Presidential Power

Rick & Morty Takes on the American Presidency

The hit cartoon depicts how out of control presidential power has gotten.

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Rick & Morty/Adult Swim

This weekend's season finale of Rick & Morty (S3 E10, "The Rickchurian Candidate") challenges the very institution of the U.S. presidency. In it, Rick, the mad scientist, confronts the president over the abuses of power his office allows him to commit.

By choosing not to model its president on any specific real-life equivalent, the show avoids being a commentary on any specific officeholder and instead becomes a stinging commentary on the office itself. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)

Early on, the story establishes that the president, who first showed up in Season 2, has called on Rick and Morty countless times offscreen.This time, the president wants the duo to exterminate "some kind of alien googa" from the "Kennedy Sex Tunnels."

He also ticks off a number of other secret White House locations, "in order of national embarrassment: the Truman Cocaine Lounge, the McKinley Hooker Dump, and the Lincoln Slave Coliseum (he didn't free them all)."

Rick and Morty quickly grow tired of the menial task assigned them and blow it off. They're caught on camera by a couple of Secret Service agents. What do we tell the president, one asks the other. "Tell him the truth—tell him Rick and Morty just blew off America."

Before the title sequence, Rick describes the president, who is never named, as "a spoiled control freak that thinks he runs the world and orders drone strikes to cope with his insecurity"—a largely apt description for each of the three presidents known to have the capability of launching drone strikes. Replace "drone strikes" with "air strikes," and it covers even more modern presidents.

"I'm president of America, which is basically the world," the Rick & Morty president says at one point, "but you didn't hear that from me." That articulates an idea that has driven more than half a century of U.S. foreign policy.

The episode also poked fun at the cult surrounding the presidency in the political class and those aspiring to be a part of it. "I thought young dumb people considered it an honor to work for presidents or whatever the shit," Rick tells Morty.

But Morty, jaded by three seasons of his grandfather Rick's nihilism, is no longer impressed. "Maybe the first few times, but this just sucks."

The episode also shows the president abuse the federal government's surveillance capabilities, a real and persistent threat, and depicts profligate military spending.

"I'm protecting my country," the president declares at one point, refusing to compromise and deescalate a confrontation with Rick.

Since at least 9/11, U.S. presidents have insisted their first priority is "keeping America safe." Some of us would prefer they keep America free. In practice, the obsession with safety has left Americans less free but no more safe.

To add insult to injury, U.S. foreign policy, pursued under the pretext of advancing "national security interests," has made the world, and Americans, less safe.

"I learned about your job at school. You're a civil servant, we're technically your boss," Morty tells the president during one argument.

This may have been how the founders envisioned the presidency when first creating it, but it's far from that now. The decades-long project of amassing vast powers in the office of the president has created an imperial presidency.

The election of Donald Trump should have been a wake-up call about the dangers of such a powerful office. Unfortunately, the so-called "resistance" that has coalesced against Trump has, so far, largely focused on what it perceives as Trump's unique threats rather than the danger of centralizing so much power in one place.

Even after Trump's election, outgoing president Barack Obama, who campaigned actively against Trump and warned that he was "uniquely unqualified" to hold the office, continued to expand presidential power, for example folding U.S. military operations in Somalia under the post-9/11 Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF), rather than endorsing efforts in Congress to bring up a new AUMF for the wars America is waging a generation after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Rick and Morty reminds us that if we couldn't laugh, we'd cry.

If you have a cable subscription, you can watch the episode here. Adult Swim streamed the episode free over the weekend, and some earlier episodes are available to watch without a cable subscription, so at some point this one probably will too.

Check out a clip of the episode here.

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  1. Speaking of Morts, I always liked Morton Downey, Jr – the father of shock-jock conservative talk. The new ones are pale imitations.

    1. What a bewilderingly pointless non-sequitur.

      1. It’s the “pass the butter robot” of posts.

        1. The pass-the-butter robot had meaning and purpose.

          1. It’s more like the Heinz Automato of comments.

            Except not really, because i can’t stop laughing at the Automato.

  2. I’m well aware that judging a series by its pilot episode is not giving it a fair assessment, but that was all the Rick & Morty I could manage.

    1. Best show on television.

      Everyone is slow to warm to the pilot.

  3. Rick and Morty reminds us that if we couldn’t laugh, we’d cry.

    Yes, you and the masses of deranged libertarians (about 137 of us, it would seem). The rest of the country is convinced that the only problem with the presidency is the person occupying the office. And they are sure that the cure for all of these ills is to be found in more government oversight.

    1. I get that meaning from art is entirely the viewers’, and that Ed’s anti-presidential power is just as valid as any interpretation, I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is the view of Harmon or Roiland. Thought experiment: would this episode exist if Hillary Clinton won?

      I don’t think so, and I’m tired of seeking political allies in media and entertainment. They’re not there.

      1. Thought experiment: would this episode exist if Hillary Clinton won?

        I don’t think so, and I’m tired of seeking political allies in media and entertainment. They’re not there.

        I think you’re looking for the wrong droids here. Rick and Morty’s theme and ethos is pretty anti-authoritarian and well prior to the ascent of Trump they were mocking a Black President and ‘idolizing’ Ice T. The show is rather deliberately ‘not your friend’ but there’s plenty of libertarian meat to be had. Similarly with South Park, I don’t think anyone would encourage their kids to be exactly like Matt Stone and Trey Parker (including Stone and Parker themselves). That doesn’t mean they aren’t entertaining and do, sometimes frequently, make some libertarian or anti-authoritarian points.

        How about; Hillary Clinton didn’t win, so would you rather have your kids learn about science and philosophy from (or, you know, just be entertained by) Rick Sanchez or Bill Nye?

      2. It was two years between season 2 and 3, so this episode may very well have been written prior to the 2016 election. Which may be why the president is still a black guy in this episode.

      3. Hey, Drew Carey is with us.

      4. They literally had the main character destroy two governments to start the season, for the explicit purpose that he doesn’t respect them, and hates collectivism.

        Rick is the biggest Libertarian ever put on TV.

  4. I maintain that Rick and Morty are the same person.

    Rick is an older version of Morty.

    In this season’s episode about the Citadel of Ricks, there’s a school for Mortys, and Simple Rick is sitting there in the class. Why is there a rick in Morty school class? Because he was a Morty who was too dumb to graduate from Morty school.

    In other words, the Simple Morty aged over the years and when Mortys get older, they become Ricks.

    Also, I’d argue that Rick isn’t a nihilist. I think Rick is struggling with an indifferent universe–hence the Cthulhu reference in the title sequence. Lovecraft’s essential horror is that the universe is indifferent to us. When Rick pontificates on his indifference, he’s protesting too much. Rick turns himself in to save his family.

    I repeat: Rick turns himself in to be imprisoned by the galactic federation to save his family.

    He cares.

    1. He’s Slow Rick, they only call him Tall Morty to keep him pacified.

      There has to be a dimension where Rick is a SJW, after all. So that’s where Slow Rick comes from.

      Oh, and Rick turned himself in as part of a trap to destroy two governments.

    1. Mr Poopybutthole is a clone.

  5. I love Rick and Morty, and this episode cemented my love for this demented show. I plan on showing it to my kids.

  6. By choosing not to model its president on any specific real-life equivalent, the show avoids being a commentary on any specific officeholder and instead becomes a stinging commentary on the office itself.

    I think it’s pretty clear who “U.S. President” who is supposed to be.

  7. Damn Ken. Kuddos on the Rick and Morty. Love that show.

  8. By choosing not to model its president on any specific real-life equivalent, the show avoids being a commentary on any specific officeholder and instead becomes a stinging commentary on the office itself

    Are you blind? Does someone come by and recite the series to you via a combination of interpretive verse and riddles?

  9. “in order of national embarrassment: the Truman Cocaine Lounge, the McKinley Hooker Dump, and the Lincoln Slave Coliseum (he didn’t free them all).”

    So the Truman Cocaine Lounge (a lounge where a president consumed an arbitrarily proscribed substance) is a greater national embarrassment than the Lincoln Slave Coliseum (an arena where slaves were presumably forced to fight to the death for the president’s amusement)?

    I think this episode may be a little too realistic.

  10. “The election of Donald Trump should have been a wake-up call about the dangers of such a powerful office. ”

    There we go. Have to have that Trump dig. It wasn’t the election of Obama were he took the nomination in a Colosseum. Or they thought grade schools to sign to him. Or that he was the light bringer that would save the whole world. I mean a Nobel peace prize for…?

    Yes, Trump is a twitter idiot but so far he hasn’t used the IRS as a weapon, started a war (yeah yeah getting close), made nicey nice with dictators of the world so far. if anything Trump is the most scrutinized President since I’m told he’s Hilter to the 10th power and the news freaks out if he steps on a flower.

  11. I don’t need to watch Rick and morty, I just listen to npr.

    1. Some would argue that npr is all one needs to listen to /nasally pompous voice

  12. Rick & Morty Takes on the American Presidency – Hit & Run : Reason.comis the best post by imo for pc Please visit imo app imo app snaptube for pc snaptube app

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