Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Life Imitating Art, Or Something Like That

As the 2016 presidential campaign lurches on, it is comforting to know President Francis J. Underwood has been given his due.

Kevin Spacey as President Francis J. Underwood, by Jonathan Yeo; Smithsonian, National Portrait Gallery"

A properly somber portrait of the fictional President was unveiled this week in the National Portrait Gallery, just in time for the debut of season four of House of Cards on Netflix March 4. Presidents never pass up a photo opp.

Kevin Spacey, who portrays Underwood in the popular political drama, was on hand and in character for the unveiling. “I’m pleased that The Smithsonian continues to prove itself as a worthwhile institution,” intoned Underwood. “I’m one step closer to convincing the rest of the country that I am the President.” He should pass on his secrets to President Obama, who apparently needs to convince the Senate he is still has almost a full year left in office.

Smithsonian officials would like to sell the Underwood portrait, which was painted by British artist Jonathan Yeo, to someone who would donate it back to the National Portrait Gallery, where it could be publicly viewed in perpetuity. Or until there is a more outlandish candidate to post at the Gallery entrance. Suggestions, anyone?

It would only be idle speculation to suggest Underwood’s implausible rise to the most powerful position on earth inspired Donald J. Trump to undertake his own improbable quest for the White House.

Even if not, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Trump tweeting his displeasure that a fake president gets air time in the National Portrait Gallery and he doesn’t.

kevin-trump-split-zoom-e667f0fb-782a-4067-9e4f-79e450353860As it turns out, Underwood and Trump have some striking similarities. Neither seems committed to an overarching ideology. Both seem consumed by success. Both attended military school. Underwood is from South Carolina and Trump ran away with the South Carolina primary. Underwood pushed an expendable lover under a subway train. Trump said he wanted to punch a heckler in the face.

The fake President and the wannabe President have fluid, opportunistic political affiliations. Neither seem all that interested in policy discussions. Both are dealmakers who lust for power and cameo appearances on Saturday Night Live.

There are differences, too. Underwood schemed his way to the Oval Office while Trump appears to be talking his way there. [Can’t you hear Trump blasting Underwood’s dirty tricks with a modified version of the line he already used against Ted Cruz: “The two biggest liars I have ever dealt with.”]

House of Cards is unreality TV at its best. Trump is an example of reality TV gone bizarre. House of Cards made TV binge-watching a national pastime. Trump as the 2016 GOP presidential nominee has made some of the party faithful gag.

king-375372Comparing Underwood and Trump is complicated. Comparing Spacey and Trump is even trickier. There is no record Trump ever played King Richard III, but his harshest critics have compared him to Hitler.

In House of Cards, Underwood frequently treats his audience to a confidential aside as he looks directly into the camera. In his presidential campaign, Trump looks into the camera all the time.

Underwood displays little respect for constituents. Trump says he loves all the people in the states that have made him a primary or caucus winner. He says he especially loves “poorly educated people,” which according to polling is a major part of his electoral base. One analysis showed 20 percent of his supporters believe ending slavery was a bad idea.

frank-underwood-house-of-cards.pngSpacey’s latest venture is an acting class that people can take online through The class may appeal to Trump, pretty much for the same wrong reason that college guys enrolled in classes called “women’s studies.” However, Trump could actually use the class to brush up on his skills of acting presidential.

Life imitating art, or something like that.


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