I can’t stay up as late at night as I used to, so it has taken me until now to finish watching season 5 of House of Cards. While I didn’t find it as compelling as the first season, the one in which President Frank Underwood began his side job as a serial killer, it did have its moments, most of which were fleshed out well enough for me to finally decide whether I would rather see Underwood or Donald Trump in the White House. I have chosen Underwood because although he is vile and amoral, he is competent. He understands how things work, how government and politics happen. Though he could be capable of destroying the world in season 6, at least it wouldn’t be by accident.
I am surprised that I have not seen much about the parallels between the fictitious Underwood White House and the very real Trump White House. Parallels abound in season 5. There are NSA leaks and Russian intervention in a U.S. election. There are congressional hearings, some led by a character that looks and acts like Devin Nunes.
There was a horrific chemical attack on civilians in Syria, a segment filmed before the real thing happened. There was a botched election, actually more like the Bush-Gore affair than the Trump-Clinton debacle, but it wasn’t hard to imagine Trump following Underwood’s lead by establishing “voting centers” in order to suppress turnout in key states and then manufacturing a terror crisis to keep those voting centers empty.
The public reaction to an Underwood presidency mirrors the actual reaction to the Trump presidency, with protesters chanting that he is not their president and the vanquished opponent noting that the winner had received less than majority support.
It is reassuring, I suppose, that there is no visible evidence that Trump’s vice president has ever killed anyone, and certainly not in the midst of extramarital relations. But Mike Pence does sometimes come across as just as stiff Claire Underwood and just as willing to do anything for a vote.
One thing missing from the Netflix series is presidential tweeting, but it occurred to me during the season’s final episode that the directors accomplished the same thing by having Frank Underwood go out of character and speak directly to the viewers. Fortunately for Frank, his sorta sotto voce lines are scripted. If he were to speak into the camera during the Comey testimony Thursday, it is unlikely that he would be reduced to Trumpian language. While we can fully expect to see Trump tweeting out something like “Comey’s a total loser” tomorrow, or “Pants on fire!!,” it is more likely that Frank watching similar testimony would turn to the camera to say something like, “I should have known when I let him stay on that he never really saw the big picture.”