THE REAL LESSON OF ROGER STONE
As Nixonian intrigue once again darkens the halls and offices of the White House, it seems an appropriate time for a documentary profile of a political operative with ‘Tricky Dick’ tattooed on his back. Among other indelible marks left in his infamous career as a dirty Republican trickster and lobbyist for dictators, notably, Roger Stone has proved that it is more fun playing the villain in politics, just as in acting. In fact, Stone would probably see little difference between the two professions: the bottom line is after all — can you entertain the people? NETFLIX’s GET ME ROGER STONE traces the slash-and-burn hijinks of this “sinister Forrest Gump of American politics” as he’s described by New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin, and in particular, his connections and early influence on his longtime friend President Donald J. Trump. Beside their mutual obsession with winning at all costs (short of breaking the law), it was Stone as strategist who saw the upside of the reality TV star’s popularity back in 2000 and its parallels to Reagan’s B-movie heroic appeal. In the film, Stone boasts that he was like a jockey who had identified Trump as a prime piece of horseflesh. Unlike many of Trump’s other cronies, Stone wasn’t able to join his former client in the Winner’s Circle of Washington and was instead fired from his campaign.
More than anything, the doc’s colorful romp through Stone’s greatest and worst political “hits”, confirms Stone’s status as vaudeville bogeyman of the American scene. Put another way, despite his bravado, bile and wit, Stone is more last resort than first call when it comes to his utility, having earned a reputation as a “Me First” guy in the “America First” crowd. While Donald Trump crows about Roger’s talents in the film, he has stated elsewhere that he is a “stone-cold loser…who takes credit for things he hasn’t done.” A libertine more concerned with padding out his Wikipedia page and ultimately his New York Times obituary with as much outrage and scandal as possible. Never a real power broker, Stone shows one how to get to rich by being (morally) bankrupt. A symbol of the House of Cards cynical swamp that Washington has come to appear from outside the Beltway, a running soap opera of vicious skullduggery, influence-peddling, dysfunctional infighting and entrenched corruption. And for that reputation, he’s damn proud. He wants to be remembered for being nothing less than a razor wire in the side of the democratic process.
While Roger’s rules (“Attack, attack, attack, never defend”) structure the film and read like a Machiavellian playbook for Trump and the post-fact age, his real lesson is class warfare as a powerful tool and political weapon. Back in his days working on the Reagan campaign, he identified the strategic value of “Reagan Democrats” — white working class voters disillusioned and betrayed by the Democratic Party. These same voters who helped Trump into the highest office in the land. Perhaps because of his fringe political status, Stone has been throwing gasoline on this populist fire against the “liberal elite” for decades. Most recently, with InfoWars conspiracy-monger Alex Jones. When asked what core political idea he shares with Trump, he easily replies in the back of a limousine, “Anti-elitism.”
As party leaders and media personalities on both sides of the aisle seem determined to fight culture wars rather than offer policy proposals that will improve the lives of ordinary people, one can expect Stone’s phone will keep ringing.