Frontline’s four hours describing an America deeply divided begin captivatingly, with a seductively detailed history of Barack Obama’s route to the presidency, and remain so for the entire two hours of night one of the documentary. The film, largely about the Obama presidency, comes bracingly alive with its reminders—the details of Sarah Palin’s rise to prominence come roaring out in full power, underlining how much one can forget about the unforgettable—its sharp observation. And, not least, for the connection it makes between the past eight years and our present political condition—a subject to which filmmaker Michael Kirk and company bring a haunting clarity.
The documentary’s case is clear. The election of Donald Trump is the inevitable result of the embittering divisions that arose from a presidency—that of Barack Obama—in which Republicans resisted the president’s policies at every turn. And above all from the emergence of a powerful Tea Party—helped along by the perception that Washington was interested mainly in bailing out Wall Street, as the film notes, and not Main Street—devoted to the faith that Washington, government itself, was the enemy its members must fight.
And they did. The film traces the fall of once important, and talented, political figures, like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, too lacking in the necessary antigovernment passion for the taste of the Tea Party, which ran a candidate against him and won.
“Cantor was,” a political commentator observes, “like a Labrador retriever who falls in with a pack of coyotes, and you know for a while they kind of recognize him as a canine....but at a certain point they realize, no, he’s a domestic house pet, and we’re wild coyotes, and they ate him.”
An impeccably sustained dramatic narrative—one that continues on night two, with two hours devoted to the rise of Donald Trump, president-elect.
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United" (http://johnbrownnotesandessays.blogspot.com/2017/03/notes-and-references-for-discussion-e.html). Affiliated with Georgetown University (http://explore.georgetown.edu/people/jhb7/) for over ten years, he still shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."