House of Cards has a long history of steering a little too close to real life for comfort. The misadventures of Claire and Frank Underwood skim along the the edge of what is real for the rest us and what is supposed to be fiction. This has never been more true for the Netflix series that the most recent season. If you're binge watching this weekend, pay close attention to all the times the politics in House of Cards Season 5 felt too close to real life for comfort.
I mean, I don't want to call the creators of House of Cards clairvoyant but... yeah, it's a little insane. Perhaps not everything is exactly on the nose (for instance, we didn't see a Hillary and Bill Clinton joint campaign effort), but much of the fifth season feels prescient. Perhaps it's the nature of politics in general, the way the government works seeming so formulaic that everything can be predicted. Perhaps every administration looks much like the Underwoods, and the writers are simply transcribing the inner workings of Washington. Or House of Cards can see the future. I prefer to believe the latter option; it helps me sleep better at night. But hey, don't just take my word for it.
Warning: spoilers for House of Cards, Season 5 ahead!
1. The Outsider Confuses Us All
Right from the first episode, Frank takes great pleasure in scoffing at other politicians, declaring war as a way to distract everyone from issues closer to home. Which might remind some of us of President Trump and his proud status as an outsider, a maverick who doesn't hold himself accountable to anyone.
Despite major opposition in Congress, Frank moves forward with tightening border control as America prepares for war. It all sounds distressingly familiar. Particularly when Secretary of State Catherine Durant points out to war-mongering President Underwood: "We are virtually closing down our borders without any hard evidence to back it up."
2. The Hacking Controversy
Aidan MacCallan, the computer genius hired by Leann Harvey to protect and inform the Underwoods, needs to cover his tracks when a surprise visit by the NSA could uncover his highly illegal work. He decides to shut down the internet. The Underwoods take full advantage when all of Washington loses internet and cell phone access, calling it a hacking attempt by ICO. Considering all the news surrounding potential hacking attempts made by the Russians throughout the election, it felt eerily familiar.
3. Nobody Likes The Candidates
Episode 3 of House of Cards sees the vote happen, finally. But if you were hoping to find out whether or not Republican Governor Will Conway or President Frank Underwood would find a definitive victory, you are going to be disappointed. Much like our own real-life election, there was an incredibly low voter turnout. It turns out Americans in House of Cards were just as disenchanted as real-life Americans.
4. The Voter Fraud & Terrorism
During the 2016 election, President Trump insisted that he believed there could be issues with voter fraud. There were issues of violence at voting centers. House of Cards saw a similar election night during the fourth episode. An alleged attack on a voting center in Tennessee, allegedly by the possible terrorist Mohammed Khalabi. The constant presence of the "terrorist" buzzword to keep people from voting.
By Episode 13, newly minted President Claire Underwood is still using terrorism to play well with the people. Her administration manages to capture the elusive ICO leader Ahmadi and kill him; much like the Obama administration managed a major coup with the capture of 9/11 terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden.
5. The Russian Factor
In the sixth episode, the Underwoods appear to be having their own issues with the Russians. The Putin-esque Russian President Victor Petrov attacks Antarctica in the wake of the undecided vote, explaining to Claire and Frank when they accuse him of taking advantage of American's distraction: "America is not distracted; it is divided."
The America of our real life has arguably never been more decided. Perhaps even more chilling for those of us concerned about Putin's interest in the 2016 election? Petrov noted with a terrible foreboding: "My eyes are on a landscape that are so much bigger than your votes."
Episode 6 also sees Russian sanctions being put in place, a constant specter of Russian threats casting a pall over the Underwoods' already dark administration.
6. A Republican Candidate Who Is Tone Deaf To Minorities
When Governor Conway goes to the Congressional Black Caucus to convince them to support him in Episode 7, he is shockingly tone deaf. He wants to talk to them about crack and cocaine sentencing discrepancies as though that would be the only issue of importance. When the Caucus members are understandably dismayed, he even says: "I want to help you help yourselves." This felt so much like President Trump's apparent inability to connect with minorities across the board, or understand what a minority voter might want to hear.
7. Mark Usher/Steve Bannon
Mark Usher, played by the ever-so-cool Campbell Scott, served as Governor Conway's top campaign adviser. But we all knew he was the boss. That scene when Conway throws a fit on an airplane and Usher tells him to "sit." I picture Steve Bannon, the so-called "master manipulator" in President Trump's administration, doing much the same thing.
Of course, Frank Underwood is no fool; by the end of the season, he has decided to become "the power behind the power." He's figured out what Usher and, potentially, Bannon have figured out. Being a figurehead means nothing. Being the puppet master means everything.
8. Whispers Of Impeachment
Episode 11 of House of Cards sees President Frank Underwood living under a cloud of possible impeachment, after former President Walker testified about Frank in front of the Senate judiciary committee. Not to mention pervasive questions about whether or not Frank manipulated the electorate. While insiders in his administration won't speak against him publicly, Tom Hammerschmidt insists many of them aren't happy and want to speak on condition of anonymity. The FBI are feeling disgruntled about the way the Underwoods dealt with the bogus arrest of Mohammed Khalabi; in fact, FBI Director Green even gives Doug Stamper a warning when Doug tries to pressure him in perjuring himself in front of the judiciary committee: "You know the FBI are done with the president."
There appear to be leaks in the administration. The media has been forced into publishing stories with uncredited "sources," because nobody wants to be named. And all the while, Vice President Claire Underwood is quietly waiting for her turn at bat.
If this doesn't remind you of President Trump (who is most definitely hearing whispers of impeachment ever since he fired FBI Director James Comey during an ongoing investigation), and Vice President Mike Pence, licking his chops in the background... of course it does.
Then there's one of my personal favorite lines in Episode 12; when FBI Director Nathan Green is testifying before the judiciary committee, he says: "It's unthinkable to assume the FBI would involve itself in the election."
Said without a trace of irony. Beautiful.
Sadly for the people of Syria, House of Cards' version of the world does not appear to be any easier for them. In Episode 12, Frank is meeting with Syrian officials in the White House to give them fair warning that the use of chemical warfare on civilians will simply not be tolerated. The impeachment whispers about Frank are getting louder, and he's hoping to distract the American public by turning their attention to the Middle East.
President Trump has been accused of attacking Syria in the wake of militant leader Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical warfare as a distraction from other serious issues in the White House.
These are simply a few examples, of course. You've got to watch Season 5 yourself to get the full, eerie picture.