The Fatal Entertainment: How Trying to Connect the Dots Can Kill You
By Mari Gomez
In House of Cards, Frank Underwood, the President of the United States, gets there through deceit and political maneuvering. A show runner that understands the frail ambitions of others and uses them as bait for personal advancement. His strength is his ability to exploit others’ weaknesses. The viewer follows backstage and witnesses Frank and Claire Underwood as they orchestrate this intricate, risky rise to the top, this house of cards built on lies, false loyalties, and fragile points of contact easily toppled if the right wind brushes through.
Former President Bill Clinton once told House of Cards actor Kevin Spacey that the show was 99% accurate. While not particularly surprising, one can’t help but feel somewhat unnerved at the thought.
It’s a similar experience watching the 2016 election news unfold, except I am not privy to what’s going on backstage, I am left to connect plot points from a distance.
About three weeks ago Donald Trump raised a fair share of media eyebrows with the announcement that he was going to Mexico to meet with their President Enrique Peña Nieto. It was on that very day that Trump was also to detail his new immigration plan in Phoenix, Arizona.
Knowing Trump’s reputation with Mexicans, what was Peña Nieto’s reasoning to invite him to Los Pinos the day of the candidate's immigration speech? What was behind that curtain?
In any great script, there are no coincidences. And in the end, Trump went to Mexico, looked serious, presidential, composed and then left, stirring up political and social chaos in Mexico, while turning up some favorable numbers in the polls and getting people to watch and talk about his immigration plan. Of course, this couldn’t be the whole story because there had to be something in it for the other side. So I watched and waited.
And then, something emerges.
In the Command in Chief forum, Trump makes reference to his Mexico visit, saying:
“Well, I think absolutely. I think if you saw what happened in Mexico the other day, where I went there, I had great relationships, everything else. I let them know where the United States stands. I mean, we’ve been badly hurt by Mexico, both on the border and with taking all of our jobs or a big percentage of our jobs.
And if you look at what happened, look at the aftermath today where the people that arranged the trip in Mexico have been forced out of government. That’s how well we did.”
Days after Trump left, the finance minister Luis Videgaray resigned. Now, if there is anything I’ve learned from television about resignations in the political sphere, is they usually always indicate that something went wrong, or at the very least it’s a symbolic gesture. Later that night Trump Tweeted:
Trump negotiated that visit.
It was precisely because of his visit to Mexico and that press conference alongside Peña Nieto that many more people tuned into his immigration speech and that was not an accident.In the Tweets Trump refers to Videgaray by his first name and implies that it was due to his visit to Mexico, and presumably asserting America's interests and positions, that this chaos happened. This is how Trump is presenting his side of the story.
Luis Videgaray was known to be one of Peña Nieto’s closest allies, often referred to as “the brain” of the cabinet. Him along with the very much unpopular Osorio Chong, were Peña Nieto’s most trusted advisors, what they call Peñanietistas, loyal to the president.
Nobody could figure out what an earth possessed Peña Nieto to invite Trump. According to Mexican media, Videgaray allegedly orchestrated the visit and advised the President to go through with it, keeping other members of the inner circle, like Claudia Ruiz Massieu, secretary of foreign affairs, in the dark about it. So Trump’s visit caused considerable rifts within the President’s cabinet. Still, it seemed awfully small of a scandal for a politician in Mexico to resign, particularly someone so close to the President. So I kept watching.
Videgaray is responsible for opening Mexico’s energy market to private firms, a move that was both criticized and praised by some. According to some analysts in Mexico he has created a mess of Mexico’s finances, leaving the country in great financial ruin and in the brink of crisis. Videgaray has also been involved in various scandals, one of which showed him purchasing a massive property from the now infamous contractor Juan Armando Hinojosa Cantu, also behind the First Lady’s casa blanca scandal, which I've written about several times. (Peña Nieto’s wife and friends apparently love buying houses.) Journalist Miguel Pulido investigated this and points to several holes in the supposed investigation on Videgaray. The investigation, he claims, was altered to exonerate him, to give him impunity. Makes sense, because if Luis Videgaray was aggressively attacked and investigated for his purchase of the house in Malincalco as a conflict of interest with the known government friendly contractor, then the same scrutiny would be expected of the First Lady’s purchase of her massive mansion from the same.
According to ex finance minister, Gabriel Reyes Orona, Videgaray saw an opportunity with Donald Trump to save the massive national debt. So he wanted to get in good with the guy in case he won. When the popular backlash against Trump’s visit ensued, including from members of government, Videgaray realized that not only would his financial packet not pass in Congress, but that he had cost the President great political consequences in the worst possible time.
It’s not entirely clear why he resigned. Perhaps doing so under the guise of the Trump controversy might obscure the real reasons. Perhaps his resignation would also take some of the blame off Peña Nieto, who’s at 23% approval rating, has two years left to govern, and began to hear rumors of a massive march organizing on Independence day calling for him to resign. This could make the President look assertive, to cut off one of his closest allies.
(The protest march was organized on social media and on September 15th, headed by the parents of the 43 disappeared. People yelled Resign Now! The protest was brought to a halt by a wall of police.)
There is some connection between Videgaray and Trump's visit. Some elaborate reasoning behind the curtain, yet all we have from out here is our popcorn and our speculation. Mexican’s understanding of Trump is misled and misinformed by a media looking to destroy him. I write and give examples of it here. The transformation of Trump's campaign has been more than fascinating to watch, as if the show switched directors from one episode to the next. Trump has learned that politics is a fragile house of cards, one that largely depends on impressions, one that can collapse in a second or one that can reach extraordinary heights. Trump knew that going to Mexico would make more people aware of his immigration speech and would attract more listeners. He knew it might cause chaos in Mexico, but to him, it was an opportunity. It was America First It's the only way this story makes sense.
And so the knotted plots seem to unravel and there are oh so many. This show is a rabbit hole, an endless labyrinth of possible connections, plot points, and themes. And binge watching the developments can be addicting, leaving you forever searching for a coherent narrative that doesn’t exist, or is far too distant and vast for you to ever truly comprehend.
And perhaps it was precisely this that David Foster Wallace wrote about in the novel Infinite Jest. (I'll explore this idea further on the next post) In the novel, filmmaker Hal Incandenza creates a film so potent that it kills; it slowly steals the viewer's life by entrancing them so deeply that they forget to eat, and sleep, and attend to their bodily necessities until they perish. This mysterious entertainment cartridge entrapped the viewer into a permanent stasis, a state of dulled existence, where the entertainment becomes your life and you cease to move, and love and protest and get so caught up with this looping interface that you died there, on the couch, in your sad little life, entrenched in another reality, trying to connect the dots of an imaginary constellation.