Some of us used to joke how much Donald Trump was like having a Bond Villain as president. Been a while since that was funny. That’s the problem with irony: it can cut like a knife. One of the reasons our news media cannot wrap its head around Trump — to this very day — is because they lack the imagination to “see” Trump. Because they’ve convinced themselves that “both sides do it”, they’ve already got it in their heads that if Trump hadn’t done it first, some Democrat would have done it anyway. So, whatever Trump is doing — it’s not “corrupt”, it’s not a “crime”, it’s not even “treason”. It’s “the new new normal” because this (apparently) is what “both sides do”.
No, it is not.
Ronald Reagan was the first “movie star president”, but he wasn’t the first POTUS to use “movie star thinking” to win a presidency. Jacqueline Kennedy may have associated JFK’s 1,000 days as POTUS with “Camelot” after he was assassinated, but the idea stuck: a story about our present fit snugly with a story about a mythological past that never was. The Kennedy White House had all the same sparkle as Hollywood. Why, Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe even famously sang “Happy Birthday” to him. Americans like that. A lot. We especially like it when you do things positive with that star power. Or convince us that you are even if you’re not.
Back to Reagan. He understood the seductive qualities of smoke plus mirror. Stories can be as real as reality if you want them to be. Style over substance is not a new idea. Trickle down economics, coming from Reagan, was like the last little bit of a movie star’s gold-plated essence seeping into ordinary Americans’ grey, humdrum lives. It doesn’t seem like Reagan was anywhere near as cynical as the rest of his party. He may really have seen America as some “shining city on a hill”. Problem was (and remains) — the shining city in Reagan’s mind was all painted on a backdrop.
Ronald Reagan wasn’t the first person to get confused by Hollywood into thinking his version of America was “America”. In the terrific “An Empire Of Their Own: How The Jews Invented Hollywood”, Neal Gabler theorizes that our whole notion of “America” is, in large part, a fiction invented by Jewish movie studio owners (with plenty of Jewish writers and directors, actors and other technicians assisting) to, in essence, give them something into which to synthesize. Having spent almost two thousand years as “outsiders”, Jews suddenly had a chance, Gabler thinks (and, personally, I like his thinking), to invent a world that might more willingly accept them.
Having spent a career in the “making shit up” business, I’m keenly aware of the media’s power to invent not just worlds that don’t exist but ideas that, without the smoke and mirrors, couldn’t hold water. Time travel, for instance. A lot of “why” people think it’s possible is because stories have said it is. Those stories weren’t based on any sort of physics. They were based on “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…!”.
Trump is even more of an invention than Reagan was. Trump’s dad — Fred — knew his son was a “lox” as a negotiator. And anyway, making deals you never intend to honor is not actually “negotiating”. If Mark Burnett never imagined “The Apprentice” then none of Vladimir Putin’s investment in Trump would ever have paid off. But, Putin understands how propaganda works. He knows how to use it: destroy our common idea of “reality” then use the ensuing chaos to invent a “new reality”. Like, say, one where Donald Trump isn’t corrupt or a traitor.
Bond villains aren’t supposed to make you think. Even if they have some theoretically correct point of view — humans need to be stopped from destroying the planet — Bond Villains always go about it too heavy-handedly. I always wonder as I watch Bond movies, who’s cash flowing this guy? Who’s paying for the high tech set up and the gadgets and the rocketry and the people! Think of the payroll a guy like Blofeld has to maintain. Some of those people are super qualified, too. They don’t come cheaply. And is there any sort of profit-sharing involved? What kind of benefits does a Blofeld offer people he hopes will willing break the law with and for him? How do people who work for Blofeld report their income?
I know — it’s stupid to worry about things like this — he’s just a Bond Villain FFS! But then, I’m a John Le Carre fan, not an Ian Fleming fan. Oh, sure — in my youth, Bond was great fun (but then, Sean Connery was the Bond of my youth and movies like “From Russia With Love” remain the canon’s gold standard because they keep Bond’s world more real than surreal. I wonder if “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” suffered from an emotional Bond at the ending (he openly cries when his lover is shot dead — by Blofeld) or a more or less lackluster Bond (George Lazenby) trying to fill in for the recently departed-from-the-franchise Connery.
Le Carre (one of 2020’s cruel losses) based his Circus on the very real British spy agency he worked for. His spies weren’t about adventure or busting super villains, they were about betrayal — personal and tribal. The (usually) unspoken mantra underlying most of Le Carre’s work: “Love is the thing you can still betray”.
Though personally incapable of love, Donald Trump is much more a Le Carre villain than a Bond Villain. Trump’s villainy is pure betrayal. Not of love, but of everything else — everything everyone else loves. We know who his backers are. Even his political party knows who Trump’s backers are — the backers who aren’t them, I mean. The backer who holds them all in their thrall. The backer who’s been running this show since Trump was declared the “winner” in 2016: Russia.
No writer sitting down to write this, what we’ve been living, as a Bond movie could get away with it. It’s relentlessly over the top for starters. Who the hell acts like this — outside of a Bond movie — and not one of the good ones? Turns out, Donald Trump does. His whole party does.
In the Bond movies, the villain either dies spectacularly or gets away to fight another day. Soon enough, another cash flowed Super Villain will step up to fill the vacuum (having apparently fooled his investors into believing he could do what all the other supervillains couldn’t — deliver a return on their investment). We never get to see actual justice delivered — the kind that would flow from We The People. Bond movies don’t seem to exist inside the same democracy we do. Or did…
That’s what’s on our plate: how do we deal with the Bond Villain in front of us? He may not be a very good Bond Villain, but he’s ours. In fact, Trump’s such a crap Bond Villain that he doesn’t even qualify. He’s more a small screen TV villain punching above his weight — getting away with it — but only until now.
Come January 20, 2021, we will begin to write Trump the ending he deserves. We will challenge every single pardon he’s issued because we must. Trump’s whole presidency is based on treason — take Putin out of the 2016 equation and Trump never gets through the primaries. Just like traitors can’t legally become president, whatever they do WHILE president — that also doesn’t count as “legal”. How could it?
By obstructing justice, Trump and the GOP have tried to keep the rest of America from learning what the REAL story of the last four plus years has been. That obstruction is about to hit a wall. A rejuvenated Department of Justice dedicated to Justice (rather than to being a mob boss president’s consigliere), asking hard questions under oath — restarting every investigation Bill Barr or Rod Rosenstein stopped (especially the counter-intelligence investigations into Trump’s relationships with Russia) — will change the landscape significantly — just by asking hard questions under oath.
Anyway — Trump was never the real Bond Villain at the heart of this story that Mitch McConnell. Mitch after all is the link to the answer to my questions — who pays for these Bond Villains and all their toys? Turns out? Our villains are so bad — and so real? They put Bond villains to shame.