Rogue of the Week: President Thomas J. Whitmore

Friday, 01 July 2011 12:23 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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Rogue of the Week: President Thomas J. Whitmore

It's July 4th weekend, when we Americans celebrate the Continental Congress' approval of the Declaration of Independence by grilling massive amounts of pork and beef, setting off colorful explosives, and getting righteously hammered.  It is not generally a holiday on which we contemplate the document itself, the long Revolutionary War that followed, the compromises that led to the ratification of the Constitution in 1786, or this ongoing experiment in representative democracy.  It is instead a day of ecstatic celebration of our own brash, irrepressible Americanism, and in that spirit, our latest Rogue of the Week is Thomas J. Whitmore, the fictitious president played by Bill Pullman in the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day.

With the historical exception of Andrew Jackson, a known murderer who essentially told the Supreme Court to sit on it and rotate, it's difficult to ascribe roguish qualities to an American President, since they become, by default, The Man.  Until a bunch of malicious aliens invaded Earth, Whitmore would seem to be as un-roguish as any real-life president.  He wears silky presidential pajamas and frets helplessly over public perception.  Even his name, Thomas J. Whitemore, recalls an august, idealized image of the founding fathers, positing him as a natural political leader.

Just before the action begins, we see an indication of his rebel spirit, letting his young daughter stay up late to watch Letterman while the First Lady is out of town.  When the extraterrestrial invasion force arrives and reigns apocalyptic fire, symbolically castrating our most gloriously phallic buildings like the Empire State Building, Whitmore shows his true colors.  And those colors, ladies and gentleman, are red, white, and blue. 

As humanity is being decimated and his wife dies, Whitmore keeps his cool.  After a psychic parlay with a captured alien invader – who was knocked on his ass by one punch from a fellow patriot played by Will Smith – Whitmore makes a bold move, declaring, "Nuke 'em.  Let's nuke the bastards."  That doesn't exactly pan out, but when Jeff Goldblum eventually comes up with a plan to save the world, Whitmore refuses to sit out the climax.  Instead, the retired combat pilot hops back in the seat of a fighter jet to kick some alien ass.  Andrew Jackson certainly would've done the same.

Independence Day, as directed by Roland Emmerich and co-written by he and Dean Devlin, takes gung-ho American awesomeness to its logical extreme, as Whitmore declares in his pre-finale rousing speech, that the Fourth of July will no longer be merely a holiday of the colonies, but of the entire world.  That's the kind of unapologetic spiritual imperialism we demand in a Rogue of the Week.

President Thomas J. Whitmore, we salute you and acknowledge that you're more of a rogue than Air Force One's fellow fictitious president James Marshall.

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