“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
These are the words spoken by every US president before they take office. It is an oath that has been heard by hundreds of millions of people, echoed by 44 men. It is a promise to the people of the United States that they will work in their elected position with dignity and integrity, a promise to uphold the values and laws laid out in the nation’s constitution. In “Enemies: The President, Justice, and the FBI,” a new four-part documentary from directors Jed Rothstein (“Made in America”) and Alex Gibney (“The Clinton Affair”), it is a promise that is often broken.
“Enemies” follows four of the biggest presidential controversies of the past 50 years. It starts with Nixon’s Watergate scandal, then progresses into the Iran-Contra Deal and the Clinton trials before ending on Trump’s Mueller probe and the accusations of election interference from Russia. Trump is only named as the subject of a single episode, but his presence is obvious and available in each of the series’s episodes. A newscast recapping the beginning of Russian meddling at the Democratic National Convention cuts to a ’70s anchor reporting the DNC at Watergate had been bugged. Clips of Trump denying Russian collusion fade to Reagan denying a hostages-for-arms deal. Trump complaining about a “witch hunt” turns into Clinton being questioned about Monica Lewinsky. There is no doubt as to why a series on presidential scandals is being released in 2018.
Based on the novel “Enemies: A History of the FBI” by Tim Weiner, a former correspondent to The New York Times, “Enemies” is not trying to offer analysis or an opportunity for viewers to think deeper. The series is essentially a history lesson from a cool, young professor. It tells viewers the information they already know but this time accompanied by effective graphics and compelling interviews.
This is not to say the show is not worth your time. As headlines become more shocking by the day, “Enemies” reminds us that not all that much has changed. There was a time people never thought the president would think of himself above the law, until he did. A time they didn’t think a beloved leader would collude with international enemies, until he did. A time no one thought an offensive man with no political experience and an insatiable ego would be elected, until he was.
“Enemies” gives viewers the tools necessary to challenge the outdated sentiment that a president must be trusted and respected. There is no reason to trust a man that seems like he has something to hide. There is no reason to respect a man that breaks his word to the people that gave him his job. We are taught since elementary school that the president is the most highly regarded figure in our society, the leader of the free world. That one day, we too can be president. “Enemies” asks: Why would we want to be? The past five decades has seen an incredible amount of corrupt leadership, and that is just those who got caught. Perhaps it’s time to stop telling kids that they can be congressmen or senators or even the president, and instead encourage them to be the ones that hold those people accountable.