A President and a Prophet

For years now I’ve been saying that David Simon is the most powerful prophet of our time. As a former beat reporter for the Baltimore Sun, he has gone on to show us a face of America that many of us want to ignore, through the medium of a television series called “The Wire.”

Here is how Simon described the message of that show back in 2007.

I am wholly pessimistic about American society. I believe The Wire is a show about the end of the American Empire. We are going to live that event. How we end up and survive, and on what terms, is going to be the open question.

We are in the postindustrial age. We do not need as many of us as we once did. We don’t need us to generate capital, to secure wealth. We are in a transitive period where human beings have lost some of their value. Now, whether or not we can figure out a way to validate the humanity of the individual, I have great doubts…

As for the characters on the program, their lives are less and less necessary. They are more and more expendable. The institutions in which they serve are indifferent to their existence…

The Wire is certainly an angry show. It’s about the idea that we are worth less. And that is an unreasonable thing to contemplate for all of us. It is unacceptable. And none of us wants to be part of a world that is going to do that to human beings. If we don’t exert on behalf of human dignity at the expense of profit and capitalism and greed, which are inevitabilities, and if we can’t modulate them in some way that is a framework for an intelligent society, we are doomed. It is going to happen sooner than we think. I don’t know what form it will take. But I know that every year America is going to be a more brutish and cynical and divided place.

Following President Obama’s re-election in 2012, Simon sounded a bit more optimistic in his predictions.

America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying, thank god, and those who relied on entitlement and division to command power will either be obliged to accept the changes, or retreat to the gated communities from which they wish to wax nostalgic and brood on political irrelevance…

Hard times are still to come for all of us. Rear guard actions will be fought at every political crossroad. But make no mistake: Change is a motherfucker when you run from it. And right now, the conservative movement in America is fleeing from dramatic change that is certain and immutable. A man of color is president for the second time, and this happened despite a struggling economic climate and a national spirit of general discontent. He has been returned to office over the specific objections of the mass of white men. He has instead been re-elected by women, by people of color, by homosexuals, by people of varying religions or no religion whatsoever. Behold the New Jerusalem.

Now…imagine if the President of the United States sat down with such a prophet and started off by saying that he was a “huge fan of The Wire” and that it was “one of the greatest pieces of art in the last couple of decades.”

Yeah, that happened.

I would have loved for this interview to go on another hour or two. But the fact that it happened at all is profound. Ultimately, it raised a question for me: Why would President Obama choose to do it now? I suspect that he’s setting the stage and laying the groundwork…somethin’s up.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.