Netflix’s “House of Cards” season 4 premiered today, and it got me thinking about Frank Underwood. He seems downright charming and harmless compared to the rogues gallery of Batman villains gracing the Republican debate stage, especially Donald Trump.
I began to ponder, who is more evil — Donald Trump or the fictional character Frank Underwood, brilliantly played by Kevin Spacey?
In order to treat this fairly, we have to acknowledge the sins of both fictional characters, and of course, there will be spoilers, so if you aren’t caught up with season three, stop reading now.
First, we need to list the evil deeds and compare. Trump called for a ban on Muslims, called Mexicans rapists and wishes to build a wall to keep them out of our country. So he’s a racist demagogue. Can that compare to the evil deeds of Frank Underwood?
Season three spoilers follow:
Frank Underwood murdered a congressman, threw Rooney Mara’s sister into a moving train and ordered the death of that pretty young prostitute. He lied and manipulated his way into the White House, and he did that thing-with-China-that-I-did-not-understand in season two. Pretty damn evil. Much more evil than Trump. So obviously he wins the contest, right?
Maybe not. Let’s look a little deeper at Trump.
Trump supports Putin, a leader who is known for shutting down journalists and having his enemies murdered. When someone alerted The Donald to these facts he replied, “At least he is a leader.” Yes, Mr. Drumpf, if by leader you mean a fascist dictator who murders the opposition.
So we can agree that while Frank Underwood may actually have ordered deaths and we have no evidence that Trump has ever killed anyone, we know that he would not disapprove of Underwood’s methods and may even admire them. Underwood gets the job done. In fact he is an almost ludicrously efficient politician. Isn’t that all that matters?
Honestly, this isn’t a fair contest because as the viewing audience, we know where Frank’s bodies are buried. Who knows what the hell Donald has gotten away with? For instance, take the rumor that Trump once raped his former wife, Ivanka because he was angry at her for pushing him into scalp reduction surgery (yes, that’s why his hair looks like that). In response to Ivanka’s accusation, his lawyer claimed, “You can not rape your own wife.”
So did he do it? Ivanka recanted, but the truth is, this is more than a rumor. This was something Ivanka claimed was true in their divorce hearings. Would she just make that up? Or is it more likely that it is true and she recanted later after getting a “yuge” settlement in the divorce? Either way, we can’t prove it, so let’s throw that out. But with his attitude toward women, is it really that hard to believe?
Where the debate gets interesting is when we consider two different ideas of evil. One is the vision of evil as represented by The Devil — an evil that brilliantly manipulates human vice in order to move forth some agenda. The second relies on a a selfish moron.
Trump certainly is no evil genius. He speaks at a fourth grade level and has almost no grasp of policy. He makes no attempt to win over those with a college education and famously stated, “I love the poorly educated.” Of course you do, Donald. You are an idiot, so you need idiots to follow you. We hear pundits remark on the brilliance of Trump appealing to voter anger, but most people I know do not find him appealing in the least. In fact, he is so insultingly stupid, I find it almost impossible to listen to him without wanting to rip that dead gerbil off his head and make him swallow it until he chokes. On the other hand, Frank Underwood could easily manipulate us, just like the Clintons probably have.
We can brand Underwood’s version of evil as “power for the sake of power.” Trump’s evil is not that brand. He already has power and seeks more as the ultimate ego stroke — overcompensation for a tiny penis, despite his claims to the contrary. Most men get a sports car to fulfill their inadequacies; Trump needs the whole country.
Trump’s brand of evil falls into the selfish moron category, better described by the phrase “The Banality of Evil.” This famous phrase was used by political theorist Hannah Arendt in her book on Adolph Eichmann. Her thesis was that Eichmann was no evil genius, but an ordinary moron motivated by selfishness and an inability to think things through, rather than any ideology.
Sounds like a dead-on analysis of Trump, right?
So now the question comes down to this: Which version of evil is more frightening? Underwood’s Machiavellian plotting? Or the banality of Trump’s evil?
While Underwood is certainly frightening, he is also predictable in a way. Underwood needs to hold onto power and anything that would threaten his hold on that power must go away. If the country fell apart under his leadership, we would impeach him. He has to at least pretend to act in our interest; he is bound by his own need to stay in power.
But what about Trump? A man of below average intelligence so afraid of being insulted he once sued Bill Maher for claiming he was half orangutan. A man who spends most of his day responding to tweets. Can we trust Trump to act rationally when his actions are always a childish reaction, a defense mechanism designed to keep his own ego afloat? Would he drop a bomb on North Korea to seem not weak?
Then with the world in wreckage he’d blame the country for his failures the way we blame our exes for our failed relationships. Just like when he called Iowa voters “idiots” for preferring Ben Carson to him. It’s not me, it’s you!
Trump wins hands down. What makes him particularly terrifying is how he has somewhat normalized racism for a segment of his followers. He has actually made it okay to speak the unspeakable. The things your racist uncle used to save for Thanksgiving dinner after he had a couple of Bud Lites in him are now said aloud. And your uncle now has a support group to make him feel okay about what he thinks about the Mexicans, led by the potential leader of the free world.
This is not hyperbole — the effects of this racism are clear. Trump supporters assaulted a black protestor at one of his rallies. Other Trump supporters beat a Latino man claiming Trump as inspiration. How will this play out over four years of a Trump presidency? A Trump presidency will be like “The Apprentice: Isis addition.” It will be the greatest recruitment video ever made.
Whatever evil Frank Underwood has in store for us this season, he is nothing compared to the real live candidate edging closer and closer to the actual presidency. Think about that when you watch season four. This is no Netflix show, people. This is your country.