At the end of 2021, the Los Angeles Times revealed a plot to assassinate US President Joe Biden. According to the newspaper, the US police — specifically the authorities in the US state of Iowa — arrested a man named Kuachua Brillion Xiong with a gun and a hit list that included US President Joe Biden and White House Chief Medical Officer Anthony Fauci.
It was reported that Xiong believed that he was the only person who could free the United States from evil and that he should kill those in positions of power. Xiong also told authorities that if he is released from custody, he will continue his attempts to enter the White House and do whatever it takes to complete his plan. Furthermore, Xiong confirmed that he does not intend to return to California to see his family because he plans to die while fighting evil demons in the White House.
These attempts, which express strong discontent with the policies adopted by the US administration, are not new at all. American history is replete with such killers who tried to assassinate a large number of presidents of the United States of America. These presidents are Abraham Lincoln (1865), James A. Garfield (1881), William McKinley (1901), Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933), John F. Kennedy (1963), Richard Nixon (1974), Gerald Ford (1975), and Ronald Reagan (1981).
Some of these attempts succeeded and others failed. Of course, Joe Biden was added to this long list after the last attempt on his life. Despite the different political circumstances and the historical context of these assassinations, there is a common factor between all these attempts, including the Biden assassination attempt, which is the failure of all these administrations to realise the alleged American dream of citizens despite their undeniable achievements.
Stephen Sondheim’s “The Assassins” is one of the most important American political plays that dealt with political assassinations and the real motives behind them. The Assassins is a musical that delves into the lives of nine individuals who have assassinated or attempted to assassinate the presidents of the United States. The show goes beyond historical assassinations, as it begins with the gathering of killers in a carnival show at the beginning of the play.
Through ballads, duets, monologues, and scenes, Sondheim gives a voice to some unconventional protagonists, framing the show with characters representing opposing views of the American dream. Through this controversial play, Sondheim tries to uncover deeper reasoning behind why these assassins committed these American tragedies, confronting the long-standing ideals of the American dream and challenging American society to take social responsibility in this matter.
The play is a different work by all political and artistic standards. The Assassins opened on 18 December 1990, off-Broadway. The show opened during the political tensions and conflicts of the first Gulf War, which wasn’t an ideal time to stage a play that criticises American policies, illustrates the failure of the American dream, and challenges some of the very basic ideas that form the basis of American identity. That’s because in 1991, the American people were huddled behind the hugely popular wartime president George Bush Sr.
According to a Gallup poll taken in the 1980s, despite the war, polls showed that 57 percent of Americans believed the nation was heading in the “right direction.” For this reason, the play caused great controversy when it was shown for the first time. Despite the success it achieved, it raised the astonishment of the audience, who accepted it on an artistic level only and as a distinct historical work without accepting the challenging political views presented by it.
Despite this, 13 years later, when the play was shown again on Broadway on April 22, 2004, The Assassins won five Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical in 2004. Contrary to the controversy that the play caused in 1991, the audience’s response to the show was very positive. The public’s acceptance of the show after 13 years was no coincidence. The wrong American policies towards the Middle East that created the violent terrorist waves from which both the peoples of the Middle East and the US suffered alike led to a change in the political and social climate in 2004.
Americans started to move significantly away from their feelings of unconditional patriotism and thus became more open to watching a show that confronts the basic ideas of America. The success of the 2004 revival indicated a change in public acceptance of this kind of politically charged performance. Most importantly, according to an interactive Harris Poll, 57% of the country said America is on the “wrong path.”
The play is currently being staged in New York, and this is not a coincidence, but it is an artistic extrapolation of American political life. The Assassins is particularly relevant today given the current political climate in the US, because many people want to see a change in where the country is headed. The attempt to assassinate Biden is not just the whim of a psychopath, but this attempt is certainly the result of the indignation of millions of American people who feel that the current policies put them in the circle of danger.
The creation of a terrorist outpost in Afghanistan, the revival of the Cold War with Russia, the continuous provocations of China, and the imposition of a false guardianship on the countries of the world under the pretext of preserving human rights at the level of foreign policy, in addition to the high rates of unemployment, economic depression, inflation, the sharp division within American society and differences which have escalated to the point of conflict between the Republican and Democratic parties at the internal political level; all of this certainly does not and will not lead to the revival of the American dream. It will, however, surely lead to more chaos and more popular discontent, the outcome of which is unpredictable.
Dr. Marwa El-Shinawy: Assistant Prof. at International American University for Specialised Studies (IAUS)