The Hulu original miniseries, Little Fires Everywhere, is based on the 2017 best seller by Celeste Ng. The story is set in Shaker Heights, OH on Cleveland’s east side in 1997. Perhaps because I lived on the west side for almost a decade while working for the national offices of the United Church of Christ and often visited Shaker, the show resonated and became deeply personal. It was hard to watch, though, as I felt a growing melancholy overlay the action.
In a series of flashbacks (so, this is not a spoiler alert), the writers meticulously craft a story of inter- and intra-familial relationships that expose power and privilege, race and class, sexuality, adolescence and coming of age in our complicated world. It is also one of the few programs I have seen where, refreshingly, female characters are rich and complex whereas males tend to be one-dimensional props non-essential to the story’s core plot lines.
I watched the unfolding action with deepening dread that there would be no escape from the unrelated threads that became increasingly entwined. The very private dramas of the characters onscreen moved inexorably toward a seemingly unavoidable conflagration—symbolic and actual—at the series’ end.
As recent real-life events unfolded, I found this intricate interpersonal drama to be a microcosm of the broader reality we are all living through. The headlines are rife with unrelated vectors that seem to be tightening in a Gordian Knot around the President and, by extension, the rest of us. Little fires are burning out of control everywhere as an election day reckoning approaches that seems increasingly unpredictable and out-of-control. While much has been written about President Trump viewing his tenure though the lens of reality television, it is heart-stopping to hold a mirror up to the program Little Fires Everywhere and see this TV drama as a metaphor for our contemporary world.
The embers are many, some smoldering, some shooting sparks into the air:
Credible witnesses say Donald Trump has called US service personnel who were captured, wounded or killed “suckers” and “losers.”
The oft-predicted V-shaped economic rebound is not materializing.
Almost every week there is a new incident where law enforcement personnel shoot a Black person while the President advocates for “law and order” and seems incapable of showing empathy or compassion, or understanding the legacy of systemic racism.
He admits to having downplayed the coronavirus as the number of dead passes 200,000; and he continues to hold rallies without social distancing and with few masks.
The President continues to forecast massive voter fraud, laying the groundwork for widespread suspicion of election results.
Sober thinkers ponder multiple scenarios whereby the President will not peacefully his office while rumors abound that federal officials will declare Martial Law if there is no immediate winner.
And now, fires rage in the West and the President can offer only simplistic solutions about forest management while refusing to acknowledge the role of climate change in the devastation.
And so, life has imitated art on the macro scale as we watch the earth ablaze. The conflagration is here. Little Fires Everywhere is an intimate predictor of a national catastrophe in the making. Fearing this made watching the miniseries almost unbearable.
Last week, I asked you to participate in an unofficial survey: whether or not you thought President Trump would actually participate in the Presidential debates slated to begin later this month. Virtually everyone—those who commented on my website and those who contacted me individually—said “yes.” Often, your reasons were more because of the President’s hubris, than of any astute political calculation. “He thinks he can devastate Joe Biden” and that confidence (arrogance?) would lead him to agree to appear.
I will swim against the tide, though, and predict that he will not debate. He will find a reason and be convinced that the debate has been rigged against him. He will then convince his base of this bias and respectfully decline because he (and his supporters) are not shown respect (besides, the controversy will make good television). I know this is clearly a minority view and we’ll know soon enough. I hope he does debate because I think Joe Biden will demonstrate superior honesty, character and knowledge of the issues, thereby further shrinking the number of the President’s die-hard supporters. Not willing to risk this, I think Trump will decline.