The whole truth and nothing but: Two different views of our recent past

The whole truth and nothing but: Two different views of our recent past
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As we’ve often been warned, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. But to take this observation a step further, those who deliberately distort it deserve particular disdain.

Such is the case with the minds behind “Vice,” a popular new, award-winning film that purports to tell the story of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s career in Washington. Written and directed by Andy McKay and starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell, the film mixes some fact with heaps of conspiratorial fiction to such a laughable extreme that viewers are left wondering if the propaganda ministers of a hostile foreign nation contrived the film to undermine Americans’ confidence in our political, judicial and media institutions.

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Predictably, Cheney is depicted as an evil mastermind, his wife Lynn as a scheming climber and former President George W. Bush as an easily manipulated dolt. There are even caricatures of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and political strategists Karl Rove and Grover Norquist, all portrayed as sinister agents of the corrupt rich and the wicked elites. Even worse, average Americans are portrayed as uninformed idiots who are hopelessly preoccupied with hedonistic pursuits, mindless entertainment and pop culture.

From there, “Vice” morphs from an occasionally amusing comedy into an anti-Republican infomercial that lays the rise of ISIS, the recent U.S. mass shootings and California wildfires squarely at the GOP’s feet. There’s no doubt that many of goodwill may differ on the wisdom of the invasion of Iraq, the Patriot Act and so-called “enhanced” interrogation procedures, but to dishonestly go into the realm of fantasy and mean-spirited fabrication serves to completely undermine honest debate.

In stark contrast, HBO’s documentary “Panic” is a thorough, eyewitness account of the September 2008 financial meltdown surrounding the collapse of the investment bank Lehman Brothers. Directed by John Maggio, the program features former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaJuan Williams: Honesty, homophobia and Mayor Pete Democrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal 3 ways government can help clean up Twitter MORE, Treasury Secretaries Henry Paulson and Tim Geithner, White House Chiefs of Staff Josh Bolton and Rahm Emanuel, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Klobuchar: 'I have seen no reason why' Hunter Biden would need to testify Johnson dismisses testimony from White House officials contradicting Trump as 'just their impression' MORE, Warren Buffett, John Mack, Jamie Dimon and others who are painstakingly interviewed at length. The resulting documentary is a gripping account of the staggering financial crisis and our governmental institutions’ response. This account is balanced, thoughtful and, above all, honest.

Both Republicans — Bush, Paulson and Bolton — and Democrats — Obama, Geithner and Emanuel — are treated fairly and, importantly, viewers hear their firsthand recollections unfiltered and without gratuitous commentary. Whether you agree with the program’s examination of the root causes of the investment bank’s collapse and the subsequent remedies implemented in the wake of the crisis, “Panic” helps untangle a controversial, if not thoroughly complicated, period of our recent history.  

There’s no doubt we live in difficult, polarized, challenging times. Politically, culturally and socioeconomically, the competing narratives prevalent within our nation appear to hopelessly divide us. And yet, the future need not be bleak. The civil rights leader John Lewis — a man who knew his share of violent division — recognized: “We all may have come here in different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”  

Indeed, we’ve overcome such past factionalism time and time again when we’re reminded that, regardless of politics, race or religion, we’re all Americans. Addressing a similarly divided time of our recent past, President Ronald Reagan once asked, “What brought America back? The American people brought us back — with quiet courage and common sense; with undying faith that in this nation under God the future will be ours, for the future belongs to the free.”

What we need now are efforts that serve to inform, to inspire us, to bridge the divide and, more than ever, to unite us. We need less division, factional mistrust and hatred, and instead to embrace, as Abraham Lincoln vowed at the close of our Civil War, efforts that “bind the nation’s wounds.” And in doing so, we can face our many challenges as one nation — lively, ambitious, competitive and striving, but united in one American spirit.

Suhail A. Khan is a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who served on Capitol Hill as a staffer for former Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Calif.) and as a legal counsel and transportation adviser in the administration of George W. Bush. Follow him on Twitter @Suhail_A_Khan.