Here's the best conspiracy theory you'll hear all day (among the many coming out of the White House): None of this is happening.
Everything since the 2016 presidential election is just b-roll for a parody movie about the American presidency. Our actual president is dancing with Annette Bening at state dinner. Our president is balancing the federal budget with common sense. Our American president is kicking ass on Air Force One.
Like most people these days, I rely on movies to feel anything close to a real emotion. When it comes to political fervor, most of my passion for democracy comes from watching movies about fictional presidents, preferably with excellent cinematography and unrealistically attractive actors who recite Aaron Sorkin lines in bold pant suits during dramatic "walk-and-talk" tracking shots. Who hasn't closed their eyes and pretended The West Wing's Martin Sheen was running America with his soft, uncular gaze?
But rather than analyze what that says about my and most Americans' civic values (or the fact that 96.5 percent of us don't give a f**k about democracy, according to a recent Yale study), I'm going to keep searching for the next great American president in my Netflix queue.
These are the best fictional American presidents (and their finest moments).
Michael Douglas plays President Andrew Shepherd in Aaron Sorkin's 1995 film. Annette Bening plays Sydney Ellen Wade, a passionate lobbyist for Earth-saving environmental legislation (pre-Greta Thunberg and climate scientists finally b*tch-slapping us in the face")–who becomes the POTUS's girlfriend.
If you haven't watched President Shepherd's affirmation of democracy and human decency in the face of political subterfuge, then you're missing one of the finest speeches in American rhetoric to ever win an Oscar:
"America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight," he declares in his national address.
"It's gonna say, 'You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.'
"…We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections."
What is it about disaster movies that used to bring such solace? Was it witnessing unity in the face of adversity? Was it the emotional gravitas of humanity's final reckoning? Was it all the really cool explosions?
More importantly, whatever happened to major studios' steady roll-out of disaster movies every year? Oh, that's right. We're Living in One.
As much as Donald Trump wishes he had the charisma of Bill Pullman, President J. Whitmore's inspiring speech at the end of 1996's Independence Day is too iconic to forget:
"We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests.
"Perhaps it's fate that today is the 4th of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom, not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution—but from annihilation. We're fighting for our right to live, to exist."
Americans coming together in order to survive a global catastrophe? Utterly preposterous (literally: Americans are more politically divided over the current global health crisis than other advanced countries).
But Mimi Leder's 1998 movie gave us his majesty Morgan Freeman as President Tom Beck. Freeman's solemn speeches make this mediocre disaster movie a must-see.
"Millions were lost, countless more left homeless, but the waters receded. Cities fall, but they are rebuilt. And heroes die, but they are remembered," he says.
"We honor them with every brick we lay, with every field we sow, with every child we comfort and then teach to rejoice in what we have been re-given. Our planet, our home. So now, let us begin."
A classic American Everyman doing a better job running the government than the elected official? What madness.
In Ivan Reitman's 1994 Oscar-nominated movie, Kevin Kline is Dave, and Dave is all of us. He also happens to be the doppleganger for the president of the United States.
Among the movie's most memorable scenes is when Dave Kovic, an "affable temp agency owner," owns the sh*t out of the presidential cabinet by balancing the federal budget with common sense and basic math.
In this small movie you've probably never heard of, President James Marshall is played by Harrison Ford, a small screen actor you've also probably never heard of.
Wolfgang Petersen's 1997 action movie finds the POTUS and his family held hostage by communist radicals on Air Force One. While the American government rallies to rescue the president, he decides to just start kicking ass. Later, in an off-the-cuff speech, he decides to stop acting like a polite politician and act like a leader.
"And tonight, I come to you with a pledge to change America's policy. Never again will I allow our political self-interests to deter us from doing what we know to be morally right," he says. "Atrocity and terror are not political weapons. And to those who would use them: Your day is over."
In a year when reality feels so much more surreal and dystopian than fiction, movie presidents encourage us to keep believing in impossible governmental ideals–like fair democracy, equal rights, and not being assholes.