Across the world right now, there is no shortage of such lunatic culture-war proclamations from preening heads of state, whether the orator in question is wearing plumes and ceremonial swords or overlong neckties and slogan-stamped baseball hats. These trappings feel like such obvious components of political opéra bouffe that skeptics breezily dismiss the goals of this bread-and-circus stagecraft. And on one level they’re right: the spectacles are designed to appeal to stadiums full of people for whom belligerent pomp highlighting national character and miracle cures offers momentary surcease of distress from the grim reality of disappearing jobs, addicted spouses and children, escalating community suicide rates, an encroaching pandemic, and overall diminished life expectancy.

But that endangered Rust Belt worker enjoying the risky burst of good feeling that a MAGA rally might engender is not the only category of person clinging to good-guy/bad guy magical thinking. People more educationally and economically fortunate display a troubling assurance about their own virtue as they squander critical-thinking skills on topping one another’s bleach-injection jokes, and on clever speculations about cocaine-to-blood ratios in certain unloved adult children of the White House. Ironically, this wasteful dissipation of focus and purpose derives from the fact that liberals, no less than MAGA adherents, cherish the same delusion as The Deputy’s disciples in Z: a residual belief that a savior will lead them to the promised land.

Whether people root for the narcissist in chief at a super-spreader event or keep scrupulous account of his daily Twitter mendacities, they’re evading the job of stubborn, ceaseless vigilance that citizen life requires in a plutocracy. A recent example of the cost of that distractedness: Well in advance of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, multibillionaire Charles Koch had been spreading a luxurious carpet of cash to ensure that his chosen Supreme Court candidate, Amy Coney Barrett, could stroll comfortably to her new job. The signs were everywhere, but the force field around the Brand Chaos presidential candidate was so irresistible that no one seemed to hear the alarm.

Costa Gavras’s film speaks directly to the present situation not only in its depictions of right-wing thuggery but also in its portrayals of intelligent, honorable people who cherish the virtuous-leader rescue story. Consider how in Z, when political violence kills the charismatic Deputy, his followers’ hopes quickly shift to The Magistrate–the career insider ostensibly operating in apolitical service to principle. In post-Obamaland, it’s embarrassing to consider how often we have been willing to be wooed by that suitor: the good-government guy perceived as having no pony in the race, who just wants to do the right thing.

First it was then–FBI Director James Comey: Yes, he may have thrown the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee under the bus, but people quickly recalibrated their expectations to imagine he would come blazing forward with the awful truth mined from the depths of a corrupt administration. He didn’t. Then there was Robert Mueller, Comey’s predecessor at the Bureau, who excited breathless speculation about his mealymouthed demeanor: that it simply indicated an abundance of caution, because his testimony before Congress was about to scorch so many crooked careers. It turned out that Mueller’s boring surface wasn’t a disguise. And just last week, New York proposed we embrace a new career-government hero whose probity, it’s claimed, will stand immovable amid the shifting gales of ideology: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

And of course there’s the Democratic candidate himself—by virtue both of his own temperament and of the yearnings of his electorate—who supposedly will single-handedly clean up the house, put out the garbage and restore a climate of justice that will allow everyone to sleep soundly in their beds again.