Friday, October 28, 2016

Advice From A Hit Man

Three Days of the Condor (book and film) is a great example of the classic genre of the talented protagonist who is thrown into an impossible life and death situation and must survive by sheer wit against more powerful, ruthless experts in spycraft. Think Jason Bourne without the physique or training. In the 1975 film, Robert Redford plays the bookish Joe Turner, a low level CIA analyst who returns to the office mid-day to find all of his co-workers have been assassinated. At first Turner contacts headquarters for help, but in the rendezvous barely escapes alive. Realizing he has no place to hide and can not trust anyone, he kidnaps a total stranger, a woman returning to her apartment with groceries, to make her apartment a temporary safe haven for him as he lauches a one-man investigation.
The fascinating element that drives the plot of the film is the series of major adjustments that Turner realizes he must make in order to survive and attempt to bring the killers to justice.
One of the best lines of the film comes when Turner is confronted with the hired hit man Joubert played by Max Van Sydow, who had been after him, but did not have Turner on his hit list that particular day. Joubert tells Turner it is not safe for him to return to his life in New York City:

"It will happen this way. You may be walking. Maybe the first sunny day of the spring. And a car will slow beside you, and a door will open, and someone you know, maybe even trust, will get out of the car. And he will smile, a becoming smile. But he will leave open the door of the car and offer to give you a lift."

In the finale Turner announces to the CIA head of department that he has handed the New York Times the story, presuming they will print it, which will secure his safety and expose the rogue CIA operation. But will the NYT print it?
All through 2016 we have been receiving warnings about threats to democracy, threats to the republic, but we are not used to this. The American political system has been experiencing a slow motion crash for many years now, but the immediate effects have been accelerating this year with the Trump candidacy and the suspension of hearings on the Supreme Court nomination. Clueless pundits have described this as a "not normal" year of campaigning.  Other pundits have been more perceptive, describing the Trump candidacy as a normal extension of GOP campaign strategy going back decades. But few if any pundits are describing the only two possible outcomes: Either the Republican Party splits into two parties, or the democratic underpinning of our system collapses.

"It will happen this way. A candidate who knows nothing about policy will focus the debate on attacking personalities and will make wild claims about his own capabilities. He will belittle opponents and offer simple solutions to complex problems as he appeals to hate, fear, and resentment. He may even call for his followers to take matters into their own hands if he does not win the election. Moderate people will wait for other moderate people to take necessary action, but no one will."

We are a nation with many Joe Turners. Each day feels like the day before, but one day you wake up and everything has changed. Only terrible choices remain. Republicans who stick to the party no matter what happens in the Congress or the campaigns or who, like Paul Ryan try to have it both ways, placing short term perceived gain above long term impact.  Journalists who wake up every day trying to be objective, who define objectivity as maintaining balance, no matter what they observe. Eventually someday comes, and if you receive advice from a hit man, you need to take it.

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