It seems like ages ago now that someone was foolish enough to suggest that Donald J. Trump would be the Republican presidential nominee on George Stephanopoulos’ morning show. The host literally burst out laughing at such a ridiculous proposal. But it turns out we’re not living in a realistic universe, or at least we haven’t been for the past year. We’ve been in an alt-America dimension, where films like The Candidate and Man of the Year are a reality and respect, standards and taste no longer apply. Only recently have we begun to travel back from the Dali-esque existence we’ve been living under, where Mexicans are rapists prowling the streets and a Looney Tunes-inspired giant border wall is a sound political argument. It shouldn’t say “Trump” on that wall. It should say “Acme.”
Recently, speculation about election night has gripped the country in a brand new kind of terror. What happens after Trump’s loss? If it’s a particularly brutal embarrassing loss – enough to snap even Klansman David Duke back to reality – perhaps the nation can be course corrected. But if that loss isn’t hard enough, pundits have begun to speculate that Trump’s talk of a “rigged system” will permeate every strain of political thought and have unheard-of consequences. The very fabric of American democracy may well be at stake. If he refuses to concede, how can we continue? Concession is a time-honoured political tradition as old as the country itself. Even Gore, after the contested votes in Florida in 2000, conceded in order to allow democracy on its way. But if Trump stamps his feet and, folds his tiny hands under his arms and shouts, “No!” … what can be done?
It’s time to check into that alternate universe one last time – a glimpse of what life could be in the wake of Trump’s legacy. Before we head through the looking glass, here’s a list of films to prepare you for your dark journey.
15. The Landlord (1970)
Despite by what he thinks, Trump’s likability is only through caricature. It’s why Stephen Colbert interviews “Cartoon Donald Trump” so often. That’s to speak nothing of the dozens of variations of impressions. Everyone does a Trump, he’s the new Ed Sullivan. Joe Dante’s Looney Tunes-inspired sequel to the 1984 hit Gremlins features a Trump-like business leader played by John Glover named Daniel Clamp. Glover’s ingenious take on Trump (with a dash of Ted Turner) was to recognize that Trump’s absurdity in the early 90s was part of the charm. It was harmless then, just a goof on the rich guy who did the commercial with Grimace.
But the film gets prophetic when it reveals that Clamp, like his real life counterpart, has no regard or understanding of history. His cable network (also something The Donald is threatening to launch should/when the election goes South) boasts an ad for “Casablanca – now in full colour, and with a happier ending.”
13. Back to the Future Part II (1989)
It’s never been a good idea for a political candidate to incorporate pop culture in their speeches and rhetoric. Not because it doesn’t register with the public, just that politics and the language of cinema and music seem to be the worst kind of mix. Obama learned that after quoting The Untouchables when referring to the Republican Senate, accused of threatening violence by using Sean Connery‘s famous line “They bring a knife, we bring a gun.”
But no one did it worse than Ted Cruz. In his short bid for office, he quoted The American President, The Princess Bride and The Usual Suspects – to name a few. And every time, you could see his aides rolling their eyes behind him with a look that says, “I keep telling him, but…”
But Cruz wasn’t wrong when he said that the Biff Tannen, in keeping with the theme of our alternate reality, was modeled after Trump in the dystopian 1985 of Back to the Future II. His absurd hair, his implanted wife he ignores, his monuments to himself. Biff is ultimate undone by manure – something for which we can only hope.
12. The Mouse That Roared (1959)
We’re all aware of Dr. Strangelove, perhaps the most obvious and cliché comparison one can make out of the fear of handing The Donald the nuclear launch codes. However, a much more potent example of international relations with that other King of Tantrums in North Korea, Kim Jong Un, is this excellent satire from director Jack Arnold. Peter Sellers, once again playing multiple roles, is the prime minister of a minuscule country bankrupted by America. He then declares war and invades New York Harbour with a small force donning medieval chain mail.
Through happenstance and luck, the country manages to get its hands on a powerful nuclear weapon, suddenly becoming a genuine threat to the U.S. We don’t know what kind of havoc Trump’s much ballyhooed “great deals” may get us into, but we do know he’s the first presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater to seriously begin conversations about nuclear weapons with, “Why don’t we use them?”
11. Idiocracy (2006)
Mike Judge‘s follow-up to the much loved Office Space finds a modern man waking up in a future where everyone is stupid, everything is branded and the most watched show on TV is “Ow! My Balls!” Judge spotted the parallels to his cult film early in the campaign season and offered to write and direct anti-Trump TV ads. They even roped in star Terry Crews to reprise his role as President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho.
Screenwriter Ethan Cohen was excited, tweeting about it regularly, claiming in interviews that “It would take much longer to get [where we are].” Fans were thrilled. All Judge needed was to get the clearance from 20th Century Fox to reuse the characters and…oh…Fox. The company’s Grand Wizard Rupert Murdoch has been very open about his support for Donald Trump, so the world reverted back to being far too stupid for its own good.
10. Tin Men (1987)
A better look into Trump’s business practices isn’t the self-aggrandizing Art of the Deal, but the Barry Levinson film Tin Men. Two aluminum siding salesmen – played by Danny DeVito and Richard Dreyfuss – will go to extreme lengths to push their product, regardless of legality. Things get personal after they get into a car accident, after which Dreyfuss sets about seducing DeVito’s wife.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Trump’s campaign, it’s that he takes things personally. He’s equal parts DeVito and Dreyfuss on Twitter. And, when someone attempts to take him down a peg, he has no shame in making brutal personal attacks that are immature and bombastic. The only thing the titular Tin Men are missing is a million dollar loan from their father.
9. The Towering Inferno (1974)
In The Art of the Deal, Trump (with Tony Schwartz) writes, “My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.”
How, one wonders, can such a philosophy go wrong? Or, better question, which Irwin Allen disaster film best encapsulates the Trump deal-making strategy? The Towering Inferno is set in a San Francisco skyscraper which, during its dedication, is engulfed in an uncontrollable fire. Turns out the building’s owner, in cahoots with his electrical engineer, cut severe corners in an effort to save money. Given what we know of Trump’s shoddy construction, abandoned structures and habit of stiffing his employees and contractors, the scenario isn’t that far fetched.
More significantly, in the film, as the survivors ponder what will become of the remnants of the charred building, one suggests it’s best to let it stand as “a kind of shrine to all the bulls**t in the world.”
8. Wall Street (1987)
Wall Street was bound to come up eventually, the film in which Michael Douglas‘ notorious corporate raider tells a room full of brokers that “Greed is good.” Moreover, in the terrible sequel set during the housing crisis of 2008 (a period Trump refers to as “very good” for him financially), Douglas expands that point. “I once said Greed is good,” he says. “Now it’s legal.”
The Art of the Deal is greed writ large, and Gekko – a late-80s caricature of the worst of Wall Street culture – must have been an avid fan. Though Gekko’s shady business dealings have more in common with Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, the basic idea is the same. We’d ask Trump about Oliver Stone‘s film, but chances are – according to ghostwriter Tony Schwartz – he wouldn’t have the attention span to sit through it.
7. The Candidate (1972)
Much has been made of Trump’s haircut – years of pondering what it’s made of, if it’s real, if something died there, etc. The truth is, when Trump was a young man, one of the most desired actors in Hollywood was Robert Redford. By 1972, Redford’s talent and influence on Hollywood was already the stuff of legend. As was his sandy hair. At this time, Trump was being coached by Power of Positive Thinking zealot/con man Norman Vincent Peale (his “family pastor” – as well as Nixon’s) – his mind shaped by the ideas to this day (those specific hand gestures during speeches aren’t an accident, folks – the right making the “okay” symbol, the left flat palmed, slamming down).
Michael Ritchie’s excellent satire The Candidate follows a political outsider with family connections who is shaped to run a campaign based entirely on his charisma. It’s classic ending finds Redford’s newly elected candidate staring at the man who shaped him – Peter Boyle – asking, “What do we do now?”
6. Falling Down (1993)
Joel Schumacher‘s best film was made shortly after the Rodney King riots, when white America was terrified, panicky and, yes, felt disenfranchised (sound familiar?). It follows over-the-edge Michael Douglas, yelling about and subsequently beating immigrants for overpricing sodas, killing gangbangers and neo-Nazis. The latter of which is the film’s only distinction from the average David Duke-loving Trump supporter. In reality, Douglas’ unhinged defence contractor would be one of the candidate’s Pavlovian followers.
The same white panic produced by the King riots, like the Watts riots of the 60s before it, is echoed every day on the 24 hour news cycle; with embattled aging white men fearing Black Lives Matter activists.
5. The Producers (1967)
The idea of Mel Brooks‘ first film serving as a parody of the Trump campaign hasn’t been lost on the American people, with Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane reprising their roles from the musical adaptation on a recent episode of Jimmy Kimmel. The film’s premise – that you can profit from a flop more than a hit if you orchestrate it correctly – also plays into the conspiracy theory that The Donald’s campaign was hastily thrown together by his opponent in an effort to ensure her success.
Also in The Producers, Zero Mostel’s hack producer has to suck up and pander to both a drug addict named LSD and a hardcore Nazi playwriter in order to pull off the most disastrous production of all time. Never ashamed of trading in his human decency for a vote, Trump has refused to call out his Klansman supporters, nor the hard right-biker gangs that patrol his rallies like the Hell’s Angels at Altamont.
4. Bedtime for Bonzo (1951)
I know what you’re thinking. I just want to make a couple of jokes about primates and Trump, right? Well, you’re part right.
Bonzo was a hailed as a major return to form for actor Ronald Reagan, though he claims never to have seen it until 1984 (and therefore quickly forgot it). His popularity went through the roof. Reagan had earlier dropped off the map after being elected SAG president in 1941 and then enlisting in WWII.
Bonzo serves as a stark reminder that, for better or worse, the most unlikely of people (men, let’s just say men for now) can wind up running the country. But it’s all about nature vs. nurture in the film, as Reagan plays a psychology professor trying to teach human morality to a chimpanzee. As Bill Maher has pointed out, a similar experiment is currently being conducted with a half-man, half-orangutan running for the highest office in the land. Zoologists have yet to release their findings.
3. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Of the films listed, this is the only one in which The Donald makes a personal appearance. He can spotted in the lobby of the hotel Macauley Culkin‘s Kevin McCallister cons his way into staying. The film did well commercially, but critics felt writer John Hughes copy and pasted his script from the first film and changed all the references to “house” with “city.”
As mentioned, young, entrepreneurial con man (and potential future Jigsaw killer) McCallister uses his father’s credit card to stay in a luxury suite. The film’s villain, beyond the returning Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, is Tim Curry‘s concierge. The internet has taken great delight in pointing out that Curry is secretly a hero, his only crime being a bit stiff. He’s genuinely concerned for the safety of a ten-year-old roaming a pre-Guiliani New York. Come November, there was a chance we’d all be Tim Curry, concerned at the notion of an immature, clueless wealthy brat wandering unsupervised in a building in which he should have never been normally allowed.
2. Gabriel Over the White House (1933)
William Wagner’s production of an alt-reality political film might double as the kind of nightmarish tantrum a President Trump could easily one day have. Though the film leans more socialist than right wing, it finds an unpopular politics-as-usual president (Walter Huston) suffering a life changing near-death moment. As a result, he purges his entire political hack cabinet (you know, like how Trump wants to bring in his “outsiders”). When threatened with impeachment, Huston dissolves the entire legislative branch on a whim.
Then he suspends civil rights, imposes martial law and threatens anyone he deems an enemy of the state with imprisonment and execution.
We’ve seen inklings of this in Trump’s past, threatening endless lawsuits instead of imprisonment. Since running, however, he has not-so-subtly recommended his opponent’s assassination. But Huston’s president becomes the hero that The Donald sees himself as; he balances the budget, gets the country out of depression and brings peace to the entire planet. The bad news: he’s still essentially Mussolini.
1. All The King’s Men (1949)
Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was first adapted by Robert Rossen (and, to much less fanfare, in 2006 by Steve Zallian). It chronicles the rise of Willie Stark, from the deep rural south to the Governorship of Louisiana (based largely on actual “Kingfish” Governor Huey Long). Stark is handpicked by political operatives who think he can appeal to the poor, disenfranchised southerners. They quickly get more than they bargained for when Stark realizes the game early on, beginning going off message to resonate even better than anticipated. Often mocking his operatives (in the remake, he emphasizes this by pushing partisan hack James Gandolfini in the mud of a pig pen).
As he gets further embroiled in the political world, however, his thirst for power coupled with corruption and scandal overtakes him.
And really, what are we to expect of a man who has made a political career out of pandering to clueless midwesterner bumpkins? The man who claims to be on the outside of the “rigged” system (and they will say, “oh, how he lives like us”), who lambastes his opponents for knowing the game (and they will say “oh, how he’ll work for us”), who changes policy faster than his tailored suits while eating MacDonald’s (and they will say “oh, how he eats like us”) on his private jumbo jet?
Oh, how he doesn’t. Oh, how he won’t. Oh, how we’re screwed.
Sources: Newsweek, The AVclub, Wikipedia, USAToday, The Guardian, The Art of the Deal by Donald J. Trump (with Tony Schwartz)