Revisiting ‘The Critic’s “All the Duke’s Men”
If you’re like me, every once in a while you stop what you’re doing completely and say to yourself “holy crap, Donald Trump is President.” It’s been over three months since his inauguration, but it still feels surreal. This is primarily because until November 8, 2016, conventional wisdom suggested that people like Donald Trump — deranged egomaniacal billionaires, that is — couldn’t get elected president. One excellent reminder of this more innocent time in American history is the classic episode of The Critic, “All the Duke’s Men,” where Jay Sherman’s eccentric boss makes a run at the presidency, and falls flat on his ass.
Duke Phillips was meant to be more of a parody of Ted Turner than Donald Trump, but the parallels between his campaign and Trump’s are mystifying. Like Trump, he gets into the race primarily because he gets a wild hair up his ass. After Jay writes a speech to get his son Marty elected president of his 8th grade class, Duke enlists Jay’s help in writing speeches. With Jay’s help, Duke shoots to the top of the polls, but a problem arises when Duke taps Jay’s mentally ill father to be Vice President. His erratic behavior causes Duke to crater in the polls, and Duke wants Jay to write a speech kicking him off the ticket. Not wanting to hurt his father, he refuses, leaving Duke on his own.
This is where it all goes to pieces. He gives a volatile speech on Jay’s show where he reveals what he’ll really do if he becomes president, exposing himself for the evil lunatic he really is. This scene is both cathartic and infuriating for the simple reason that in real life, it didn’t matter; all of Donald Trump’s glaring flaws were exposed within his own speeches, and he still won. When this episode aired 22 years ago, it was conventional wisdom that someone as evil as the fictional Duke Phillips could not possibly be elected the leader of the free world. That notion has sadly been proven false, but “All the Duke’s Men” is still an adept piece of political satire that remains eminently watchable, even if its main thesis has shockingly been proven wrong.