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William C. Altreuter
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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

We are currently binging on "The Americans", a spy drama about two Soviet plants, a husband and wife, set in the 80's. It's an interesting blend of things-- the spycraft is sometimes over the top, but that stuff is also blended with contrasting sets of domestic dramas. One of the show's techniques is to mirror the Soviet couple-- who are, for all outside appearances, thoroughly Americanized, with their neighbors, who are having their own difficulties. While it is doing this, it mirrors the Soviet agency with the FBI. Sometimes there are contrasts, and sometimes the two organizations operated along very similar lines. We just got past the assassination attempt on Reagan, which had everyone on the show freaking out, and it made it seem new by showing that the Soviets were depicted as really believing that it was an attempt at a coup. We were in law school at the time, and that was not my impression. When Al Haig announced that "Constitutionally, I am in charge," my thought was, "You moron. Take another look at the 25th Amendment." Of course, the 25th Amendment is never far from my mind..... (The show also depicts the nation as being in the grip of fearful doubt in the wake of the shooting. Maybe it was my contempt for Reagan, but I wasn't freaked out, or glued to the TV.)

It never occurred to me then that from the outside having a general make that announcement might really look like a coup. One of the Soviet characters reassures the other by telling her, "You don't know these people," and I think that was the moment I knew I was hooked. It really is difficult to imagine Americans tolerating a coup d'etat. Say what you will about the individuals who occupy the various institutions of government at any given moment, those institutions themselves are very stable.

John Hinkley is out of St. Elizabeth's now. He changed the operation of the insanity defense, but what is really notable about him, it seems to me, is that although he is quite plainly as mad as pants the science of psychology, the DSM quantification of mental illness, is still struggling to figure out what happened-- or what happens today-- in his brain. Neither the law nor medicine knows what to do with a person like Hinkley, a bizarre outlier who taxes our capacity to be humane. (Interesting aside- the family pays for his therapy out of pocket.  That seems very wrong.) 




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