The future is certain

Martin Sheen in the film “The Dead Zone”

The 1978 film “The Dead Zone,” an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, stars a young Christopher Walken in the role of an accident victim who awakens from a year’s long coma with powers of clairvoyance. Physical contact with another person generates a sudden flash of vision and insight into that person’s future, always accurate, causing Walken’s character great distress.

One of the characters Walken happens to meet is an ambitious politician played by Martin Sheen. While shaking Sheen’s hand at a political rally, Walken is hit with a staggering vision: A corrupt and messianic Sheen will be elected President of the United States, and in the midst of a psychopathic episode, launch America’s missiles and start a nuclear war.

Sheen’s right-hand man is named Sonny. Sonny is Sheen’s fixer; a low-life, murderous thug with unnatural loyalty to Sheen allowing the two of them to commit otherwise unthinkable acts. This same formula appeared in early seasons of House of Cards, where Frank Underwood, the psychopathic President of the United States played by Kevin Spacey, employed an equally loyal and murderous fix-it guy to solve his problems. Who could have ever imagined that real life would make these melodramatic Hollywood visions look predictive?

The New York Times just published a lengthy article on its investigation of Donald Trump’s fix-it guy, attorney Michael Cohen. Tracing the trajectory of Cohen’s career, the account at times sounds like the casting call for 1990’s episodes of Law and Order, filled with mobsters, scammers, Russian and Ukrainian “business men”, insurance fraudsters, cash-only real estate deals, suspected money-laundering, and overseas shenanigans. While the Times article does not overtly accuse Cohen of committing crimes, it carefully documents the arrest and convictions of Cohen’s partners and clients and notes that Special Counsel Robert Mueller and other prosecutors are investigating Cohen. By implication, this means they are also investigating Trump, who hired Cohen as his “personal attorney” and fix-it guy.

In “The Dead Zone,” Walken’s character discovers that his visions of the future do not mean that the future cannot be changed. To the contrary, over time he learns that he can influence events and change the future. He hatches a plot to foil Sheen, and this becomes the primary focus of the film. All of this is to say that although events seem to be spinning out of control in Washington D.C. and in the White House, none of us can absolutely predict the future. Would any of us have predicted that the #MeToo movement would unseat Kevin Spacey from his role as the sleazy President Frank Underwood?

American democracy is under attack and that attack is emanating from the office of the Presidency. The question is what can prevent Donald Trump and his gang of thugs from hijacking American democracy? Voting is important, but our computerized voting machines are generally old, unreliable, and too easily hacked. Claims of illegal voting now regularly follow elections. The reliability of numerical facts and truth itself are under siege by domestic and international forces. The world is suddenly tilting towards chaos; undermining the established order reveals it as a thin veneer covering deep layers of suspicion and resentment, neither of which help build a good society.

Unlike Hollywood, this plot is writing itself. In the words of David Byrne, “The future is certain, give us time to work it out.”

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