Cinema is one of the many mirrors we hold up to our world. That mirror sometimes shows dysfunction on a grand-opera, Tony Soprano scale.
Sometimes it reveals unnerving volatility and narcissism.
Daniel Day-Lewis’s Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance in The Shining, and Robert De Niro’s Max Cady in Cape Fear show how fickle emotional composure and rational functioning can be. Each was a psychopath but each had different simmering proclivities, had different exploding perversions.
It is a great tragedy for the West, and especially for America, that characters as noxious as Plainview, Torrance or Cady are now valid comparators for President Donald Trump, the successor of Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter, Bush father and son, and Obama.
The briefest overview of his unhinged, uninformed behaviour, his petulance and the responses of those closest to him over recent months will confirm that we are indeed living through the strangest, most unsettling American presidency of modern times.
As emigration is a bedrock reality of our culture the Trump policy of seizing children from immigrant families crossed a Rubicon. It may not have happened at a dusty railway yard in Eastern Europe but the comparisons are unavoidable.
In August, President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was jailed while his long-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen’s guilty plea ended months of speculation. Cohen faces a December sentencing hearing.
This Tuesday The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward published Fear, in which describes aides calling President Trump an “idiot” and a “liar”. It also claims aides removed papers from the Oval Office to prevent him breaking trade agreements. Among Woodward’s allegations is that chief of staff John Kelly described the president as an “idiot” who has “gone off the rails”. After a Security Council meeting on North Korea, an exasperated defence secretary James Mattis said the president had the understanding of a fifth or six-grader. On another occasion, Mr Trump apparently ordered his defence secretary to kill Syrian leader Basher al-Assad.
On Wednesday, The New York Times published an anonymous piece purportedly by a mandarin who claims to be part of a secret cabal trying to protect America and the world from the wildest impulses of the man-child now the commander-in-chief of a superpower army. Robert Muller’s investigation into Trump’s links with Russia seems a tightening noose. Though on a different plane, the decision by the Bush and McCain families to publically exclude President Trump from the Barbara Bush and John McCain funerals adds further disconcerting context.
Just a few weeks ago Taoiseach Leo Varadkar impressed when he made a fair but firm speech welcoming Pope Francis. He did not shirk difficult issues. President Trump is to visit Ireland and that will present Mr Varadkar with an even greater challenge. President Trump must be welcomed as the leader of America’s 325m people but his behaviour cannot be ignored. David must find the courage to criticise Goliath — silence and the tacit approval that implies is not an option.