If you’ve been binge-watching the new season of House of Cards on Netflix, one thing is even more obvious than Kevin Spacey’s silver rug: It’s impossible to watch the ruthless, power-hungry President Frank Underwood and be shocked. As terrible as the Underwoods are, and as filled as the show is with treachery and corruption, the show is still less outrageous and cynical than what’s happening in the real White House.
In season five, Frank needs his wits and the dirtiest tricks he can come up with, in a tight race with a GOP challenger, an appealing vet who looks like Steve Rogers after he has retired as Captain America. At the same time, things are closing in on Frank, as calls for his impeachment grow and a dogged journalist gets closer to making connections that could end it all for him.
Normally absorbing TV. But in any given week, the Trump administration lets fly with outrages, offenses and idiocies that would have seemed far-fetched in Paddy Chayefsky’s Network or Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. A sampling from this week:
Immediately after a terror attack in London, Trump smack-talked the city’s mayor instead of offering support. News broke that he skimmed money from a children’s cancer charity. And on the day ex-FBI director James Comey’s testimony made obstruction of justice charges against Trump more likely, Trump’s aides reportedly had to work to keep him too busy to tweet his reactions.
I’d feel safer with Underwood in the White House.
Let’s look at how the House of Cards White House stacks up against Trump’s:
White House spokesman
Seth Grayson (Derek Cecil): Competent professional, not completely loyal, but adept at spin and able to handle a room full of reporters with casual authority.
Sean Spicer: Pissy, petulant, slightly effeminate and palpably uncomfortable, like a grade school teacher always losing control of the class and on the verge of running out of the room in tears. Actually funnier than Melissa McCarthy’s Saturday Night Live parody of him.
Secretary of State
Catherine Durant (Jayne Atkinson): A former senator troubled by what she knows about Underwood and the compromises she’s forced to make.
Rex Tillerson: Former CEO of ExxonMobil, with long history of close ties with Russia and Vladimir Putin. Funded climate change denial. Described himself as “not a big media press access person.”
Chief of staff
Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly): Fanatically loyal to Underwood, willing to do anything for him. An ex-alcoholic who killed a hooker he became obsessed with.
Reince Priebus: Ineffective and awkward party hack on the verge of dismissal since he took the job. Actual headline this week: “Reince Priebus’ job security comes from few wanting his job: report.”
Claire Underwood (Robin Wright): Serenely unemotional, and a cutthroat ally to Frank.
Melania Trump: She slaps Donald’s hand away when he tries to hold it.
Frank Underwood: Doesn’t tweet. Is discreet about his threesomes and sex with other men.
Donald Trump: Compulsively tweets childish, unpresidential insults and lies. “Grab them by the pussy,” brag about it.
Like Trump, Underwood is no poster child for human decency. Underwood is a snake and a killer – but also intelligent and understands how government works. (This week, Trump’s apologists are blaming his behavior on the fact that he’s still learning the job.) We wouldn’t have to worry about Underwood being a childish embarrassment who alienates our allies when he tweets or travels.
Try to imagine Trump turning to look into the camera and breaking the fourth wall like Underwood.
[SETTING] IN THE OVAL OFFICE – DAY
PRESIDENT TRUMP holds court with a dozen Republican toadies from Congress.
… and anyone who says different is fake news.
Trump turns and looks directly into the camera, as everyone else in the room freezes.
Look at these losers. They’re such losers.
You think any of them are going to vote to impeach me? Let me tell you something: I could stand on this desk …
(Gesturing with circled thumb/forefinger and splayed fingers.)
They call it The REZ-OH-LOOT Desk–I bet you didn’t know that. Very nice desk. I could stand on this desk and drop my pants–and believe me, then they’d all be very impressed with–I call it “The Executive Branch”…
Evidence suggests that Trump doesn’t have much in the way of an interior life or complex thoughts, which makes for an unimpressive soliloquy.
Conversely, imagine how a smooth player like Underwood would have handled Trump’s (alleged) obstruction conversation with Comey. Where Trump is brazen and ham-handed, Underwood’s clever and smooth. Comey’s testimony essentially would have been a line from The Manchurian Candidate: “Raymond Shaw–I mean Donald Trump–is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”
If it’s disheartening that real-world nastiness has vastly outstripped House of Cards TV fantasy, there’s a ray of light: Trump may be canceled before House of Cards. Even if the latter only lasts another season.
Mark Rahner wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Mark is a veteran journalist, talk radio host, comic book author and podcaster based in Seattle.