Monday, 11 July 2016


George Clooney bewares "The Ides of March"
by Alex Kirillov

The Ides of March is a haunting and prescient 2011 film that chronicles the rise of Pennsylvanian Governor Mike Morris, played by George Clooney, as he makes his way through the Democratic primaries. Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Meyers, Morris’s junior campaign manager. Early in the film, during an informal get together with his fellow campaigners and members of the press Meyers admits his personal conviction in support of Morris’s policies, and more significantly, in Morris himself as a genuine avatar of these views.

The next day, Meyers is contacted by Tom Duffy, the campaign manager of Morris’s opponent and asked to meet at a bar. Out of curiosity Meyers agrees. Duffy’s motivation for the meeting is to offer Meyers a job in the rival campaign. Because he believes very strongly in Morris, holding him to be a different type of candidate, one that eschews the usual disingenuousness of politics, Meyers declines the offer.

Tied in with this narrative is a secondary storyline in which Meyers becomes romantically involved with a campaign volunteer named Molly. Not long into their affair Meyers discovers that Morris has also carried on an affair with Molly and has impregnated her. Meyers panics and pays for an abortion then instructs her to leave the campaign and return home. After returning Molly to her hotel room from the abortion clinic Meyers experiences a shock when Morris’s senior campaign manager, Paul Zara, fires him for meeting with the rival candidate’s campaign manager, an act that Zara sees as intrinsically disloyal. Frantic, Meyers immediately goes back to Duffy to accept the job offer and is told that the meeting was just a ruse to cause Meyers to run afoul of his boss and get kicked off the campaign.

Ryan Gosling as the increasingly frantic Stephen Myers.

The dramatic arc of the story occurs when Meyers checks his voice mails that evening and discovers that he missed several frantic calls from Molly, He rushes to her hotel room only to find that she has committed suicide with prescription medication. This leads to a confrontation between Meyers and Morris in which Meyers threatens to reveal the affair if he is not put in charge of the campaign. Morris attempts to call Meyers’s bluff, but Meyers claims to be in possession of a suicide note left by Molly. Not willing to risk the scandal, Morris caves and fires Zara and rehires Meyers as the senior campaign manager. The film ends with Meyers preparing for an interview as he listens to Morris conclude a speech about integrity. The audience is left to ponder the depths of betrayal and corruption that have paved the way for Morris’s political success.


The most important thing to bear in mind regarding The Ides of March is that it is NOT a work of cultural-Marxist propaganda. In no way does the film explicitly, or even implicitly command its audience to subscribe to the liberal agenda espoused by Morris (an agenda which is identical to the one espoused by Clooney in real life). No, The Ides of March is unique because it naturally assumes its audience to be an active participant in the liberal hegemonic mindset.[i] The film offers no pretense of a counter-argument that could be made against this mindset: these attitudes are naturally assumed to be what everyone watching the film actually wants, and Clooney’s Morris is the too perfect idealization of these attitudes in human form.

If we consider when the film was made, Liberal/Marxist tenets really were exhibiting a near total domination of the political narrative. Obama was firmly entrenched in his first term of office, the nascent alt-right had no public vehicle to voice its dissent, and political correctness went relatively unchallenged. The time and mood was perfect for the more politically active members of Hollywood to publicly interrogate their beliefs, or more precisely, the political machinery in which those beliefs operate.

The behavior shown in the film is not merely the Left’s lording its dominance over the rest of us; it isn’t necessarily the result of them overplaying their hand either. By showing these events on film, the Left was actually staging an act that orthodox Marxists call “self-criticism.” This idea of political self-interrogation is not unusual, drawing on the same kind of dogmatism that religion does, since devout adherence to Marxism requires that party members who have diverged from the dictates of the party leadership publically confess then renounce their ideological transgressions.

Historically, this process was more often the product of coercion than a sincere act of penance. The clearest analogy to this that we can find in organized religion is the Catholic sacrament of confession; this is an analogy that explains the strength of the religious conviction that links Marxism with Christianity, however, two distinctions must be noted: for the Catholic, confession is a private affair and it is an act of the faithful, not the product of coercion.

Nevertheless, both belief systems espouse this practice in the abstract and see it as universally applicable; that is to say, no one is exempt. Hence, even card-carrying liberal elites have an intuition towards this form of self-flagellation and iconoclasm because it is innately built into the fundamentals of their ideology. The demands of self-criticism varied from regime to regime, nowhere however, were the religious connotations of self-criticism as evident as they were in the Asian countries. Under Mao’s rule, self-criticism was mandatory, even in the case of dissidents who had already been sentenced to death.[ii] In Cambodia, self-criticism was called rien sot, which translates into English as “religious education,” and was ritually performed on a semi-nightly basis.

The intuition of this sort of self-interrogation being the result of one party’s excess of political capital, or clout, is not an entirely accurate assessment. We have to pay attention to which side is using this excess as license for interrogation. It is always the Left. Just as the Left subverts the west and its traditional values, so does it subvert its own leaders, a situation that essentially signifies the deep connection between theoretical Marxism and contemporary liberalism. I believe that Clooney (who produced the film) and his cohorts might not have explicitly known that they were participating in the time-honored tradition of their ideological forefathers, and instead acted instinctively. I also believe that since it was being staged within the filmic medium they felt, unlike their ideological forefathers, that it was a harmless exercise, one that would make for great entertainment.

It is not merely entertainment that is being sought here, however. Instead, the filmmakers are going on a journey of introspection and they are intent on dragging a willing audience along with them. Just toying around with lower tier political intrigue gives the self-critical method a point of entry into the discourse; to a small extent it demands that the viewer evaluate and gauge all of his venal transgressions against the principles of diversity and tolerance. The more high-grade mortal sins are dealt with in the abstract, e.g., the one on one confrontation between Morris and Meyers following Molly’s suicide –the revelation of Morris’s duplicity is a veritable "dark night of the soul" for the liberal consciousness.

This brings us to the topical relevance of this review: does Donald Trump’s firing of Corey Lewandowski in favor of Paul Manafort, in any way mirror the plot of this movie? It can be argued that this real-life inversion of roles: the young firebrand being replaced by the seasoned political insider, is the way such power plays occur on the conservative side of the fence, thus insinuating that despite apparent subversion and back-stabbing, the left inevitably yields to a younger, more vigorous element. To read current events in relation to the film in this way would be to neglect the fact that this amoral positing of youthful succession is entirely contrary to the film-makers’ intentions.

Trump's own "Ides of March" moment?

The film is not test-marketing Morris’s policies with the general public -it tacitly assumes these views are ostensibly correct. Instead it is vetting the idea of whether or not a politician who charismatically presents these views to the public can overcome the corrupt machinery of U.S. politics. The film’s answer to this question is “no” and in this way it falls back on another a tenet of revolutionary political action, one that transcends the particular policies at stake, i.e., the overhauling of the political system as a whole.

Overhauling the system in a complete and transparent way is something that might have seemed more feasible at an earlier stage in the 20th century than it does now. Having passed through the various stages of modernism that have occurred since the end of WWII the question is now framed in terms of changing the political “climate.” I don’t believe this to be a mere substitution of terms, though. I believe this change in terminology amounts to a change in approach and strategy, a change that has been steadily evolving over the internet.

Because this change has been most dynamic on the Right and not the Left, the cultural climate is polarizing individuals in a way that a normal election season could not. This ultimately works in the Right’s favor, since that is the side which has always advocated direct and transparent action over muddled obfuscation. Read correctly, The Ides of March is not about American politics in general, it is an indictment of the obfuscation and corruption that has arisen in the wake of the left’s seizure of power. Of course this reading is entirely opposed to the filmmakers’ intentions. This reading and its successful import however, is indicative of a shift in the power dynamic that has actually occurred.

The Left did not over-expend its political capital; instead, it misunderstood the political dynamic at a fundamental level. It is for this reason that we cannot legitimately read the political implications of the Lewandowski firing in terms of The Ides of March narrative. This is a reading that would give rise to the post-modern idea of life imitating art, because the real world has exhausted, or has always been depleted of originality. Instead, the correlation of the film’s plot with Lewandowski’s firing ought to be seen as purely coincidental. The fear of losing integrity, in the way that the Left frames the notion of integrity, is irrelevant to the populist message of the Trump campaign.

The populist message Trump represents is not a theoretical one that needs to be interrogated in the real-world in the way Marxist doctrine demands –these theoretical demands are what necessitate the practice of self-criticism. It is not an abstract universal that needs to be tested in particular, concrete situations. It is a set of universal generalizations that have been engendered by the actual and tested within the context of the actual. For this reason, these general policies can withstand ratification –they in fact have to be able to withstand it if they are legitimately borne out of concrete situations.

The transition from Lewandowski to Manafort is not emblematic of the innate corruption of the American political process, the self-perpetuating neurosis of groups like the Khmer Rouge or the Weather Underground, is not at play here. What is at play is political strategy. As Hillary pulls further to the left to win over disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters, Trump needs to hone closer to the center in order to pick up the voters left in the wake of Hillary’s shift. Manafort is the kind of professional strategist needed for this transition. Trump sees this and he acts, without hesitation or self-doubt.
[i] This “bandwagon” type of marketing is itself a form of propaganda, however, the particulars of this are not relevant enough to warrant an in-depth examination.
[ii] Note the eerie similarity to cases where convicts on death row are granted a visit with a chaplain, and in the case of Catholics the sacrament of confession, prior to execution.


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