Screw it, I’m too excited. I’m following Monday’s “Presidential Politics Meets Game of Thrones” post with a sequel. In celebration of the show’s seven seasons, seven hells, seven blessings, seven new gods, and seven kingdoms, here are seven more Game of Thrones quotes connected to modern politics.
1. Season 3, Episode 10
Joffrey Baratheon: “I am the KING! I will punish you!”
Tywin Lannister: “Any man who must say ‘I am the king’ is no true king.”
I am not the first person, nor will I be the last, to compare President Trump to King Joffrey. George R.R. Martin himself has said that Trump is basically Joffrey if he lived to old age, calling him, “just as petulant and irrational as he was when he was 13 in the books.”
Joking aside, I think the comparison is most apt in this quote, when Joffrey has to say about himself what shouldn’t need to be said. It feels right on the money — someone who’s so underconfident that they have to project overconfidence. Joffrey surely considered himself a very stable genius, too. And who can forget Joffrey’s baseless tough talk about challenging and defeating Stannis Baratheon? Does that remind you of anyone who has never been in a physical alteration that wasn’t scripted? “He doesn’t know me, but he would go down fast and hard, crying all the way.” Our
King President said that.
2. Season 2, Episode 7 — Jaime Lannister to Catelyn Stark: “So many vows. They make you swear and swear. Defend the King, obey the King, obey your father, protect the innocent, defend the weak. But what if your father despises the King? What if the King massacres the innocent? It’s too much. No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or another.”
Many Americans should feel Jaime’s frustration with the endless vows one is expected to make to maintain their honor. Some of them conflict. Progressives, for example, are expected to oppose this president in every way, yet his administration presides over rising wages, remarkably low unemployment, and he champions a withdrawal of American commitments across the world, all things progressives should applaud. What’s a progressive to do?
The left’s purity tests now demand countless political positions. A progressive must be for Medicare-For-All and the Green New Deal. A progressive must be pro-Palestine and anti-gun. A progressive must support abortion rights in all cases and conservative judges in none. A progressive must want to tax the rich more and pay CEOs less. A progressive must want to pay reparations. A progressive presidential candidate cannot be a tough prosecutor in their past. A progressive presidential candidate cannot be an experienced establishment politician. A progressive presidential candidate cannot have supported stop and frisk. And a progressive candidate should damn well be closer ideologically to Bernie Sanders than Hillary Clinton. Otherwise, far left progressives threaten to take their ball and go Green in November.
So many vows. And if one of these vows or broken? Boy, will you hear about it.
Meanwhile, a Republican President with 90% Republican support just sits back and waits for the Democratic knife fight to undercut his eventual opponent. All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again. (Whoops, wrong epic series.)
3. Season 5, Episode 7 — High Sparrow to Lady Olenna: “Have you ever sowed the field, Lady Olenna? Have you ever reaped the grain? Has anyone in House Tyrell? A lifetime of wealth and power has left you blind in one eye. You are the few, we are the many. And when the many stop fearing the few…”
Here, the High Sparrow warns one of the wealthiest people in Westeros that the impoverished masses will not tolerate the wealthy nobility for much longer.
You know what I find funny? That Republicans and Democrats think they are the “many” and the other the “few.”
Among the reasons Republicans sent Trump to the White House was to “drain the swamp” of the Washington elites who puppeteer our country. Republican America is large swaths of the south and Midwest, not to mention shouted down heroes in other places, standing up to the arrogant urbanites in the cities and capitals. It’s rugged individualistic patriots who resist the brash liberals that want to force their progressive values on proud conservatives in the heartland. No longer will they tolerate a handful of cities and news directors telling everyone what to think. They proudly voted for Donald J. Trump to usher in their 2016 rebellion.
Democrats, meanwhile, think it is they who are the many, Republicans the few. They complain about the 1% controlling most of the wealth and all of our politics. They point to the last five presidential elections, when the Democrat won the popular vote four times but only twice won the election. They might also point to pieces like this one, which outlines the disproportionate strength of sparsely populated rural states in picking the Senate, President, and judicial branch while the true majority watches in horror. As a result, many Democrats, in a dangerous trust of democracy, talk about their own revolution. Some even aim to abandon the Electoral College altogether. Perhaps the Senate isn’t too far behind.
So who is the few and who is the many? It depends on who you ask.
4. Season 2, Episode 3 — Varys to Tyrion Lannister: “Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall.”
In 1990, the political scientist Richard Neustadt, in his book “Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents,” argued that, perhaps surprisingly, most of the presidency’s power doesn’t come from the Constitution, and that instead the office’s influence mostly stems from the officeholder’s ability to persuade and bargain. Neustadt notes that much of the president’s Constitutional authority is hemmed in by needing Congressional authorization or judicial approval to do just about anything. Neustadt argues that the president’s true power comes from a combination of A) “bargaining advantages inherent in his job with which to persuade other [officials],” B) “the expectations of those other [officials] regarding his ability and will to use the various advantages they think he has,” and C) Congress’s “estimates of how his public views him and of how their publics may view them if they do what he wants.”
In other words, the president is only as powerful as other people perceive him to be. A shadow on the wall indeed.
President Trump wields enormous power with Congressional officials from Republican districts and states, all of whom recognize that dissension likely leads to a primary challenge and/or general election loss. However, as the midterms showed, a majority of the country no longer falls for the President’s bombastic shadow puppetry. I can’t imagine him having an effective remainder of his presidency — a circumstance he’ll of course use as a cudgel against the Democratic House in an effort to return redness to the chamber in 2021.
5. Season 4, Episode 4 — Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger) to Sansa Stark: “Always keep your foes confused. If they don’t know who you are, or what you want they can’t know what you plan to do next.”
It’s what I call the Beto O’Rourke strategy. Compared to other candidates, he’s more opaque on the issues. Perhaps taking a page out of the Obama 2008 playbook, O’Rourke would rather inspire a movement while not alienating people with specifics, rather than, like Elizabeth Warren, champion specifics while inspiring very few. He’s a liberal to some, but a moderate to others. He’s an idealist to those who want an idealist, but to a realist he’s a pragmatic Congressman with crossover appeal. People can project their own ideology onto his without much effort.
Meanwhile, he’s come out as a tireless campaigner. Across three days in Iowa he covered 800 miles (5 kilometers of which was a road race in which he paced a 7:48 mile). In the first week of his campaign, he held dozens of events across six states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania — in addition to his home state of Texas. It’s hard to know what his strategy is. We know that Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg will focus on Iowa. We know that Kamala Harris and Cory Booker will be strongest in South Carolina. We know that Bernie Sanders will likely win big in New Hampshire and will focus on Iowa in the meantime so he can hit the exacta. We know that Elizabeth Warren will aim to finish second to Sanders in New Hampshire.
But Beto? It’s hard to say. He can wait until January then decide to focus on Iowa, where his retail charm can win the state; or New Hampshire, where he can use the state’s special rules of allowing independents to vote in either primary to appeal to crossover voters by brandishing his moderate voting record to show he’s not an ideologue (like John Kasich did); or Nevada, where he’s the leading southwestern candidate in the race; or he can choose to run up the margin in the massive Texas Primary held on Super Tuesday. Or, he could spread his resources across all of the above.
It’s a potent candidacy. Except for Joe Biden, who hasn’t even declared, he’s the candidate with the broadest upside in the Democratic Primary. His chameleonic ideology is perfect for such a campaign. He is truly the Littlefinger of the 2020 Democratic Primary.
6. Season 2, Episode 2 — Salladhor Saan to Matthos Seaworth: “I’ve been all over the world, my boy, and everywhere I go people tell me about the ‘true god.’ They all think they found the right one.”
If you feel overly attached to a candidate or politician right now, I implore you to consider Salladhor Saan’s wisdom. Many people are certain their preferred candidate or politician is the best, but that means just about everyone is wrong. Chances are, you’re among them.
So please be open to others.
7. Season 4, Episode 3
Tywin Lannister: “Yes, you will become king. What kind of king do you think you will be?”
Tommen Baratheon: “A good king?”
Tywin: “I think so as well; you have the right temperament for it. But what makes a good king, hmm? What is a good king’s single most important quality?”
Tywin: “Baelor the Blessed was holy and pious. He built this sept. He also named a six year old boy High Septon because he thought the boy could work miracles. He ended up fasting himself into an early grave because food was of this world and this world was sinful.”
Tywin: “A good king must be just. Orys the First was just; everyone applauded his reforms, nobles and commoners alike, but he wasn’t just for long. He was murdered in his sleep after less than a year by his own brother. Was that truly just of him, to abandon his subjects to an evil that he was too gullible to recognize?”
Tommen: “No. What about strength?”
Tywin: “Yes, strength. King Robert was strong; he won the rebellion and crushed the Targaryen dynasty. And he attended three Small Council meetings in seventeen years of ruling, and he spent his time whoring, hunting and drinking until the last two killed him. So, we have a man who starves himself to death, a man who lets his own brother murder him and a man who thinks winning and ruling are the same thing. What do they all lack?”
Tywin Lannister: “Yes!”
Tommen Baratheon: “Wisdom is what makes a good king.”
Tywin Lannister: “Yes. But what is wisdom? A house with great wealth and fertile lands asks you for your protection against another house with a strong navy that could one day oppose you. How do you know which choice is wise and which is not? [Do you have] Any experience of treasuries and granaries? Or shipyards and soldiers?”
Tommen Baratheon: “No.”
Tywin Lannister: “Of course not. A wise king knows what he knows and what he doesn’t.”
I’m often asked who my preferred candidate in a race is. I usually reserve that opinion out of fear it could undermine this website. The closest I’ve come to directly addressing my ideology came in my 2016 election endorsement:
“If I were to endorse one of the two major candidates, nearly 60 percent of the country would think I’m some combination of misinformed, uneducated, gullible, and immoral. . . . [J]ust because two people disagree politically doesn’t mean one of those adjectives explains why. If I ever had to sum up my ideology, it’s that one’s intelligence or morality is not measured by the extent to which they agree with you on politics. We live different lives with different experiences while trusting different media sources of varying accuracy. There is virtual certainty someone out there is smarter and more informed than you and yet disagrees with your politics.”
I believe more strongly in that than I do in just about all of my personal political positions, most of which I don’t feel very strongly in at all. Instead, what I look for most in my leaders is what Tywin does — wisdom, and a willingness to listen to people who are smarter and might disagree. Four years ago, the candidate that came closest to that was probably John Kasich. In this election, it remains to be seen who shows the kind of wisdom I’m looking for. My earliest hunches are Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, but we’ll see.
Bonus! Here’s an eighth quote to celebrate Game of Thrones’s Season 8, which is now just TWO DAYS away!
Season 5, Episode 1
Tyrion Lannister: “What is it you want, exactly?”
Varys: “Peace, prosperity. A land where the powerful do not prey on the powerless.”
Tyrion Lannister: “Where the castles are made of gingerbread and the moats are filled with blackberry wine? The powerful have always preyed on the powerless. That’s how they became powerful in the first place.”
Varys: “Perhaps, and perhaps we’ve grown so accustomed to horror, we assume there’s no other way.”
A few people called me out for the depressing pessimism found at the end of Monday’s piece. Here’s my attempt at redemption.
I think there’s a real possibility that our discourse bottoms out with this President. Considering our recent pre-Trump downward trends with political divisiveness, entertainment and news tastes, and social media echo chambers, he is no less than we deserve as a society. Perhaps, however, his presidency will make us so sick of his approach that we’ll welcome the next president, Republican or Democrat, like much needed silence after a loud concert. And then we’ll realize we like the silence more. That can be the start of us coming together again — not politically, of course, but at least emotionally. It seems unlikely, but maybe that’s just because we’ve grown accustomed to the horror.
I mean, it’s possible… right?
Enjoy Thrones this weekend!