Posted Saturday morning, January 20, 2018. Originally posted Sunday, October 8, 2017.
A tall tale with more than a grain of truth at its center…
Last night’s feature for Family Movie Night: American Made.
“Pick up and deliver”: Drug-smuggling, gun-running, money-laundering rogue pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise, left) swaps cash for information with future dictator of Panama Manuel Noriega at the behest of Seal’s controllers at the CIA in American Made, a modern day pirate movie that tells the true story behind the Iran-Contra Scandal…more or less.
American Made takes a relatively minor player in what became the Iran-Contra scandal, puts him in places and situations he wasn't actually in, exaggerates his exploits real and imagined, connects him with just about every historical personage who was even tangentially involved in the events, including people he probably never crossed paths with or had even indirect dealings with, and in the process makes him into a more important, romantic, and ultimately tragic character than he truly was.
The film transforms the corrupt and greedy one-time commercial pilot Barry Seal from a thuggish drug-dealing criminal into a modern day pirate, a direct descendant of Jack Sparrow, without Sparrow's style, wit, panache, and particular, attractive vanities, but with his own roguish charm, winning bravado, and particular attractive vanities. He's similarly both clever and dim, often at the same time, and just as cocksure. If Sparrow's the best pirate the British Navy of his day has ever seen, Seal is the best gun runner, drug dealer, and pilot an alphabet soup of U.S. law enforcement agencies, various Central American revolutionary and counter-revolutionary armies, and the Medallin drug cartel have ever seen. Like Sparrow, Seal gets away with it all because he is phenomenally lucky. His luck is practically a talent. The difference between him and Jack is that we know from Seal himself---he narrates his own story---that his luck is going to run out.
Good stuff. Makes for a good story, good fun, and a good movie. It's all fiction, though, even the parts of it that conform to what really happened. Which is fine with me, especially since it's told with a an implicit wink. We're not expected to take it face value. Maybe things didn't happen exactly like this, we can hear the filmmakers saying, but some things like this did happen.
And you can't argue with that because some things did, the main one being that the President of the United States countenanced if not directly ordered the selling of arms to an enemy nation in an attempt to finance bands of thugs, murderers, criminals, and rapists he'd convinced himself were democratic freedom fighters who would roll back the surging tide of communism in Central America. Quite probably in the process, the CIA was turned into one of the largest drug cartels in the the hemisphere.
The plot was criminal and treasonous, and the offenses impeachable. Reagan might very well have been impeached if it all hadn't come to light in the final two years of his presidency when Alzheimer's was beginning to take its toll and he was obviously failing mentally and physically.
Justice ultimately wasn't served, and not just in his case. Just about nobody involved paid a lasting or heavy price, Barry Seal and Pablo Escobar being two of the few exceptions. Oliver North got rich and famous out of it and continues to make money off the celebrity and Right Wing hero worship that came his way.
Iran-Contra has pretty much fallen out of the public consciousness, and American Made is unlikely to bring it back. That's unfortunate but not a weakness of the movie. It's not the job the filmmakers set for themselves. Anyway, it'd be hard to get audiences outraged at the crimes and treasons of a president nearly thirty years out of office and fourteen years dead when we're in the middle of dealing with the ongoing crimes and treasons of the living one currently in the White House.
But here's the point.
Four of the last six Republican presidents either ran their administrations as criminal enterprises or harbored and nurtured criminal enterprises within them. Nixon, Reagan, George W. Bush, and now Donald Trump.
You could argue it's five. I left George Herbert Walker off the list because I'm still not sure his one term shouldn't be counted as Reagan's third term and don't know how to judge whether or not the Iran-Contra conspiracy was continued by him. That he eventually pardoned everybody who needed pardoning is pretty damning.
But whether it's four or five, it's pretty damning of the Republican Party. It's indicative of Republicans' attitudes towards the law, governing, and democracy itself.
The law doesn't apply to them, only to others who get in their way. They can do whatever they want, run things any way they see fit. The country belongs to them and the only people's voices they have to listen to are those who say Yes, sir! to whatever they're told.
They can lie, stonewall, cover it up. They can get the money even though it would be wrong. They can trade arms for hostages with the enemy, arm and train death squads who will rape and murder nuns, and connive to start and fund wars even when there are laws that explicitly tell them they can't do it. They can lie us into wars of plunder and conquest and turn us into a nation of torturers. And they can foist upon us a presidency dedicated to enriching the president, his family, his senior aides and advisors, and anybody connected to them who has their eye out for the main chance.
They've done this literally, run the government as criminal enterprises, on large and small scales, at all levels of government, from town to state to federal.
They do it because they can. They do it because they think they have the right. They do it because they've convinced themselves it is right.
They do it, because if a Republican does it, it's not wrong.