‘Foyle’s War’ Predicted the US Capitol Attack Six Years Before It Happened
It was almost six years ago to the day that a fictional series on British television warned of the January 6th mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.
When the episode was broadcast in the United States on January 11, 2015, few regarded the man who would become 45th president of the United States as anything other than tabloid fodder. He was a real-estate playboy, bankrupt casino owner, a blowhard who spent $85,000 on newspaper ads calling for the death of five innocent Black and Latino teenagers accused of raping a white jogger, and more recently, the host of a reality TV show. Hardly the stuff of a successful run for the White House. And yet.
After he reached the Oval Office, history recorded his numerous threats to democracy. A short but by no means inclusive list:
· Daily attacks on the free press
· Multiple Friday night firings of watchdog inspectors general
· Several public statements praising totalitarian leaders
· The repudiation of checks and balances
· The false claim that presidential power is unlimited
· The Muslim travel ban
· The putative quid-pro-quo with Ukraine’s president, which led to his first impeachment, and
· The use of tear gas against American citizens for the sake of a photo op.
The 45th president once published a book called The Art of the Deal. But what he really mastered was the art of the demagogue. That is how he cultivated the latent resentments of a mostly rural political market and leveraged its loyalty against democracy itself.
Reasoned deliberation be damned
A demagogue, according to Webster’s and the Oxford English Dictionary, is a rabble-rouser, a leader who gains popularity in a democracy by exploiting emotions, prejudice, and ignorance to arouse some against others, whipping up the passions of the crowd and shutting down reasoned deliberation.
Isn’t that what the world witnessed on January 6t? A demagogue used his social-media accounts to call thousands of protesters to the nation’s capital. When they arrived, he whipped them into an emotional frenzy that led to an attack on the Capitol while Congress was in session to certify the election of the next American president.
He did this after exhausting every legal and judicial remedy available under the law. When those legitimate exertions failed to produce evidence that would document his unfounded and unproven claims of voter fraud, he threw a tantrum that was acted out by a mob of his own creation.
Six years earlier, in an episode appropriately and prophetically titled “Trespass,” the British TV series Foyle’s War demonstrated how a demagogue could do just that. Curiously, the rabble-rousing politician in that episode used a campaign slogan that echoed a similar one that would soon become familiar in the United States: Make Britain Great Again.
Just a few months later, on July 14, 2015, the Trump presidential campaign registered Make America Great Again as its trademark.
Although the fictionalized incident in the TV series uses racist hate speech and emotional issues germane to the British after World War II, it is impossible to view it today without seeing its similarity to recent events in the United States.
What happens right after that speech, as the demagogue and his followers march into the streets carrying torches and breaking windows looks a lot like what happened in the United States two years later during the first year of the Trump presidency.
Although the film depicted a fictional incident 71 years earlier, its similarity to the Neo Nazi, far-right protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017, is undeniable. That’s when a 20-year-old Ohio man drove his car into a counter-protest, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others, five critically.
After it happened, the president said the unrest had “a lot of very fine people on both sides.” Should anyone be surprised that the same thing would happen on a much bigger scale at the US Capitol in the final days of this man’s time in office?
Congress was right to impeach this president, who failed to win the popular vote and never had the support of most Americans. But the damage had already been inflicted.
On December 4, 2020, the Director of National Intellegence John Ratcliffe, a Trump appointee, told CBS News that Americas’s foreign adversaries were amplifying voter-fraud allegations. While he was not at liberty to name specific countries, he was very clear that the intent of these claims was to undermine public confidence in our democratic processes.
The purpose of these attempts was the same as Russia’s during its interference in the 2016 presidential election. To sow discontent and divide the American people. That is how you damage a democracy. You instigate doubt and foment discord. You make it impossible for people to trust each other.
Division and distrust. That’s what our adversaries were seeking. How telling it is that a sitting American president accomplished these goals for them.
Watching Foyle during the Trump years
Part of what made Foyle’s War successful even before Trump rose to power was that its main character Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Foyle was a pillar of integrity, a man guided by truth. World War II had turned England upside-down. All able-bodied men were in the military. Women had gone to work. Daily necessities were rationed. London was beset with air raids and bombings.
The sense of right and wrong was thrown into uncertainty by the need to defeat Hitler. For a TV series to deploy a moral anchor in the middle of all that upheaval was nothing short of genius. The contrast gave viewers something to hold onto as questions of relative evil and circumstantial morality were put to the audience in every episode.
Then, as now, the world was filled with people who believed the end justifies the means.
The Trump presidency ushered in an Orwellian era of “alternative facts,” which the dictionary defines as post-truth. Facts no longer matter. Narratives do. Stories told by political actors either ignore the truth altogether or pivot to tell the story their audience wants to hear. One of the reasons for the multi-layered polarization of American society is that each audience is being sold an entirely different story. And no one is listening to the other’s narrative. Because each side believes the other side’s story is a lie.
Detective Foyle adheres only to hard evidence and concrete facts. During a time when the president of the United States made 30,529 false or misleading claims in 1,445 days, at least you could find a little ballast in a fictional TV character who cared about truth.
LA Times Culture Columnist Mary McNamara declared that she watched all eight seasons of Foyle’s War three times. And would probably watch them again. Not because she had to but because she loved them. I rarely rewatch a TV show, but I’m nearly finished with my second viewing of the Foyle seies.
Many viewers in the English-speaking world feel the same way, which is probably why there have been more than 30 thousand views of this short video mashup, based on Foyle and edited to Bette Midler’s “Fever. ”
This mashup tends to glamorize the short, widowed, 50-something detective, who is slightly overweight and has lost much of his hair. But it demonstrates how those who stand for truth and integrity tend to find their way into our hearts.
If “Trespass” is an instance of Art imitating Life, followed by Life imitating Art, it is also a warning of what happens when demagogues seize control of the public mind. It’s a sobering reminder that those who do not heed the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. When, oh when, will we learn?
© 2021 Andrew Jazprose Hill. All Rights Reserved
Beautiful cars and hats + some serious integrity = the art of Foyle’s War
Do visual and moral aesthetics go together like amputees and prosthetics?
And thank you for reading.