George Pyle: When Mitt Romney talks politics, I think science fiction

To hear Mitt Romney tell it, the president of the United States is The Mule.

No, he’s not saying the president is really a Democrat. And he never actually used the M-word.

Maybe that’s because Utah’s junior senator hasn’t read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. Or maybe he has but, because it’s old and has not yet been a movie, he assumed that we didn’t know it and that it would take too long to explain.

So I’ll explain.

The Mule is a character in Asimov’s classic series of novels that, when I was reading them, consisted of three books, “Foundation," (1951) “Foundation and Empire" (1952) and “Second Foundation" (1953).

After I moved on to other types of literature (biographies mostly, far too few novels), Asimov added four more books, two that come before the original trilogy and two that come after. (George Lucas must have been paying close attention.)

A scientist called Hari Seldon has developed a technique called psychohistory which allows him to mathematically project the behavior of large groups of people, because mobs are infinitely more predictable than individuals.

Or, as Agent K wisely says in the first “Men in Black,” “A person is smart. People are dumb.”

Seldon predicts the fall of the Galactic Empire. (What did I just say about George Lucas?) He calculates that said catastrophe will lead to a 30,000-year Dark Age.

But forewarned is forearmed. So Seldon creates two secret Foundations as places to squirrel away smart people, knowledge, art, etc., so all the good stuff can hide out for awhile, then rise again and, he figures, cut the period of darkness to a mere 1,000 years.

["Maybe Utah offers a refuge for real Republicans" — George Pyle, June 4]

All is going according to plan — which would make for a very dull book, much less three — when along comes The Mule.

He is an ugly little cuss, with a special psychic talent that allows him to make people around him feel whatever emotions he wants them to feel. He uses that ability to, basically, take over the galaxy, frustrating, at least for awhile, the Seldon plan.

Because The Mule is one person, with abilities nobody else has, his existence, rise and assumption of power could not have been foreseen by even the best psychohistorians.

In other words, he’s our current chief executive, with his ability to defy the provisions of our own genius guide to the future, the Constitution of the United States.

(This might be an even better theory than that the president is best understood as the thuggish Biff from “Back to the Future.”)

That’s kind of what Romney was saying Wednesday when he graciously dropped by to chat with The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board. I thought I’d had a unique bolt of inspiration, remembering The Mule. Until I googled it and found at least one other writer, Chris Taylor of Mashable, had beaten me to it.

The president, Romney reassured us, is a unique phenomenon that, whether it ends in 2021, 2025 or some impeachable moment as yet unforeseen, will end. There is just no one else out there with his particular skill set, his ability to confuse, inspire, enrage, say the unsayable, do the undoable, and do it in such a way that every outrage is so soon replaced by another that nobody, including Romney, has a chance to focus their opposition.

It lends support to the idea that the president is not just a skilled politician or a glib flimflam man. He’s actually in possession of a Mule-like ability to cloud men’s minds. (Women are more likely to see through him. Unless they are from Maine.)

The hypnosis is strong enough that Romney and other members of his Republican Party are mostly sitting still for a leader who spits at their traditional support for free trade, democracy around the world and deficit reduction, as well as their patrician distaste for overt racism.

So don’t worry that we seem to be letting our Mussolini get away with all this, Romney seemed to say, or hate us for going along with his utter slime in order to get tax cuts for the rich. (Which, Romney said, weren’t such a good idea.) This, too, shall pass.

And so, Romney said, there is no need for the Republican Party to crash, burn and be tossed into the ash heap of history in order to get rid of this ruler.

That may be far too optimistic. Having opened the door to his own unique American brand of fascism, this president may well have screwed everything up for a long time to come. Probably not 30,000 years. But long enough.

But there is a clue to a happy ending to this story.


In the Asimov tale, The Mule eventually meets his match and is defeated by a Seldon disciple known as The First Speaker.

Help us, Nancy Pelosi, you’re our only hope.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, thinks the best moral lessons often come from stories that are not true. Not so good for a journalist, maybe, but legends have to make sense.


Twitter, @debatestate