In today’s society, we often take great pleasure in putting down our enemies. One especially fun way to do that is to compare them to despised or disgusting things. If a teacher is too strict, the he or she is like a boring BDSM master or mistress. If a roommate is lazy, then he or she is a useless pile of crap. Because both of my parents worked in education, my natural enemy is the Republican Party. And so, to get in on the fun, I will say that the current Republican Party is like Keyser Soze from the film The Usual Suspects. They are like Soze because they are adept at lying, they have enough connections to be dangerous, and they would rather kill what they claim to value rather than let someone else control it.
These days, it’s cliché to say that politicians lie. While they certainly do, not all lies are the same. In the same way that if I were to jump around next to Dominique Dawes, you could tell who is more agile with little difficulty, even a brief examination of some key figures will show us that there are mediocre liars, and then there are Olympic-quality liars. In the film, The Usual Suspects, Keyser Soze shows himself to be a truly marvelous liar, cobbling together a coherent, flowing lie by cobbling together tiny details around him (the coffee mug’s name, a picture from the bulletin board) and just enough kernels of truth to keep his audience strung along. Perhaps most importantly, he never falters or gives any sense of doubt in his own performance. Likewise, the most successful liars in the Republican Party can keep a straight face while telling any number of whoppers or offbeat departures from reality. Take, for instance, Wisconsin governor and pile of troll offal Scott Walker. At a speaking stop, a friend of my family’s listened to Walker talk about all the jobs that he’d helped to create with his administration. These were lies and not real jobs. During the question period, the family friend asked Walker where in Wisconsin the jobs were (the point being that he wasn’t seeing any jobs created), and Walker said, “I’ll have to check on that and get back to you.” Of course he’d never get back to our friend. It was just a line to shut him up. The point though, is that a lesser liar would’ve shown either uncertainty or even shame for having been called out on a lie. But Walker, not being hindered by concerns like credibility or a sense of common decency, could tell an even dumber lie than his first lie, leaving his foes (a combination of my friend and actual facts) too disarmed and incredulous to keep pressing the point. And Walker is not alone. During the George W. Bush administration, Bush’s team was magnificent at having different members articulate mutually exclusive points on different shows. Condoleezza Rice would make a statement on one show, and Dick Cheney would make the opposite statement at nearly the same time. Unless you were watching both shows simultaneously, it would be easy to miss the contradiction. This careful coordination made it hard to know who to attack or distrust most. Like Soze, the strategic misdirection kept the audience too distracted to effectively refute the lies. And that’s not even starting to discuss alternative facts. Clearly, like Keyser Soze, Republicans are great liars.
If Republicans were just liars, then they might be merely entertaining. However, they also have real connections, and that’s part of what makes them truly dangerous. In the movie, Soze is able to manipulate everything from the beginning. He’s able to use the system to get a hold of the right set of people, to know when things are moving so that he can time the attacks correctly, and to eventually coordinate his own release. Soze is so well connected that the outcome of everything is determined before it happens. Likewise, Republicans have access to both resources (the Koch brothers) and the knowledge of arcane rules (“she persisted”) that have allowed them to stay safely behind barriers instead of putting themselves in actual danger (think about the typical Republican shock and denial when town halls don’t go well). This isn’t to say that Democrats are brave warriors or noble public servants. They, too, lean on wealthy donors and work the system. However, many Democrats actually reference a moral high ground (“When they go low…) and try to represent actual people. One of the key differences, though, is that Democrats seem to be much more inept than the Republicans. Unlike Soze and the Republicans, the Democrats lack the skills to effectively harness their connections in way that destroys their enemies. When you add to this the problems of gerrymandering favoring the Republicans, you get a compelling case for the party serving a sense of tradition being able to lean into the positions of privilege instead of having to put themselves in the way of actual harm.
But even this is not the most unsettling facet of the contemporary Republican Party. To truly understand the Heart-of-Darkness horror of the party, we need to look at the story that Keyser Soze tells about Keyser Soze’s own past. In the film, Soze tells his questioner (who doesn’t know that he’s questioning the great and terrible Keyser Soze) that Soze used to have a family. When some criminal rivals kidnapped Soze’s family in an attempt to gain leverage on him, Soze killed first his own family and then his rivals. The point of the story is that Soze so values his own dominance that he would rather kill his loved ones than lose power. This is the fundamental problem with the Republican Party: they’ve taken a hardline stance that has forced them into a position where they’ll kill the country before admitting that they’re wrong. Do they know that climate change is real and that their backers are destroying the planet? Probably most of them do, but if they admit this, then they invalidate much of what they’ve been relying on to keep their base happy. And so, there only move is to double down and totally destroy the EPA in hopes that they can end the conflict and, therefore, the competition. Do they know that an unequal distribution of wealth and deregulation are both bad for most Americans? Probably, but to turn back now would so contradict the Republican orthodoxy that they cannot do anything but nudge our economy towards collapse. Their consistent approach of unyielding hostility for any critical thought or objection has painted them into a corner so that their only path forward is to reduce everything to rubble. But, the thinking seems to go, at least they’ll still be in control as the buildings fall. This “willpower,” as Soze would put it, is the gravest danger of the Republican Party, because it means that reason and morality are no match for them. Really, it’s like they’re the opposite of John 3:16. Instead of loving the world so much that the Republicans would give up their only begotten son, they so hate the world as they see it evolving that they’re willing to destroy the future that their descendents will find.
With all of this harsh criticism, it might seem like I should use my conclusion to advocate for the Democrats. The problem, of course, is that (spoiler alert) Keyser Soze gets away. Like the too-slow detective in the film, the Democrats seem to have very limited success in protecting the larger population. I’m not hopeful that things will get better any time soon. So, instead of arguing for hope, I’ll close with a final reference to the movie. Some readers might feel that I’m being unfair or that I’m overstating the damage that the Republicans do. But before you dismiss me, recall what Keyser Soze says: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” Don’t be tricked; they’re there, and they are, sadly, real.
Zeke Jarvis is an Associate Professor at Eureka College. His work has appeared in Thrice Fiction, Moon City Review, and Quail Bell, among other places. His books include So Anyway... and In A Family Way. His blog can be found at zekedotjarvis.WordPress.com.