The popular TV show The Twilight Zone has seen multiple reboots since it first went off the air in 1964. I’ve been thinking a good deal about one particular tale from the mid-1980s reboot. “Profile in Silver” envisions a world where time travel is possible, and a “field historian” named Joseph Fitzgerald from about 200 years in the future is observing the events of the presidency of his ancestor, President John F Kennedy.
The episode begins with Dr. Fitzgerald giving a lecture at Harvard on November 21, 1963 and he gets a visit from one of his colleagues from the future. He expresses the great existential crisis of every field journalist: why must he only be observer and not participant? She tries to talk him out of going to Dallas the following day but he’ll have none of it.
In what appears to be an unplanned moment, he trains his camera on the open window in the book repository, sees Lee Harvey Oswald leaning out with his rifle, and panics. He calls out to the president to duck, and effectively saves the president’s life. How Gov. Connally didn’t get hurt, isn’t answered.
This seriously damages the fabric of time. As history tries to restore the original trends, first a tornado touches down in Dallas but when that doesn’t work, Nikita Khrushchev is assassinated, and his successor seizes West Berlin. As the history computer analyzes all possible outcomes from this turn of events, the world would be completely annihilated within a century. The only solution is for the Kennedy presidency to end as history originally intended. Of course, this is The Twilight Zone, so there’s a twist at the end. I won’t reveal the twist but you can watch the episode below.
There’s a scene in this show where JFK and Dr. Fitzgerald are aboard Air Force One, and Kennedy talks about how maybe his father might have been wrong about the importance of power. “No one man should have that kind of power. No man should have to have it.”
There is no question that Donald Trump has long had a love affair with power, and this goes back to long before he announced his candidacy for president in June, 2015. Recall that this isn’t the first time he sought the presidency: back in 2000, he sought the nomination on the Reform Party ticket. (Side note: I admit to being surprised that the party still actively maintains its website…)
They say that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. There’s a truth to that, but part of the problem is that once people get a taste of power, they tend to want more and more. Someone with such blatantly narcissistic tendencies like Donald Trump would fall into this trap more quickly than the average person. (Note that I’m not holding myself to a higher standard here. If I were given more power than I could handle, I doubt I’d be any less vulnerable to its appeal…)
During one of the Republican debates last year, Trump all but admitted his corruption, albeit from a different angle than where he currently resides. As his opponents, most notably Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, tried to illustrate that he’s not a true republican, they pointed out that he had invited Bill and Hillary Clinton to his wedding. He shrugged off the charges, pointing out that he would do things like that to gain favors. Nothing necessarily illegal about it but telling all the same.
Which brings me to the recent firing of FBI director James Comey. Let me make it clear that the president has the right to fire the FBI director at any time and for any reason. Based upon that fact alone, this is neither an abuse of power nor a constitutional crisis.
Or at least it ought not be either of those things. After all, Bill Clinton fired director William Sessions a few months into his first term and nobody batted an eye over it.
But it’s clear that this is a function of all of the negative trappings of power. Comey had just requested more funds and personnel to investigate reports of collusion between the Trump campaign and a foreign power, Russia. I suppose it’s possible that these facts are unrelated and that the real reason for Comey’s dismissal is as the White House said: the way he mishandled the reporting of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server. Then again, it’s also possible that Gary Larson got it right in his old Far Side cartoon when he explained how the dinosaurs became extinct.
The congressional investigation into the Trump-Russia affair doesn’t seem to have much in the way of force. With the status of the FBI investigation up in the air now that Comey’s gone, we should really consider an independent investigation.
Oh, and it needs a flashy name, too. May I suggest Russi-a-Lago?
Profile In Silver