The United States has been in some political upheaval as of late, with Donald Trump surprising many when he defeated Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president. Since his Nov. 8 victory, his ideas about possibly registering Muslims and choice of Steve Bannon as a chief White House strategist have created panic — which made Sunday’s (Nov. 13) “Madam Secretary” all the more timely.
In “The Statement,” when an Islamic extremist blows up a coffee shop in Illinois, Secretary McCord’s (Tea Leoni) speechwriter Matthew Mahoney (Geoffrey Arend) is urged to make a statement condemning the attack — when it turns out the terrorist attended the same mosque that Mahoney’s mother attends, and to which he had previously donated money.
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Mahoney remains tight-lipped in the face of both unfriendly politicians, like President Dalton’s (Keith Carradine) chief of staff Russell Jackson (Zeljko Ivanek), and friendly colleagues, like Nadine (Bebe Neuwirth) and even Daisy (Patina Miller), urging him to speak out against the bombings. There is even a Trump-like figure running for president on “Madam Secretary” — Governor Sam Evans (J.C. MacKenzie), whose candidacy slogan is the all-too-on-the-nose “Take Back Our America,” outraged that Mahoney still has a job and demanding to know “what’s going on?!”
After Mahoney and Jay (Sebastian Arcelus) get into a fight at a bar with some dude-bros who think Mahoney must be some kind of terrorist himself, Mahoney finally tells his colleagues:
Of course I’m just as horrified as everyone that a deranged man blew up a coffee shop. How could anyone ever doubt that? But I’m not saying anything, publicly or otherwise, because I shouldn’t have to. My condemnation should just be a given.
When a white man shoots up a black church, no one demands that white men across the country denounce the attack. It’s understood that the perpetrator is on the fringe, that every America decries the tragedy. But somehow when an Islamic extremist commits an atrocity, every Muslim is implicated. All my years of public service, every ounce of decency I have ever shown, is erased by other people’s fear and revenge.
Do you want to know what my donation to the mosque was earmarked for? A playground for children of the members. And do you want to know what they unveiled last month? A playground.
The episode was obviously written and filmed months ago, because that’s how television works — which definitely makes “The Statement” prescient, but perhaps not prescient enough.
Because when it turns out the bomber was radicalized by someone connected to the Saudi Arabian government, the focus of the episode turns to that bit of political intrigue. Mahoney is able to keep his silence, and even accompany his mother to prayers at the mosque, largely unbothered. This month has already shown that to be wishful thinking.
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In perhaps the most chilling scene, as Secretary McCord and Jackson argue about Mahoney making a public statement, McCord points out that “part of [Matthew’s] civil liberties include maintaining his silence,” Jackson shoots back: “If you don’t bring him to heel now, Evans will get elected — and there will be no civil liberties left to defend.”