do on there being one.

    But I freely admit this is only because of my personal bias against needless death and suffering.

  21. D
    May 22nd, 2017 at 01:29 | #21

    I don’t want this person anywhere near the power to use nuclear weapons:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fgcd1ghag5Y

    This person is clearly bloodthirsty, murderous and deranged.

  22. Ronald B
    May 22nd, 2017 at 10:26 | #22

    D, on the last US Presidential election day, US citizens only had the choice of electing Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump. There was no realistic possibility of anyone else being voted in. So unless you want to put yourself in the position of arguing that Donald Trump can be trusted more Hilary Clinton with nuclear weapons, then Clinton was the only rational choice for voters who wished to have a lower chance of nuclear weapons being used.

  23. D
    May 23rd, 2017 at 01:13 | #23

    In the first debate between Clinton and Trump they were asked about nuclear weapons.

    Clinton waffled and changed the subject.

    Trump’s answer began with: “Well, I have to say for what Secretary Clinton was saying about nuclear with Russia, she’s very cavalier in the way she talks about various countries. … I would like everybody to end it, just get rid of it but I would certainly not do first strike. I think that once the nuclear alternative happens, it’s over.”

    So, to the extent that nuclear war was a consideration, the US voters may well have chosen the one who they thought was less likely to start one.

    As the “we came, we saw, he died [laughs and claps hands]” video of Clinton shows, she is a deranged warmonger.

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