Several months ago I wrote a piece decrying the lack of great candidates running for the presidency. Over 100 years ago, James Bryce argued that the "great man" would have a difficult time getting elected in the United States. The current field will not likely test his thesis next Fall.
Since that time, like many throughout the country, I have been swept up with the second season of Fargo. This peculiar universe with interesting accents, rich character development, and dark humor has been an enjoyable escape from the real world of ISIS, gun violence, and bitter political partisanship (although each episode states that it "is a true story"). While I am looking forward to Monday's finale, I am also approaching it with a sense of dread. Few shows rival its epic feel, quirky sensibility, and playfulness.
Along with fantastic acting and writing, I believe the second season of Fargo has been so successful because it resonates with many of the goings-on in society today. Motifs of war, death, racism, looming danger, and even aliens (that's a whole other story) have been present throughout the season. Although not specifically dealing with the current world around us, it provides an outlet to deal with that world, in an entertaining way.
Over the course of the season, I have come to love many of the characters--some who are good, some who try to do good and fail, and some who are simply despicable. One character, however, can be seen as a particularly great man--Lou Solverson. Lou is introduced to us during the first season of Fargo as the retired state trooper who offers words of wisdom and provides counsel to his daughter Molly, who has followed in his footsteps. It is in the second season that we see Lou as a younger man; a man in the midst of his own "hero's journey." It is this man who I only wish were real and was running for President in 2016. We would then put Bryce's theory to the test.
Throughout the season, we have seen Lou exhibit many of the characteristics we pine for in our leaders. He has been tender, compassionate, and humorous. He appears to be a good family man--reading to his young daughter and being torn because he cannot do anything for his ailing wife. At the same time, Lou is a veteran of war and one who appears to have learned lessons during his time abroad. He is guileful, smart, and willing to put a bullet through a man's skull if the occasion warrants it.
A particularly telling episode (The Gift of the Magi) chronicles a stop by candidate Ronald Reagan in the Fargoverse. The "Great Communicator" is able to bring tough guy, Karl Weathers (aka Ron Swanson, aka Nick Offerman) to tears. The fictional Reagan drops great lines in this episode. For instance, he states that "there is not a challenge on God's earth that cannot be overcome by an American" and that Americans have "a rendezvous with destiny." When Lou asks candidate Reagan whether there is hope for his cancer stricken wife, we see that he has no answer. Reagan is absolutely clueless. The use of language can be a powerful tool to motivate and inspire. Yet, too often, politicians from the left and the right, offer quick quips that make us feel better, but are empty platitudes. As we search for answers in difficult times, we instead get shallow rhetoric that can fit on a bumper sticker.
One of the running themes of the second season of Fargo is desperation, futility, and hopelessness. Given the political backdrop of Jimmy Carter's malaise, this is especially understandable. Likewise, the barbarism of ISIS, fear of terrorism on the home front, and persistent concerns about the economy have frustrated many in our current environment. It is no coincidence Americans fell in love with the sanguine charms of both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. It is also no surprise that both have been criticized for offering more than they could possibly deliver.
As a character in a TV show, I fully recognize that Lou Solverson has no chance of becoming our next President. And yet, if a candidate exhibiting the characteristics, demeanor, and experience of Lou were to run for President, he or she would have just about as much of a chance to win as the fictional Lou Solverson. Bryce's contention that the great man (or woman) will not become President is alive and well. And this should be concerning to the American people. I would guess many would vote for such a candidate, but without strident views, hubris, and a pile of cash that person would never be on the radar of the electorate. Instead, we are left with a cast of millionaires who are celebrities in their own right.