Friday, June 20, 2014

Executive Power

Over the last few weeks, I have fallen prey to the talons of instant-streaming-induced binge-watching, in particular, becoming a living stereotype of the so honest it is hilarious Portlandia sketch: I am addicted to popular science-fiction drama Battlestar Galactica. Literature, film, television with a streak of fantasy, of futuristic speculation, has always interested me; from my first foray into dystopian possibilities with The Giver to the mesmerizing tales from the Tripod trilogy, a fundamental reading assignment for my fifth grade class that really captured a similar mankind will to survive and thrive. While humanity battling against machines, while hurtling through the far reaches of space, is an immediate draw to me, Battlestar Galactica has also garnered the love and respect of those who would never admit, or never even though, speculative fiction would appeal to them. In parallel to the war against morally ambiguous, and conscience-ambiguous, super-cybernetic-robots, the show hinges on political and military conflicts and intrigues, as the few thousand remaining humans attempt to maintain some semblance of their former civilization, culturally and sociopolitically. So, the show has been a favorite among those who relish in the narrative trajectories of the triumphs, weaknesses, failures, and betrayals of our leaders.

In the first season, President Laura Roslin, executive leader of the roaming colonies, banished from their home planets, discusses with the commander of their military ship, the Battlestar Galactica, the difficult decisions the fleet has made, and particularly the burden of the decisions she, as president, has made. Decisions to attack, to retreat. Decisions to defuse and disable opponents, machine and man alike. A lower government official before the watershed nuclear attack that destroys most of humanity, the government included, she recounts a bit of counsel the late President Adar imparted: "One of the most interesting things about being president is you don't have to explain yourself, to anyone." Maybe more so than any other situation so far presented on the show, this encapsulates so accurately our current milieu. 

Earlier this week, President Obama deployed more troops in Iraq, to support the Iraqi military in suppressing rebel groups who have taken control of territory in the north of the country. Continuing in the rich heritage of other former United States presidents to directly and physically intervene, with vehement and powerful military force and resources, in the politics of the Middle East, this comes on the end of the interesting, debated prisoner swap, a seemingly unilateral command that leaves many here and abroad confused about the implications on duty to fellow citizens as well as on the elegant checks-and-balances of our democratic system. When he was first elected, I was elated; after enduring eight years of unnecessary war during the Bush era, propagated by contorted patriotic propaganda and the vested interests of various corporations, globally, the de-militarize, dis-engage platform promoted by President Obama was hopeful. It was, or could have been, true change. Throughout his first term, and now consistent into the second, I have hardened to disappointment.

Perhaps the evolution of an instant and, hopefully, transparent global communication environment, fueled by a vibrant, ever-churning behemoth media industry and the technological-social platforms to facilitate these transactions on a massive scale, has fostered a sense among the public that, indeed, explanation and justification and rationale is required, is demanded, for the choices and behaviors of our political and economic leaders. In recent decades, scrutiny has heightened and the details surrounding even sensitive decisions can, and often does, become available for broad consumption, interpretation, manipulation, and, ultimately, propagation. In tandem to this path, the desire to side-step accountability, to act unilaterally, to adopt that attitude summarized by the fictional President Adar, seems to also grow in potency. There could be a pretense that restraining from public discourse for certain situations is protection. A sort of paternal authority: I know best. These repelling movements seem at such odds, seem that they would oppose one another, cause a system to collapse. 

It would be silly to assume that the Founding Fathers, that every president from Washington on, did not adopt a similar stance. Memory is always flawed, subjective; the history books have a funny way of capturing details, choosing their portraits.  

(image taken from National Park Service)

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