County Dublin, Ireland.
One of Donald Trump’s stated priorities is to preserve American culture, yet he told New Republic he only skims ‘passages, areas, chapters’ and otherwise ‘doesn’t have the time’ to read. His ignorance of the American art world’s growing multiculturalism makes sense.
The 1987 book Trump purportedly authored, The Art of the Deal, was actually ghost-written by Tony Schwartz, who came to regret his role as Dr Frankenstein in popularising Trump’s incarnation of the American Dream. Afterwards, Schwartz said he preferred the title, The Sociopath, considering the staggeringly dangerous, primarily self-aggrandising protagonist, who’s likely to trigger nuclear war and introduce press censorship and martial law. Though well remunerated, the deplorable experience of working on the book spurred Schwartz to reassess his own values and switch career. The election result dismayed him.
Trump convinced media outlets including CNN of his ongoing church attendance as a Presbyterian Protestant. He said he regularly attended the Marble Collegiate Church of the Reformed Church denomination. It shares location on Fifth Avenue in New York with Trump’s HQ in his fifty-eight story tower. Founded in 1628, its most famous preacher, self-help movement pioneer who wrote The Power of Positive Thinking, Dr Norman Vincent Peale, presided for half a century till 1984. Trump claimed he saw him and was impressed.
Unfortunately, a statement from the church clarified that, contrary to Trump’s claims and unlike his parents, he was not an active member. Not only did the highest Presbyterian Church official condemn Trump’s expressed lack of charity as averse to its teachings, the Catholic Pope added his exclusionary views on Mexicans negate his claim to Christianity.
Still, one person who hasn’t abandoned Trump is his spiritual advisor. Paula White. Head Pastor of the New Destiny Christian Centre in Florida, White has been selling, amongst other items, resurrection seeds for $1.144 a pop, a price based on the Biblical passage John 11:44, about Jesus raising a dead man to life. Her dismissal as a heretic and charlatan by church peers, and a congressional inquiry into her financial affairs, didn’t stop Trump from choosing her to assemble his evangelical advisory committee.
Trump’s tax affairs are also controversial. Hundreds of millions in losses from his multibillion dollar holdings were reported this year, but being devoted to the presidential campaign, perhaps that’s understandable. However, he typically hypes up his financial success and takes dubious credit for lucrative transactions.
Trump learned about building and real estate from his shrewd and frugal father, Fred, who loaned his son a million bucks to start his own business. Fred’s security for loans and his political and banking connections gave Donald an exclusive head-start. His breakthrough came with purchase of the Commodore Hotel and subsequent sale at huge profit to the Hyatt Group, after coaxing a sweet tax break from authorities. Propagation of his name as brand earns vast monies through licensing. His policy is minimising expenses: “I fight like hell to pay as little as possible.” He sues noncompliant detractors. His turnabout with Trump University students is a rare settlement.
Holy books including the Quran teaches that God-fearers like Moses will eventually prosper but those swopping tried-and-tested law for their own preferences are like reckless Pharaohs bound for destruction. Trump’s government is poised to ignore standard inclusion measures and climate recommendations. His running mate, Mike Pence, is more moderate, if on rights issues egregiously traditional. Both originally supported Democrats. Trump’s nominated Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a conservative Old South opponent of civil rights, was dismissed as too racist by Reagan’s administration. CIA director will be Mike Pompeo, surveillance and oil champion.
Housing and Urban Development has been offered to the incongruous Ben Carson, who, though black, wants to end the ‘failed social experiment’ of Fair Housing. Candidates for Foreign Policy portfolios disqualified themselves by previously signing an anti-Trump letter, leaving several anti-Muslim frontrunners, including virulently right-wing Mike Flynn, chosen as National Security Advisor, and Clare Lopez, colleague of Frank Gaffney and conspiracy theorist, plus likeminded others. The job of United Nations Ambassador goes to Nikki Haley of Indian descent, who discounts climate change. Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and senior advisor, Steve Bannon, founder of ‘alt-right’ Breitbart, share nationalist leanings.
Presbyterians of Scots extraction, surrounding themselves with nationalists: it’s not a first. More like Birth Of A Nation all over again. D. W. Griffith’s 1915 riot-making film was condemned and widely banned as an advertisement for the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan, born in Tennessee in 1866. This cinematically-innovative, three-hour silent sell-out earned distributor Louis B. Mayer enough money to set up Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios.
When his Confederate father became impoverished, young Griffiths worked in shops, but dabbling with acting and play-writing led him to cinema, first with Edison Company in 1907, then directing at Biograph Company. The 1905 novel he adapted into Birth Of A Nation was The Clansman, which maligned black people and abolitionists. Its multi-jobbing author and Scotch-Irish Presbyterian, Thomas Dixon maintained extreme conservativism in his Klan trilogy, reviling socialism and herding women into their homes to preserve racial purity. As Civil War brought recession, Dixon used new media to preach apartheid. Lionising his ancestors as a lost Celtic tribe of Israel, Aryan race bodyguards and American founders, Dixon dedicated The Clansman, “to the memory of a Scotch-Irish leader of the south, my uncle, Colonel Leroy McAfee, Grand Titan of the Invisible Empire, Ku Klux Klan.”
Inspirations cited include Knights Templar, Scottish societies and Walter Scott’s writings. Vestiges remain in the likes of inflexible paraphernalia-obsessed Scottish and northern Irish neo-Nazi groups, and Pasadena’s Rose Parade. After Birth Of A Nation was released, racial attacks increased, but also, the still-active National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) was launched. As René Girard predicts, only when mimetic violence and its sacrificial victims are brought into the light can they be addressed, which Griffiths likewise argued: “We do not fear censorship…but we do demand, as a right, the liberty to show the dark side of wrong, that we may illuminate the bright side of virtue.”
Film suits historical subjects but takes sides. Irish contemporaneous comparators include Olcott’s For Ireland’s Sake, and Ireland the Oppressed, MacNamara’s Ireland, A Nation, and Cooper’s The Dawn. Elsewhere, Kalatozov’s 1930 film, Sol Svanetii depicted ethnic traits, while the BBC’s Army Film Unit made propaganda such as Calling Blighty.
For Charlie Chaplin, Griffiths was ‘the teacher of us all’, but despite making about five hundred films, some like, Intolerance, markedly socially conscious, he’s mainly remembered for Birth of a Nation, portraying black liberation as the ruin of civilisation.
Whatever similarities can be found, the façade of ‘truthful hyperbole’ Trump presents, his bluster and irascible rhetoric, isn’t consistent. He invited one of his most vocal critics, fellow republican and tycoon Mitt Romney, for talks after his win. A hands-off father, whose alcoholic brother died, Trump left his children’s upbringing to his wives. First wife, Ivana, who accused Trump of marital rape, said she handed them back aged twenty-one, fully formed. Their daughter, Ivanka converted to her husband’s Judaism, and is active vice president of The Trump Organisation, speaking and meeting ‒ his proxy wife, some say. Her diplomacy influences Trump, and startlingly, her marketing skills for Trump products take advantage even of his political success.
Rumours of worse circulate. The day after Trump and Ivanka talked with Argentinian President and businessman, Mauricio Macri, the green light was given to the construction of a €100 million Trump Tower in Buenes Aires. Does the ‘c’ word for exploiting power, so readily applied to African, Asian and South American regimes, also apply here? Only two US presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were ever impeached, and just one, Richard Nixon, had to resign. Trump rose due to government unaccountability, says one American blogger, who suggests availing of Article V of the Constitution, permitting state legislatures to form Amendment Conventions and vote for Constitutional or Presidential change.
It’s hard to know what will be needed, but as the new system takes shape, it can be monitored according to Umberto Eco’s fourteen signs of fascism, which include reliance on Newspeak – tick!, appeal to social frustration – tick! and rejection of modernism such as climate change – tick! Trump’s path to self-awareness, unless he speeds up, might be painful, and not just for him.