I just finished binge watching House of Cards this weekend. My wife and I can’t get enough of it. Kevin Spacey is brilliant as Frank Underwood, the scheming fictional U.S. President who does not believe in Money, God, Love, Loyalty, Friendship or Family. He believes in Power exclusively. His singular drive to get Power and maintain and expand it gives him great confidence, focus, resilience and ingenuity. He is thrilling to watch.
Frank Underwood, for all of his cunning intelligence, is a fool. The human soul is a diverse portfolio. We live for acquiring the needs of survival, for the existential meaning that faith provides, for passion for other persons, activities and interests, for staying true to others we care about in word and deed, for the camaraderie of the loved ones we choose—our friends, and the intimacy with those given to us by fate—our family, and yes Power, too, our need for some mastery over part of our world. We are, as Walt Whitman says, a multitude and the equals of the symphony of the world, the music of the spheres.
Frank Underwood does what all people do when they act stupidly. They over-simplify what is divinely multi-faceted. Frank Underwood is intellectually lazy. By defining life as solely a means of gathering Power, he deprives himself of the splendid agony where life really takes place, the crucible where character is formed—the application of all that matters spiritually to the material choices we make—the field of ethics.
Frank will join his fellow villains, make-believe and real by series’ end. His face will shrivel like Darth Vader’s face; he’ll glance in perpetual fear like Tony Soprano, he’ll die in self-destructive isolation like Adolph Hitler or exist in haunted disgrace like Richard Nixon.
He has chosen suicide already. He wants to fail on a greater scale than his unsuccessful father.
We watch him with interest because we know how he feels. We vote for candidates like him because we admire how courageously he acts out our darkness.
We respect his success until it comes crashing down. And then we say—that’s him, not us.
Father, forgive them (us). They know not what they do.
Evil is stupid.
Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas