While a curious 28 percent are happy with the current meltdown of our political system, most Americans are disgusted by the choices and tenor of this election. With the two most unpopular nominees to ever run for president for the main parties, both campaigns long ago abandoned the hope of getting voters to actually vote for their candidates. Instead, they are focusing on simply getting voters to hate the other candidate more than their own. In the midst of this race to the bottom, Wikileaks has given the public a new insight into the communications of political operatives, media, and activists. While stolen (and allegedly the product of Russian hacking), the public has been fascinated — and disgusted — by the contents of the emails. The emails have exposed a cesspool of hypocrisy, betrayal, and dishonesty in Washington. The more one reads, the harder it is to understand how this country could fallen into such absolute control of so few with so little integrity. While the Wikileaks emails recently have focused on the Clinton campaign, there is little in Washington that resembles any notion of civil virtue on either side. Strangely, the longer the campaign goes on, the more this election looks like a season of Game of Thrones. Below is my column in USA Today for those seeking insights from the “Seven Kingdoms.”
The WikiLeaks emails have captivated the nation in exposing the inner workings of Washington. Where voters once believed that Washington was a cesspool of dishonesty and blind ambition, they have found that it is far, far worse. For that reason, you could almost hear the sigh of relief from many in the Beltway when a “state actor” reportedly cut off Julian Assange’s Internet access. It was like the sudden cancellation of Game of Thrones — by collective decision of the characters themselves.
Of course, Game of Thrones is fascinating in how some of the utterly lying, lethal characters have lingering impulses of decency or regret. That is what is lacking in the WikiLeaks emails: any redeeming character.
Assuming Assange, accused of sexual assault and hiding from extradition in Ecuador’s embassy in London, is allowed to continue with new episodes, here is a handy cast description to allow you to keep up:
The Lannisters: The Clintons come across as the perfect ruling family maintaining power through a series of public and secret alliances. Like the Lannisters, the Clintons always “pay their debts.” Many of those carrying water for the Clintons expect positions and power in return. When Bryan Pagliano set up the infamous private email server for the Clintons, he was later given a position at the State Department. Sidney Blumenthal, long been accused of spreading rumors to destroy Clinton foes, including then-Sen. Barack Obama, was to be given a State Department position. However, the Obama administration blocked the appointment — so he was given a position with the Clinton Foundation. The emails show a mentality that you are either “with her” or you have to go. For critics, Hillary Clinton seems to echo Cersei Lannister: “Everyone who isn’t us is an enemy.”
Grand Maester Pycelle: The role of the supposedly neutral member of the Small Council (who worked awkwardly behind the scenes for the Lannisters) has to go to the mainstream media. Donna Brazile comes closest to this character. Many people in Washington chuckled as CNN portrayed Brazile as a “neutral” commentator throughout the primary when she was clearly a supporter of Clinton and part of the effort of the Democratic National Committee to give her the nomination. During the primary season, Brazile in one email passes along a debate question in advance to the Clinton campaign that was later asked of Clinton virtually verbatim. Then there is the email from Andrea Mitchell at NBC News calling Trump “awful,” or other reporters running articles that closely tracked emails from the Clinton campaign, or even letting the campaign approve content.
The Wildlings: Obviously, those would be the Sanders people. The Clinton folks are shown to have the same disdain for Bernie Sanders’ supporters as the ruling families have for the “people beyond the wall.” The demise of the Wildling King Mance Rayder is played perfectly by Sanders — a tragic figure who is ultimately crushed by those in power while his followers are enlisted to support those who crushed him. For Sanders, his campaigning for Clinton has left him isolated from many of his own fans.
Ramsay Bolton: Clinton ally David Brock seems ideal to play this role, a person obsessed with being given legitimacy as the bastard of Lord Bolton but valued more for his cruel talents. Referred to by Sanders simply as “scum,” Brock is widely detested by many who view him as a vicious bottom feeder who runs a series of shadowy PACs for Clinton to attack anyone standing in her way. Brock openly offers to pay money for embarrassing videos and dirt to help Clinton. Only Brock could deliver Ramsay’s line, “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”
Petyr (“Littlefinger”) Baelish: This is tough casting call given the wide array of potential “naturals” for the role of a betraying sycophant. However, one email stands out as a typecast from Ron Klain. Vice President Biden’s closest aide wrote to Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta and pledges fealty to Clinton and seems to remind Podesta that he paid dearly to show his allegiance … by helping guarantee Biden’s downfall. Klain wrote last year, “It’s been a little hard for me to play such a role in the Biden demise — and I am definitely dead to them — but I’m glad to be on Team HRC, and glad that she had a great debate last night.” The only thing he did not add was an email to Biden quoting Littlefinger, “I did warn you not to trust me.”
Of course, the Clinton emails are balanced against the Trump videotapes. Many view Donald Trump as the perfect King Aerys II Targaryen, or “the Mad King,” willing to burn the entire capitol city until his own “Kingsguard” killed him. Trump seems willing now to run against everyone, including his own party, as the election worsens by the day — risking not just the White House but also the Senate and the Supreme Court. Of course, it is fitting that the member of the Kingsguard who killed him was a Lannister.
In the end, voters are left with a tragedy filled with characters whom you were hoping would be gone by last season. Voters have given up looking for leaders who actually inspire them. American politics, like the Game of Thrones, is left as merely an exercise of picking the person you hate the least. As stated by Sandor “The Hound” Clegane, “Hate’s as good a thing as any to keep a person going. Better than most.”
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.
October 24, 2016