Waiting for Jack Bauer
Let's imagine Trump's willful and treacherous non-response to the pandemic as a reboot of "24."
SINCE POSTING “Tinker, Tailor, Mobster, Trump” and “From Trump to tRUmp”—two deep dives into Donald John Trump’s relationship to organized crime and law enforcement—I’ve been asked the same question: Why didn’t they stop him? If the FBI and CIA knew what Trump was, why did they allow him to take the White House? And, more pressingly: why don’t they expose him now, as his willful neglect of the covid-19 response threatens to kill a quarter million innocent American civilians?
The answer is complicated. I’ve discussed it at length with the pseudonymous mob expert known as Lincoln’s Bible. The plan is to do another interview with her, hopefully for next week, where we go through all the nuances.
For today, though, I thought it might be instructive to present the intelligence community’s internal conflict as a piece of fiction. Specifically, as a pilot episode of a 2020 reboot of the TV show 24. It is not my intention to make light of the precarious situation in which the nation now finds itself, which could not be more dire. And I am aware that by rendering this very real situation as a very made-up show, I risk making the whole thing seem as unbelievable as…well, as any season of 24.
With that caveat, here’s what happens in the pilot of 24 (2020):
October 23, 2016. Night.
We open in the dimly lit office of George Mason (Armie Hammer), the chief of the LA bureau of the Counter Terrorism Unit. He is tall, handsome, dapper, bespectacled, but a bit on the nerdy side. With him is Nina Myers (Tatiana Maslany), the CTU’s resident Russia expert. She’s petite and pretty, with dark hair and eyes that smolder with intensity, but she, too, is something of a nerd.
Mason has just received a cable from Langley, and he’s relaying the incredible contents: the Republican candidate for president, a serial bankrupt who played a successful businessman on a “reality TV” program, is actually an asset of the Russians—both the Russian mob and the Russian government. The candidate is so in hock to his owners that, once installed, he will have no choice but to follow every command issued by Moscow. George sets down the cable, shakes his head. “This can’t be real. It’s too over-the-top.”
“What do you think, it’s an April Fool’s joke? If it’s in a cable like that, George, it must be legit. And from what I’ve observed, almost inevitable. Moscow’s plan since Khrushchev was to destroy us from within.”
But Mason is not convinced. “You know more about this than I do, Nina. I don’t understand. How can it be the mob and the government? That sounds like some crackpot conspiracy theory.”
Myers patiently explains to Mason that in mafiya states like Russia, the mob and the government are one and the same. “The candidate is a Trojan Horse,” she says. “Once installed—and the Russians will use every tool in their arsenal to make sure he wins, including cyberattack—the candidate will work to destroy the United States from the inside: dismantling our institutions, corrupting the judiciary, sowing chaos, turning factions of the country against each other, weakening our alliances with NATO, and stealing as much of our money as he can.”
“That’s crazy,” Mason says. “That could never happen here.”
“Of course it could,” Myers says. “The analysts sure think so. Why else would they send the cable? That’s why we have to take action.”
But Mason refuses. “This is outside of our purview,” he says. “We deal with counter-terrorism, not counterintelligence. Our job is to protect the country from terrorists, not mobsters.”
Myers counters with the argument that “terrorism” is a broad category, and why isn’t a hostile foreign power installing a puppet in the White House a terrorist attack?
But Mason won’t budge. “We cannot be seen as political,” he says. “We have to remain objective. There’s an election in three weeks!”
“And looking at the polls, your Manchurian Candidate is going to lose, bigly.”
“Yeah, but what if he doesn’t?”
“That’s enough. And Nina? Keep this between us.”
The credits roll, and we fast-forward to December, 2019. The compromised Republican candidate (played, in deference to fan service, by Kiefer Sutherland), has been the president for three years. Nina Myers’ forecast has come true. The republic has held on, but now there’s a clearer and more present danger: plague.
We are again in Mason’s office. A wreath on the door and a small Santa Claus on his desk tell us it’s Christmastime. As the outbreak of a novel coronavirus hits Wuhan, China, George Mason and Nina Myers receive a classified intelligence cable: the virus is bad, and it’s coming, and it’s going to kill hundreds of thousands if not millions of American civilians, unless the president responds appropriately.
“This virus,” Mason says, shaking his head in disbelief, “might kill more Americans that died in both World Wars.”
Myers is getting riled up. She’s moving around a lot, she’s talking fast. “We have to come forward with what we know,” she says. “We’ve done nothing for three years, and the republic is on the brink of falling.”
“It’s not our job,” Mason says. “We must remain apolitical.”
“But people are going to die, George.”
“You think I want people to die? Our hands are tied, Nina. You know how the game is played.”
Nina calms down, pretends to agree, wishes George happy holidays. But once she leaves his office, she practically runs to the parking lot.
Cut to: Nina Myers is back in her apartment. Waiting for her is her lover, the very alpha-male Jack Bauer (Michael B. Jordan)—who is also the best and most Dirty Harry-like agent in the CTU. As soon as she closes the door, he’s all over her, tearing the zipper on her skirt in his haste to take it off. He picks her up in his muscular arms and conveys her to the bedroom, a modest, austere affair. She wants to continue, but she can’t.
“Wait, Jack. There’s something I have to tell you.”
“You’re not pregnant, are you?”
“No, it’s nothing like that. Unfortunately.”
[Break for commercial. Our show is sponsored by Steak-Umms, the most self-aware frozen meat product in all the land]
We’re back from the break with a close shot of Jack’s astonished face. “We knew this whole time, and did nothing?”
“Mason thought the truth would come out by other means,” Nina says. “The Special Counsel’s report. The impeachment inquiry and trial. The exposes in the press about the president’s crimes: emoluments, extortion, association with pedophiles. But we were thwarted at every turn.”
“Thwarted? Thwarted how?”
“The Attorney General is in the bag. He’s also owned by the Russians—or he may as well be. The AG shut down the Special Counsel’s investigation and stymied the report. He won’t allow the good stuff to be seen by anyone—not even the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. This was something we did not anticipate.”
The camera angle changes. Nina pulls the sheet up over her now-naked body. “The Republican Senators are controlled by the president, so they, too, are manipulated by the Kremlin. They wouldn’t even allow witnesses at the impeachment trial, let alone vote to remove the president for high crimes and misdemeanors. Again—were we really supposed to anticipate that an entire political party would have been infiltrated by the Russians? How could anyone have seen that coming?”
“What about the press?”
“The president has beaten up the press for so long, no one knows what to believe anymore. Most of the media is terrible, and when a big story does come out, it gets lost in the churn of the news cycle.”
“And the judges?”
“The president put two of his own guys on the Supreme Court. One of them is a degenerate gambling addict who will do whatever he’s told. One of the other nine is so submissive to his wife, he will do whatever she commands, and she’s a big fan of the president.”
“Is she with the Russians, too?”
“No, the radical Christians. She thinks the president will bring about the Rapture.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
Bauer is out of bed now, almost dressed. He makes a big show of checking the ammo on his gun before putting it in his holster.
“Where are you going? We didn’t even finish.”
“To see Mason. This won’t stand, Nina. It won’t stand!”
“Shouldn’t we finish? We might be in quarantine soon…”
Back in the office: George, after making sure he’s alone, picks up the phone, places a call. “Hi, Roger, it’s George Mason. Yeah, I want you to move some money around. I want you to sell my stocks. Which stocks? All of them. Sell them all, and put the money in T-bills and gold futures. No, I’m not kidding. Yes, merry Christmas to you, too.”
Bauer bursts into the room, followed by Myers.
“What the hell, George?”
After some testosterone-fueled shouting, the two men begin to debate the current situation.
“We have been taken over, George! Taken over! The President of the United States is a puppet of the Kremlin. Somehow we’ve managed to survive this long, but with this pandemic on the way, we can’t sit on our hands any longer. He’s going to do nothing, George. He’s going to stand down and do nothing, because that’s what Moscow wants!”
Now it’s Mason’s turn to interpose. He stands, and while bookish, he’s a few inches taller than Bauer, and more athletic that he first appeared. “So what do you propose we do?”
“We open the file.”
“Open the file?”
“Hold a press conference,” Bauer says, “release the president’s file to the news media, and tell the American people the truth.”
“The truth? You mean, that we’ve known about this for years and didn’t do anything to stop it? That truth?”
“A million Americans will die, George. The president will see to that. We don’t have the luxury of worrying about blame right now, or who did what when. We have to act!”
Mason wants to a sideboard, opens it, takes out a bottle of rye whiskey and three glasses. He brings them to his desk and fills all three. “It’s late,” he says. “You’re amped up. I get it. Take a deep breath, and really consider what you’re proposing.” He gestures at the glasses, takes his, downs it.
Neither Jack Bauer nor Nina Myers go for theirs.
“If we release what we know,” Mason says, “our adversaries will learn about our human and signal intelligence collections techniques. The lives of our informants and spies will be in danger. We can’t release the file without spilling the secrets. We have to preserve that, Jack. You know this. Without an adequate intelligence apparatus, how can we defend the country?”
“If we don’t do everything we can to expose this president, and to fight back against our Russian enemies,” Bauer says, his eyes Clint Eastwooding, “there’s no country left to defend.”
He downs his glass of whiskey, and powers out of the room. Nina Myers shoots Mason a look of disgust and follows her man.
“Wait,” Mason says, “where are you going?”
Close shot on Bauer’s face. He looks angry, but resolute. “Where am I going? To save America.”
Pretty dramatic stuff, right? The problem is, while the conflict that I depict here—Should members of the intelligence community release the files and tell us what they know, and thereby violate the law and risk burning all those assets, or should they stay in their lanes and wait for the voters to remove Trump in November?—is very real, Jack Bauer is 100% fictional. No maverick counter-whatever agent like that exists. There’s no Jack Bauer, and there’s also no Command, no Jake, no B-613, no Ethan Hunt, no Jason Bourne, no individual in the entire IC that would be played by The Rock in the movie.
Consider: Robert Mueller, after spending many months investigating Trump, producing a 700-some-odd page indictment of his high crimes and misdemeanors, and knowing damn well about Trump’s past as a Confidential Informant, couldn’t muster one simple, declarative sound byte about Trump’s guilt—and that’s what we needed to hear. Mueller spoke in legalese, because he’s by the book. And he is representative of who we’re dealing with. These guys are not cowboys; they’re boy scouts.
Can the “Deep State” save us? Yes. Will they? Probably not. Godot will come before Jack Bauer does. We have to do this ourselves.
Note: As a diversion from the horror, I asked on Twitter who would play Jack Bauer in a 2020 reboot of 24. There were a lot of great suggestions, the top three being Kiefer Sutherland (irreplaceable), Idris Elba (would be amazing), and Michael B. Jordan (the winner). Other picks included: Emily Blunt and Regina King (Jack Bauer becomes Jackie Bauer; sure, why not), John Krasinski (already stars as an IC guy called Jack), Timothy Olyphant, Jeremy Renner, Karl Urban, Tom Hardy, and Rupert Friend. Any of them would be terrific. Thanks for the help!