(Reposted from an article I wrote for QuietMike.org from May 3, 2016)
I’m a fan of old movies. They used to be a way to escape daily living for a couple of hours. No matter what genre, from comedy to drama to mysteries and even musicals, you could immerse yourself in the celluloid world and forget your cares and worries. But now those old movies are coming to life in a scary way and we have Donald Trump to thank for it.
As someone who lives in Canada, I don’t have a horse in the political race, but I can’t help but watch from the outside at the bizarre circus that is the current Republican primary campaign. It doesn’t make a difference whether you’re a liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, these are just odd times. And it reminds me of two of my favorite films, Meet John Doe and The Music Man.
Meet John Doe is a classic Frank Capra comedy drama from 1941. It stars Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Stanwyck plays a newspaper columnist on the verge of losing her job. She must come up with a catchy story that will save her career so she decides to create one about a fictional unemployed man who is going to commit suicide on Christmas Eve as a protest against all that is wrong in 1940’s America. She writes the story, which becomes a hit, but since it’s fake, they have to come up with this fictional John Doe (for the purposes of this story, let’s call him Donald Trump).
In walks Gary Cooper, a down-on-his luck former baseball player who is roped into this idea of being the man of the people. It’s an interesting premise. The only problem is, somewhere along the way John Doe begins to believe what has been created for him as his popularity soars. Sound familiar?
There are those who believe Donald Trump never really thought he was going to be the Republican nominee when he descended down that escalator last June. I mean, who could take his rhetoric seriously? He promised to build a wall thousands of miles long across the southern border with Mexico. He called Mexicans rapists and murderers. And he constantly touted his resume like a carnival barker. This couldn’t be for real?
But here we are almost a year later with many educated people on both sides of the aisle sweating profusely and wondering how the country got to this point where a guy who insults everybody, talks about his manhood in televised debates, and is so thin-skinned that he is single-handedly blowing up Twitter with his venomous bullying, seems to have wrestled control of The Grand Old Party away traditional conservatives and even Tea Partiers.
Is it possible that, like John Doe, Trump just got in way over his head and he’s starting to believe the hype from the unwashed masses that swallow his unfiltered verbiage? Like the Cooper character is he just a simple bumpkin who, by tapping into the psyche of the common man, now believes the hype will take him to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?
Or is it more Machiavellian? Instead of Meet John Doe, perhaps we’re talking expert conman here, like Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man. That 1962 musical film based on a Broadway show follows the story of a travelling salesman, played by Robert Preston, who worms his way into the hearts of a small town in Iowa, convincing the townsfolk that underneath the idyllic world they call home is a den of sin that will hypnotize and take over their children, leading them astray. The only way that sin could be stopped is by starting a marching band, complete with expensive instruments and uniforms; items that Professor Hill himself is more than willing to sell them.
Hill warns of problems that aren’t there. Oh yes we have trouble, right here in River City, with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for “Pool” (apparently billiards is the gateway to depravity).
Like Hill, Donald Trump sees problems where there aren’t any. U.S. census figures show more Mexicans are leaving America then are coming into the country. In the five year period between 2009 and 2014 the net loss was 140,000 more Mexicans heading south. So why do we need that wall again?
The repetitive nature of a Trump stump speech is lots on bluster, but little on facts. He’s an amazing businessman so he’ll fix the economy faster than humanly possible. He’s an amazing negotiator so he’ll make better deals with allies and foes alike. He’ll rebuild the military and defeat ISIS. But how will he do it? He never says. It might as well be with 76 trombones leading a great parade and 110 cornets close at hand.
While I can easily get lost in an old classic film, I know the difference between fiction and reality. What I’m worried about is neither Donald Trump nor his growing army of staunch supporters can separate the real world from fantasy. Trump’s race to The White House is not only a movie the world doesn’t want to see; it’s a film that shouldn’t ever get made.