by Dr. Laura Wilhelm, LauraWil Intercultural
“That which has been is that which shall be; and that which has been done is that which shall be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.” —Ecclesiastes 1:9
Election 2020 finally ended after a contentious final vote count that named Democratic candidate Joseph Biden the winner. An inconclusive election also embattles President Frank Underwood on the acclaimed Netflix political drama series House of Cards. And the similarities to the current US political situation don’t end there!
As brilliantly portrayed by A-list Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey, Frank Underwood is a ruthless pragmatist from humble circumstances who can succeed in the short term through relentless self-promotion. However, legions of watchdogs in Washington and around the world quickly see Frank for what he is and his house of cards comes tumbling down.
The corrupt Presidential administration in which Frank serves is constantly plagued by personal scandals, legal battles, appeals to the 25th Amendment, and threats of impeachment. Sound familiar?
If not, here’s another hint: Frank has a statuesque wife named Claire who bears an uncanny resemblance to former model Melania Trump. As memorably played by Robin Wright, Claire anticipates Kamala Harris’s historic win by becoming the first female US Vice President. Claire later ascends to the Presidency following Frank’s mysterious death. (Kevin Spacey tragically had to be written out of the groundbreaking House of Cards series when his own crimes against others came back to haunt him in the form of sexual harassment allegations.)
The scheming Underwoods deliberately create a general climate of perfidy and paranoia to further their own political ends. For them, the end always justifies the means. The checks and balances America’s Founding Fathers lovingly put in place to limit tyrannical power are simply inconveniences for Frank and Claire to ignore or override. And freedom of the press takes a nose dive when Frank murders his own lover, a fresh-faced newspaper reporter, to silence her after she discovers some dirt on him.
While Frank Underwood may remind us of Donald Trump in many respects, Richard Nixon is a more likely model. Throughout the House of Cards series Frank is also likened to controversial historical and fictional characters such as Julius Caesar, Richard III, and Macbeth. His constant Shakespearean soliloquies to the camera allow him to create an almost hypnotic bond with viewers who are both horrified and fascinated by his dastardly deeds.
As if this weren’t enough drama, other standout House of Cards characters are clearly rooted in American history. We see strong traces of Hillary Clinton in Catherine Durant, Frank’s dedicated Secretary of State who briefly gets some Presidential buzz of her own. Durant’s worthiest nemesis proves to be Russian President Viktor Petrov, whose very initials leave no doubt that he was inspired by reigning Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Another compelling historical portrait is drawn by Will Conway, Frank’s rival for the role of POTUS. The handsome and charismatic Conway is blessed with a beautiful wife and two adorable children who resurrect the glorious image of Camelot with John and Jackie Kennedy as its king and queen.
Lest House of Cards seem too distressing, there is another Netflix series called Designated Survivor with a very different kind of President. Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) is an idealistic Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who ascends to the highest office in the land when the US Capitol is bombed. Kirkman was named the “designated survivor” and kept safe in a secret location during the President’s State of the Union address. An urban planner by trade, Kirkman endeavors to rebuild the Capitol and the country from the ground up in the face of grave threats from many fronts.
The gentle and compassionate Kirkman valiantly tries to gain trust and set a shining example amidst all the chaos in the country he is trying to lead. His administration does manage to contain a public health crisis before it can become a nationwide pandemic. We wouldn’t want THAT to happen!
Whatever our political orientation or national origin, we can all hope that the new American President will restore some order to the world and honor to the office. But President Kirkman’s situation may also suggest that it is up to each one of us to stay the course and cope with whatever is to come. In the US power has always come from the people no matter what the Underwoods might think, and this means that WE are the real leaders!