Every once in a while, you come across something that gives you an utterly new and strange perspective on a field you considered yourself to have quite a decent understanding of. Since Donald Trump campaign began long ago with the (now rightfully deemed inhumane) sport of Bush-Baiting, I had an inkling as to some aspect of his character. Looking back at his old interviews, here was a man who was at the beating, cancerous heart of an establishment machine, a billionaire socialite with a trophy wife, who swung partners as often as he did a Nine Iron.
Since he first established himself in the cultural mindset during the period of Reaganisation and all that entailed, he presented the quintessentially American image of the playboy, turning the previous generations WASP affectations up to the maximum and adding a seasoning of pop cultural vulgarity to aid digestion.
And yet here we had this person on stage, tearing apart the heir apparent to the Bush family of neo-liberals in a way never seen before in American public life, taking absolute joy in tearing apart both right and left wing political correctness, lording it over elitist journalists, and all this eliciting cheers from his pent-up supporter base as he does what they wish they could: Tell the whole damn system to go screw itself.
Now, I can only speculate as to what caused this change in Trump, from Society darling to class traitor iconoclast, but it’s clear from watching archive footage that some falling out occurred between him and that world of luvvies and false friends typified by the Dunhamist-Perryite support of Hillary Clinton. For whatever reason, around the mid 2000’s Trump re-emerged as a hate figure for high society, and one would not be hard-pressed to find extensive footage of Late Night talk show hosts and Millionaire Playboys launching attack after attack on the man and long before anyone took him as a serious political commentator, let alone a President-Elect.
Perhaps he grew too comfortable in his gilded world of champagne and bridge at the club, and believed he could express any views he so desired, after all he was among friends supposedly. But like a high school clique, anyone in that group expressing an opinion of unfashionable status must not just be disagreed with, they must be destroyed, used as an example, as is and always has been the way of the nobility as it staggers and burps towards the guillotine.
Fortunately I stumbled upon something that granted me a slight if still significant insight into the Don’s mind, which often veers between that of a brilliant strategist and a senile old crank, often in the same tweet.
It was a short interview in which Trump talked about Orson Welles’s oft-referenced 1941 film Citizen Kane, about a young and popular entrepreneur and his descent from high society and the artificial love it provides to isolation, madness, and regret via, amongst other things, a failed political campaign.
Now while that may sound familiar one also would be wise to consider the various figures contemporary to Welles’s time that went into the creation of Kane. The most cited of course is the figure of W.R. Hearst, the father of the yellow press but Kane is also reminiscent (Especially during the scenes where he speaks to his followers) Of Depression era American populists like Father Coughlin and Huey Long in both style and content. Welles’ makes his character speak with passion about societal and political corruption, about vote rigging, about all the various machinations that crush down upon the common man. Welles created a self-funded populist railing at the world he had seen every wart and boil of, and whose rage against his own class drove him to the political stage.
Kane’s Gubernatorial campaign against a corrupt establishment rival, in hindsight, has several notable similarities with the recent election of Trump. Kane speaks as a populist and courts the working class in huge rallies, confidently speaking of how on his first day in office he’ll see to the prosecution of his opponent for numerous acts of corruption, and has two headlines planned for both possible results, with the one held in reserve in case of his loss alleging “Fraud at the polls”. His opponent even blackmails him with evidence of sexual misconduct. But as similar as these events may seem, what they reveal most is one key difference between DJT and CFK, of which we will discuss later in this article.
It would be interesting, even without recent events, to see someone like Trump talk about a film that targets the lifestyle he lives, just as it is interesting to hear veterans opine on War Flicks, or to hear Ted Bundy Comment on silence of the lambs. A film aimed at showing an unfamiliar audience a life they cannot or would not hope to lead will always receive a different interpretation from someone who has lived that lifestyle. Trump’s commentary on Kane, though it is neither particularly in depth or insightful with regards to Welles’ intentions, is quite revealing as to how Trump views himself in comparison to Kane. Trump seems to agree with central idea that wealth makes a person more isolated and guarded, but has some interesting comments to make about Kane’s relationship with his wife. The thrice married tycoon mentions how Kane’s wife seemed unhappy, although “there were certainly some benefits in it for her”. He seemingly misunderstands the meaning of the iconic line “rosebud”, stating that perhaps “nobody really knows what it means”. His advice to the broken and lonely Charles Foster Kane would be too “just get another woman”.
As shallow as these insights appear, they do paint a rather interesting picture of the man behind the golden mullet. He seems to somewhat relate to the false friendships and lack of real connection Kane faces throughout his life, but the personal defeats suffered by Kane seem to be incomprehensible to Mr. Trump. Throughout he has suffered relationship failures that would have driven Kane to suicide, particularly his expensive divorce with his first wife, and has come out of it punching stronger than ever. While Kane dwells on every failure, broods over every missed opportunity, Trump manages to overcome divorces, bad press, sexual assault allegations and bankruptcies with sure-footed confidence.
The most significant point to be made about Trump’s reading of the film is his comments on the most famous sled in the history of Cinema. Kane chooses his last word because for him, it represents the last time he was truly happy, living a simple life with his normal family in childhood, the last time he was truly loved. He looks back on a life of achievement and luxury that most would kill for and can find only sorrow and bitterness at each failure he faced. I believe this is something Trump cannot comprehend because his psychology doesn’t allow him too. This is a man who feels no regret and powers through life like a pneumatic drill, a man who wouldn’t even remember a sled if it was diamond studded and made of solid gold. Trump is a man who managed to buy happiness.
But the clearest difference between Trump and Kane is the formers success, down purely to willpower. Whilst Kane’s race against the corrupt Boss Gittys’ ends in a humiliating defeat, Trump Weathered everything from sexual assault allegations to accusations of collusion with Vladimir Putin to defeat Hillary Clinton, probably a candidate that compares better than any other in the modern day to the Boss’s and Political Machines of Welles’s age. It was a victory few saw coming and even fewer in positions of power and statues wanted, and the aftershocks are still being felt in the halls of power worldwide. In his Xanadu, Trump is always pictured smiling, or at least with a look of steely determination, amongst the golden columns and regal furniture, usually surrounded by his family or supporters and friends, in direct contrast to the empty, cold and lonely mansion of Charles Foster Kane.
In summary, Citizen Kane was intended as an exploration of the emptiness that comes with wealth, of the disappointment that stems from hubris, and the coldness that comes from a lack of love.
Most people look at the film and are left with a deep empathy for a man who could never be satisfied.
Trump saw the film, and took it as a challenge to do better.