What ‘All the Way’ Says About Politics Today — And Even About Donald Trump

All the Way
Courtesy HBO

Jay Roach, the director of HBO’s “All the Way,” said that the movie shows a “striking difference” between the “can-do-ism” of the 1960s and the “can’t-do-much-ism of contemporary politics.”

The movie stars Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Johnson, who takes office after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and makes the passage of the Civil Rights Act one of his priorities. It is a huge legislative lift, as the opposition of the powerful southern Democrats forces Johnson to reach across the aisle and garner the support of liberal northern Republicans.

Cranston captures Johnson in all his complexity — hugely ambitious but also deeply insecure. The movie focuses on 1964, before the quagmire of Vietnam engulfed his administration.

As “All the Way” shows, Johnson’s legislative skills and overbearing persuasive techniques proved invaluable in not just the passage of the Civil Rights Act, but the Voting Rights Act, and the creation of Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start and the National Endowment for the Arts — accomplishments unmatched ever since.

Roach also notes that Johnson’s drive for the passage of the Civil Rights Act “is the beginning of the polarization from which we still suffer today.” Many of the Southern “Dixiecrats” left the Democratic party, the beginning of a realignment that still exists.

There is a moment in “All the Way” that seems to be an uncanny reference to Donald Trump, when the Southern Democrats are waging a filibuster against the civil rights legislation. Among them is Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.), who cites scripture and says, “The Bible does not say we cannot build a wall betwixt ourselves and our neighbor.”

“It is an uncanny coincidence,” Roach says of the scene, noting that it had been in the play and the screenplay, each written by Robert Schenkkan before Trump’s candidacy and his focus on building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Listen to the interview on Variety’s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM — in which Roach also talks of Cranston’s overlapping persona with LBJ — below.

“PopPolitics,” hosted by Ted Johnson, airs at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT on Thursdays on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. It also is available on demand.