Morton says there are echoes of Trump in "Scandal"
"Now that Shonda knows that this is the last season, I'm sure she will just open up floodgates," Morton says
As “Scandal” gladiators gear up for the seventh and final season of the show that brought them drama, intrigue and the high-powered crisis manager Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington, CNN’s #GetPolitical talked with actor Joe Morton about what fans can expect, the real-life politics in the show and his passion for activism.
“I think it’s probably more intrigue and drama on the news channels these days, given what they have to report as opposed to what’s on fictional television,” Morton said. “Clearly, for not only fictional TV like ‘House of Cards’ or ‘The Outsiders’ even, or ‘Scandal,’ the late-night talk show hosts are having a field day in terms of the kind of comedy that they’re rolling out (about) what happens on a day-to-day basis in the Trump administration.”
Morton, who plays Rowan Pope – Olivia’s father and a ruthless commander of the B613 CIA division until his firing – channeled his character to deliver a powerful monologue to Trump in January, urging him to remember that the presidency “can never be about you – it must always be about the people.”
But now that Trump is in office, Morton said the President has been “trampling all over the Constitution” and disregarding entire segments of the population. Shonda Rhimes, the show’s creator, said previously that Trump’s win has influenced the plot and made it more difficult for her to write.
]Morton recalled a scene from the seventh season of “Scandal” that he said caused him to break into tears as the lines between fiction and reality became blurred and his own script reminded him of Trump.
“Fitz (the President) said something about ‘You’ve always said that you would uphold the republic,’ and (Rowan’s) response was that there is no republic: ‘Look around. The republic is in ashes, the Constitution is in shreds. We, the people, have been suffocated by their bare hands,’ which is basically the definition of authoritarianism,” Morton said, quoting the script. “When we shot that scene, I actually broke into tears. And I do believe there is a link between what I said in terms of the shredding of the Constitution and the republic being in ashes and Trump’s administration. I think that unfortunately, it appears that Donald Trump is trampling all over the Constitution,” he added.
What was considered scandalous on shows like “The West Wing” seems pretty tame these days. Do you think that people have gotten desensitized and shows have to do more to shock viewers?
Morton: As things got worse politically, as opposed to “West Wing” – which is a lot more tame than either “House of Cards” or “Scandal” or even “Veep,” for that matter – I think it’s because the divide economically between those who have and those who have not, the divide between the left and the right has just gotten wider and wider so that when something terrible happens … we sort of take it in as almost what we expect to happen.
With Trump, because of the kind of seemingly violent way that he talks about things and because he’s on Twitter almost every single morning, I think it brings down the respect that we have for the White House and for the Oval Office in particular, so the expectation is anything can happen and that becomes the norm, which is unfortunate.
America has become obsessed with reality television. How do you think that has affected us as a culture?
Morton: I’ve never liked much of reality television, mostly because it involves humiliation … And interestingly enough, I suppose, depending on your point of view, we have a President who comes from a reality TV show that started off being a show that ultimately gave somebody a job, which I thought was terrific, but once it became sort of “The Celebrity Apprentice,” then it got back down to humiliating someone. And I think (Trump) carried that same point of view into the campaign and certainly into his presidency.
… That it’s not about governing, it seems so far. It seems to be more about humiliation or trying to tear someone down to make yourself look good, which again, has little or nothing to do with governing but something that I think that the American people are fascinated with. As I arrived in the studio today, someone said they loved to hate the character that I play because he’s so mean. So in some way, I suppose, the human condition is one that wants to see how terrible one person can be to somebody else.
What can we expect from the final season of “Scandal”?
Morton: “Now that Shonda knows that this is the last season, I’m sure she will just open up floodgates in terms of all the things she would like to say. She has, I must say, always thought that “Scandal” had a definite ending, so whatever it is that she has in mind is where we’re going to be heading. We really don’t know … as I’m sure you’ve heard from other members of the cast. We don’t know what’s going to happen from episode to episode until we sit down and read the script at a table read.
Can you offer up any hints about what’s to come?
Morton: The only other thing that I can guess at, because I certainly don’t know this for sure, is that Olivia sort of announcing to (Rowan) that she’s taking over B613, and the fact that she is the chief of staff for Mellie (Margaret Grant, the current President of the United States on the show) in the White House means that she holds all of the power – and as we all know, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Are there any echoes of real life in this scenario?
Morton: It appears that Donald Trump is trampling all over the Constitution. That his disregard for clean water and trying to bring the coal industry back – an industry that has been dead for at least 20 years – and not looking at sustainable energy, the fact that he doesn’t really seem to care about the black caucus and what its needs are. He doesn’t really seem to care about women’s issues … look at his Cabinet. Mostly white billionaires, and these billionaires somehow, we are meant to believe, are going to help the poor and middle class. I don’t see that as possible. I think that, if anything, these rich folks are basically, as Dick Gregory once said, they’re going to snatch your dinner right from under your nose and run with it, sell you toxic chemicals and call it food, have the greatest profits in history while they watch their employees drown in debt and disease. And I think that’s unfortunately due to the Trump administration, that’s what we’re looking at.
You play the late comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory in the play “Turn Me Loose.” What does Gregory’s legacy mean to you?
Morton: Dick’s spirit always buoyed my performance from night to night; his spirit is still alive and well for me and all who knew him. One of my great good fortunes is having the opportunity to revel in his insightful and biting humor; to convey, through his comedy and through his confrontation with racism, how important, among other things, fear is. Racism, and his fear of corporatocracy and an economic system based on debt, forced him to speak out and encourage anyone who’d listen to #StayWoke. The beauty of his legacy is that he addressed what he feared: through humor, wisdom and, most importantly, action.