You Don’t Need to Watch Game of Thrones — You Already Live in Westeros

George R.R. Martin’s dystopian kingdom bears an uncomfortable resemblance to a modern Washington.

National Journal
Patrick Reis
June 9, 2014, 1:10 a.m.

(Spoil­ers, prob­ably.)

West­er­os is a land in per­il. Wild­lings are march­ing on the north, the White Walk­ers’ un­dead horde is just be­hind them. Daen­erys Tar­gary­en’s strength grows in the east as she weighs a dragon-backed as­sault on the realm. And the long winter is com­ing, prom­ising mass death from fam­ine and freez­ing.

But West­er­os is also a land in deni­al. In­stead of pre­par­ing for the ex­ist­en­tial threats bear­ing down on them, the king­dom’s houses and lords are fix­ated only on an un­end­ing struggle for the Iron Throne. And while they squabble, the king­dom’s found­a­tion grows brittle from neg­lect. The Night’s Watch — no longer sup­por­ted by the ma­jor houses — is but the fac­sim­ile of a shield to guard the realm. The crown is near bank­ruptcy, kept solvent only through vast bor­row­ing and bad book­keep­ing. And dur­ing a har­vest sea­son that’s a mat­ter of life and death, fields lie fal­low as plow­shares are beaten back in­to swords and peas­ants con­scrip­ted as pike­men.

It’s bril­liant storytelling, but if Wash­ing­ton treats Game of Thrones as a work of pure fic­tion, it does so at its own per­il.

Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans are liv­ing in their own King’s Land­ing-style deni­al, ob­sessed with put­ting one of their own in the Oval Of­fice — and ob­li­vi­ous, or at least para­lyzed, to ad­dress a ter­ri­fy­ing con­ver­gence of ex­tern­al threats and in­tern­al de­cay.

The ana­logy is im­per­fect: There were far too few knif­ings to call it the “Red Cor­res­pond­ents Din­ner.” But the fun­da­ment­als are in place: Politick­ing is per­man­ent, policy-mak­ing is frozen.

And in each king­dom, that grid­lock comes at a price. West­er­os has the loom­ing winter. We have loom­ing warm­ing. But after three dec­ades of sci­ent­ists scream­ing for ac­tion, Wash­ing­ton’s biggest an­swer thus far has in­volved stretch­ing a 1970 stat­ute in­to piece­meal cuts to green­house gases.

West­er­os has Daen­erys. We have China (dragons, any­one?). And while the East­ern chal­lenger isn’t plan­ning an in­va­sion or any­thing like one, it is gear­ing up to be an eco­nom­ic com­pet­it­or. And to re­fuse to re­spond with in­nov­a­tions of our own is to gamble the eco­nom­ic su­prem­acy the Amer­ic­an middle class has long taken for gran­ted: the world’s highest stand­ard of liv­ing and a front-row seat for the new­est and neatest tech­no­lo­gies.

And the case for our own West­er­os-style eco­nom­ic mal­aise hardly mer­its ex­plan­a­tion. Lib­er­als and con­ser­vat­ives, take your pick: a grow­ing in­equal­ity, a fall­ing labor-force par­ti­cip­a­tion rate, a per­man­ent un­der­class, a de­cline in real wages, and a long-term debt pic­ture that the Iron Bank of Braa­vos wouldn’t touch.

There’s no con­sensus on what con­sti­tute Amer­ica’s biggest crises (polling sug­gests about half of you scoffed when I men­tioned cli­mate change) and there’s a deep di­vide over how to ad­dress them. But it has been four years since the Af­ford­able Care Act and Dodd-Frank be­came law, and since then, Amer­ic­an policy has been largely on auto­pi­lot. And there is re­mark­able con­sist­ency about what comes next when Wash­ing­ton de­clares there’s a crisis at hand and a le­gis­lat­ive an­swer is needed: noth­ing.

Im­mig­ra­tion? Noth­ing. Tax re­form? Noth­ing. Col­lapsing in­fra­struc­ture? Noth­ing. The hous­ing policy that baked Wall Street’s fin­ance bubble? Noth­ing.

Tuc­son, Au­rora, New­town, Navy Yard? Noth­ing, noth­ing, noth­ing, and noth­ing.

What we’ve had in­stead is a per­man­ent cam­paign. In the run-up to the 2012 elec­tion, sen­at­ors from both parties prom­ised that once the next four years of Oval Of­fice ten­ure were settled, Con­gress would stop grap­pling and start gov­ern­ing. Two years later and in the twi­light months of the con­gres­sion­al ses­sion, policy-mak­ing is more sparse than ever, midterm cam­paign­ing is in full swing, and 2016 is already an ob­ses­sion.

Tempt­ing as it is, however, to blame our own Lan­nis­ters and Tyrells, they’re not alone in turn­ing Wash­ing­ton in­to King’s Land­ing. Wit­ness the city’s col­lect­ive tit­il­la­tion over mi­cro-gaffes and mini-spats. Of­fer up a “Pal­in Slams Sharpton Con­demns Limbaugh Rips Obama Blasts Boehner” head­line, and the read­ers come run­ning. Ex­plore the nu­ances of an or­derly with­draw­al from Afgh­anistan, you’re whist­ling in the dark. And while journ­al­ists found time to scru­tin­ize every turn of An­thony Wein­er’s foibles, a fail­ing Vet­er­ans Af­fairs De­part­ment stayed hid­den in plain sight for dec­ades — at least un­til it be­came good fod­der for polit­ic­al at­tacks.

In both worlds, the dys­func­tion has eli­cited dis­gust. Mark Leibovich’s This Town was a softer scold­ing than when Tyri­on told the roy­al gal­lery that he wished for “enough pois­on” to end their “worth­less lives,” but they share an out­rage over their cap­it­al’s orgy of am­bi­tion and col­lect­ive derel­ic­tion of duty.

But in West­er­os, all is not lost. Without spoil­ing too much for those who aren’t nov­el read­ers, there are seeds of a clandes­tine co­ali­tion look­ing to put a be­ne­vol­ent ruler back on the throne.

And there’s hope for Wash­ing­ton as well. For all its well-earned scorn, the Cap­it­ol is not yet void of law­makers will­ing to look past the next elec­tion, and the city still hosts an army of an­onym­ous in­di­vidu­als sac­ri­fi­cing in sup­port of their ideals.

But the city also houses a le­gion of those who’ve suc­combed to the sirens of wealth, power, and fame — thinkers turned pun­dits and ideal­ists turned op­er­at­ives.

And in Wash­ing­ton, the pre­vail­ing polit­ic­al cul­ture is per­haps best cap­tured by Pe­tyr Bael­ish, who is far from West­er­os’s most evil res­id­ent but may be its most na­kedly am­bi­tious. To Bael­ish, life is a struggle for power, and any­one who be­lieves oth­er­wise is na­ive to the point of de­lu­sion.

“Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a lad­der,” Bael­ish says, lec­tur­ing a rival who la­ments West­er­os’s lack of states­man­ship and dis­miss­ing any hu­man in­stinct oth­er than the will to rule. “Only the lad­der is real. The climb is all there is.”

Gods help us if he’s right.

What We're Following See More »
PROCEDURES NOT FOLLOWED
Trump Not on Ballot in Minnesota
3 days ago
THE LATEST
MOB RULE?
Trump on Immigration: ‘I Don’t Know, You Tell Me’
3 days ago
THE LATEST

Perhaps Donald Trump can take a plebiscite to solve this whole messy immigration thing. At a Fox News town hall with Sean Hannity last night, Trump essentially admitted he's "stumped," turning to the audience and asking: “Can we go through a process or do you think they have to get out? Tell me, I mean, I don’t know, you tell me.”

Source:
BIG CHANGE FROM WHEN HE SELF-FINANCED
Trump Enriching His Businesses with Donor Money
5 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Donald Trump "nearly quintupled the monthly rent his presidential campaign pays for its headquarters at Trump Tower to $169,758 in July, when he was raising funds from donors, compared with March, when he was self-funding his campaign." A campaign spokesman "said the increased office space was needed to accommodate an anticipated increase in employees," but the campaign's paid staff has actually dipped by about 25 since March. The campaign has also paid his golf courses and restaurants about $260,000 since mid-May.

Source:
QUESTIONS OVER IMMIGRATION POLICY
Trump Cancels Rallies
5 days ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump probably isn't taking seriously John Oliver's suggestion that he quit the race. But he has canceled or rescheduled rallies amid questions over his stance on immigration. Trump rescheduled a speech on the topic that he was set to give later this week. Plus, he's also nixed planned rallies in Oregon and Las Vegas this month.

Source:
‘STRATEGY AND MESSAGING’
Sean Hannity Is Also Advising Trump
6 days ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump's Fox News brain trust keeps growing. After it was revealed that former Fox chief Roger Ailes is informally advising Trump on debate preparation, host Sean Hannity admitted over the weekend that he's also advising Trump on "strategy and messaging." He told the New York Times: “I’m not hiding the fact that I want Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States. I never claimed to be a journalist.”

Source:
×