Homeland: Art Imitating Life
By Dr. Earl Tilford
“All theory is gray. But forever green is the tree of life.” —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I have enjoyed every season of the TV series “Homeland.” Writers and producers surely anticipated Hillary Clinton winning the 2016 election because season six featured the election of President Elizabeth Keane. The problem for the show’s writers became transforming President Keane into President Donald Trump.
Even before the inauguration, an assassination attempt nearly cost Keane her life. Throughout season six, Keane morphed into a King Lear version of President Trump. As she became diabolically vindictive, Keane’s appearance increasingly resembled a feminized Trump. Russian connections surfaced at the end of the season to dominate season seven.
This season began with a pro-diversity rally violently disrupted by neo-Nazis. Keane then sicced federal agents on a radio talk-show host who took refuge in a militia camp. Russian operatives deftly turned the standoff into a Ruby Ridge-like massacre of innocents directed by the Oval Office. Throughout the season, it became increasingly evident Russians were manipulating a “useful idiot” on a congressional oversight committee along with the show’s star, Carrie Mathison, played exquisitely over the years by actress Claire Danes as a dedicated and determined CIA operative seriously flawed by bipolar disorder (message: dedicated, determined American patriots are mentally unstable.)
The season finale aired Sunday night, April 30. The central figure in the plot to unseat President Keane, a female captain in the GRU — the Russian Federation’s Military Intelligence Directive — confirms collusion between the Kremlin and Keane’s congressional opponents along with the opposition party. Former President Elizabeth Keane, having just been removed via provisions of the 25th Amendment misapplied by her Cabinet but endorsed by her straight arrow vice president, is vindicated and returned to office. Keane’s first inclination is to destroy her enemies. Her chief of staff and levelheaded vice president urge her to reach out to former opponents by bridging the divide in the American body politic.
President Keane’s finest hour is a television address to the nation worthy of Marc Antony’s oration over Caesar’s body. She confesses ill-conceived acts against politicians determined to delegitimize her presidency. Keane is relieved that charges of collusion with Russians first attributed to her were revealed as between political opponents and members of Congress unwilling to accept her presidency. Nevertheless, to restore national unity and the sanctity of the office flawed by her divisive behavior, she resigns.
If the show’s writers didn’t get the president they wanted, they removed the ogre they detested. While intriguing to watch, “Homeland” is also sad as political art not only attempting to imitate life but also trying to shape it.
In 1599, William Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar” depicted a larger-than-life outsider taking charge in Rome. A band of political insiders — Roman senators — unable to accept the trumping of their established political order, abbreviated his tenure with the same “extreme prejudice” that failed in the case of President-elect Keane.
Shakespeare’s play was historical tragedy. Television’s “Homeland” is wishful thinking.
Nevertheless, Washington is political theater. Television news, regardless of political slant, has become a visual opinion page. Social media, email, and tweets between political actors embody a new age of living theater. On Saturday, April 28, a dueling television political theater featured President Donald Trump inspiring an enthralled crowd of supporters in Washington County, Michigan, vs. the spectacle of the televised White House Correspondents’ Dinner where comedian Michelle Wolf savaged White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. These should provide a teachable moment on the role of media in American politics.
Our political problems are not in Moscow. When it’s in Russia’s interest the Kremlin will interfere in politics abroad. This is old intelligence and we also do it. What’s more disturbing is the self-destruction we wreak through uncompromising political ideologies driven by rift lines of race, ethnicity, gender, and class. A democratic Republic exists only so long as participants put service above self. Our mandate is the U.S. Constitution. Every servant of the people swears to uphold the Constitution as our best hope for attaining the ideal of a free country served by the state, not degenerating into a state served by its people.
During the German Enlightenment, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s insight about all theory being gray while real life is “forever green” has much to say about the reality of life in a flawed world. For two centuries, our nation was built on hard work, honesty, family values, and a commitment to religious ideals transcending doctrinal differences. Our democratic-republic struggled through adversities and thrived. Unfortunately, divisions along race, ethnicity, gender, and class have been exploited and exacerbated for short-term political gain. This must stop or the American Republic is over.
To paraphrase Goethe, television is imaginary. Real life is clear.
Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.