When “House of Cards” became a pop culture sensation in 2013, the political scientist in me winced. I love the interplay between popular culture and politics as much as the next academic. Even the first season of that show, however, seemed too cynical — the doppelganger of the overly Capraesque “The West Wing.” This was particularly frustrating once foreign diplomats started claiming that “House of Cards” reflected real life.
Fast-forward five years. “House of Cards” is entering its final season, and let’s be honest, it seems tame at this point. This is how my Washington Post colleagues described last week:
The office of President Trump’s personal attorney was raided by the FBI. Mark Zuckerberg testified on Capitol Hill sitting on what appeared to be a booster seat. Republican House Speaker Paul D. Ryan announced he would not seek reelection. In Philadelphia, Bill Cosby, formerly one of America’s biggest stars, was again on trial for sexual assault, which should’ve been a huge story except that everything these days is huge.
The investigation of [Trump attorney Michael] Cohen — which has pitted the president against his own Justice Department — took another unexpected turn Monday with the courtroom revelation that one of Cohen’s legal clients was Fox News commentator Sean Hannity.
Hannity played down the relationship, saying he occasionally asked Cohen legal questions but never paid him. On his show Monday night, he described it as a “minor relationship” that had to do with real estate.
The connection between the two men inserted another high-profile, polarizing Trump ally into the drama surrounding the criminal investigation of the president’s longtime lawyer.
I will leave it to the late-night talk show hosts to make fun of this absurdity, and to my colleague Erik Wemple to assess whether it would be possible for Hannity to sink even further into his ethical quagmire. I, like the rest of politically interested Post readers, just want to catch my breath and ask a simple question: How will this get even crazier?
I am just a small-town political scientist trying to make sense of this administration. The problem, as Dan Nexon pointed out recently, is that all of our normal analytic tools to understand that politics do not apply to this administration. This year renders, say, a pluralist theory of politics impotent before the mental model of assuming that politics is now a giant reality show driven by the whims of a man-baby.
My brilliant colleague Alyssa Rosenberg has a wonderful “Trump Show” feature that covers this administration like one would do a reality show recap. As she notes in the opening to these features, “A common reaction to Donald Trump’s presidency has been a sense that reality has outstripped even the most feverish fiction. The only thing to do when the world has come to feel like the implausible output of a genre-hopping television show is to cover it that way.”
Vox’s Dara Lind explains it in a more self-preserving way:
All I want to do is get ahead of the curve. This year already seems like a pretty crazy year for politics, and we are only a quarter of the way through it. What will happen next?
Based on the Hannity plot twist, let me extrapolate to future events that would seem outlandish now but will probably look staid by 2019.
LATER THIS MONTH: Trump fires Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy AG Rod J. Rosenstein, announces that he intends to nominate Mick Mulvaney to assume both jobs in addition to his roles as head of the Office of Management and Budget and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
MAY: Fox News Channel announces, in cooperation with the White House, a prime-time special in which Trump will announce a presidential pardon of one of three finalists: former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, Wall Street con artist Bernie Madoff or businessman Martin Shkreli. Each finalist will make his case on Tucker Carlson’s program, and then Trump will announce his decision from behind the Resolute Desk on Hannity’s show.
JUNE: A third Playboy Playmate (after Karen McDougal and Barbara Moore) reveals an affair with Trump and also claims to have a sex tape of the two of them. Michael Cohen immediately offers to mortgage his house again to buy exclusive rights to the video.
JULY: Trump fires national security adviser John Bolton. The White House announces that Mulvaney will take on that role, as well as becoming Trump’s new nominee for U.S. ambassador to South Korea.
AUGUST: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump announce that because Ivanka is expecting their fourth child, they will leave their White House positions. They also announce that even though they are Jewish, Michael Cohen will be named the child’s godfather.
SEPTEMBER: Paul Manafort cuts a deal with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, but as he is escorted into Mueller’s offices to tell everything he knows, he is attacked by former Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller. Frightened, Manafort runs away from his security detail and is hit by a car . . . driven by Geraldo Rivera.
OCTOBER: Anthony M. Kennedy announces his plan to retire from the Supreme Court. Trump initially tweets that he will nominate Mulvaney to take Kennedy’s seat but then deletes the tweet. After an agonizing 20 minutes, Trump then announces that he plans to nominate Cohen instead. Mitch McConnell declares that getting Cohen on the court would be his greatest accomplishment as Senate majority leader.
NOVEMBER: The Defense Department announces “incontrovertible evidence” of the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life trying to make contact with Earth. It does not get above-the-fold attention in the mainstream media, as the announcement coincides with the release of Trump’s latest sex tape.
DECEMBER: John Kelly announces he will resign as White House chief of staff. Trump announces that Kelly’s duties will be co-managed by a “troika” of Newt Gingrich, Tom Brady and Mulvaney.
Will any of this happen? Probably not. Could it happen? After the past week, you would be crazy to discount that prospect.