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Steve Patterson: Donald Trump and Lonesome Rhodes-Déjà vu?

 “Donald trump is a fraud and a phony ….. Donald trump has had several foreign wives. It turns out there really are jobs Americans won’t do.”     Mitt Romney, Republican Party Presidential nominee 2012


“Donald Trump is a pathological liar . He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth, and in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology text book …. the man is utterly amoral. Morality does not exist for him.“          Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz


There are few constants in most lives. My life is a hectic roller coaster ride of ups and downs. My days are filled with little consistency. The one thing that seems to be reliable in my daily schedule is the Andy Griffith show.

That’s right — immediately after the local news each day, you can bet I will exercise my freedom with the remote control and flip from NBC to CBS to catch Sheriff Andy and a barefooted Opie skipping rocks across the lake, as that all too familiar whistling music accompanies their leisurely stroll. There has never been a bigger fan of Andy and the idyllic North Carolina town of Mayberry than I am. I love its humor, its characters that we can all relate to, because we have all known folks just like them.

Most of all I love the unfailing kindness, common sense, judgment, and humble wisdom that Andy shows in each episode. Whether it’s the father-son talks with Opie, or the wisdom to allow Otis to lock himself up when he’s imbibed a little too much of the Morrison sisters’ “recipe” or teaching Ernest T. Bass social etiquette in an effort to woo his “true love,“ Andy always comes through with uncommon good sense, even when the good-natured Barney becomes overzealous. I wish we all lived in Mayberry. Don’t you?

Since the arrival of Donald J. Trump on the national political stage, I have been plagued with a strange feeling of déjà vu. I’ve read this book before. I’ve seen this play or this film. Where was it? For two years now, I have struggled to recall where the comparison was in the deep recesses of my aging brain.

Was it Faulkner’s depiction of the Snopes family in his highly acclaimed trilogy The HamletThe Town and The Mansion?

No, the Snopes don’t fit the profile — they are money hungry opportunists with a proclivity toward gaudy hyperbole. The rise of Snopesism and Trumpism are both aided by the complicity of an admiring public that confuses cunning with intelligence, but even Flem Snopes can’t muster the manipulative demagoguery of Trump.

Could it be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby?

No that doesn’t fit either. Gatsby was indeed a glitzy rich charlatan with a shady rise to wealth and a gaudy mansion and lavish parties, but the Trump comparison ends there. Jay Gatsby was, at least, motivated by love and was a loyal and good-hearted man.

It surely must be Robert Penn Warren’s classic, All the King’s Men? Without doubt, Warren’s character Willie Stark (generally believed to be modeled after Louisiana’s Huey Long) must be the cause of my desperate feelings of having previously experienced the Trump phenomenon?

On final analysis, Warren’s fictional account of Willie Stark is only a partial parallel. Stark is transformed in the novel from an idealistic young lawyer into a corrupt, charismatic, powerful, and authoritarian governor. His success is achieved through intimidation of anyone who dares to challenge him and a fiery populist appeal to a gullible electorate. The comparison of Willie Stark and Donald Trump, however, ends there. Willie Stark had an agenda: he did bad things for a good cause. He was a true populist, grounded in a sincere desire to improve the lives of the poor uneducated masses. He was an “end justifies the means” kind of character. His aspirations were not purely personal and he held sincere beliefs, unlike the say-anything, do-anything Donald J. Trump.

The epiphany finally came while watching Sheriff Andy Taylor. In Floyd’s barbershop, he explained to Goober, Howard Sprague, and Barney the importance of the upcoming town council elections in Mayberry.

Andy jarred my memory. Suddenly it dawned on me. It was not his role as Andy Taylor, Mayberry sheriff, but rather his starring role as “Lonesome Rhodes” in Elia Kazan’s classic 1957 film, “A Face in the Crowd.”

That’s it! That’s where I have seen the Donald Trump show before! If you haven’t seen “A Face in the Crowd” starring Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, and Walter Matthau, you must. As Yogi Berra once said “It’s Déjà vu all over again.”

The storyline follows an Arkansas “good ole boy” named Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith) who is discovered in a county jail by an aspiring radio personality (Patrica Neal), seeking colorful new talent. She puts Lonesome on radio and his braggadocious, hayseed style is an immediate sensation. His meteoric rise eventually leads to his own network television show, and the allure of national politics naturally attracts his attention. Eventually ole Lonesome becomes a self-described kingmaker, a molder of public opinion and a political force.

The comparison of Donald Trump and Lonesome Rhodes comes easily. They are two peas in the same pod. Ole Lonesome and President Trump seem to have the same view of women. In one movie scene the first Mrs. Rhodes says of her former husband, “He thinks he has to take a bite out of every broad he comes across. Then he calls them a tramp, drops them, and there’s all sort of psycho something or other, you know. I caught him red-handed with my best girlfriend. He broke my jaw.” And Lonesome seems to confirm that view himself when he says “a guitar beats a woman every time.” He marries several times and has multiple affairs during and in between each marriage. Sound familiar?

Once he hits the big time, his ego gets the best of him and he brags, “I’m not just an entertainer, I’m an influence, a wielder of opinion, a force — a force.” Sound even more familiar?

Toward the end of the movie, as his inevitable fall from the public’s grace approaches, and while thinking his microphone is not on, Lonesome tells the public who he really is. But, far more importantly, he also tells the public who he thinks they are: “Those morons out there? Shucks, I could take chicken fertilizer and sell it to them as caviar. I could make them eat dog food and think it was steak.— you know what the public’s like? A cage of guinea pigs. Good night, you stupid idiots. Good night, you miserable slobs. They’re a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish, and they flap their flippers.”

Can anyone mistake the obvious likeness to Donald Trump when he brags “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get by with it.” Not even the fictional Lonesome Rhodes is that brash.

The dictionary defines a demagogue as “a person, especially an orator, or political leader, who gains power and popularity, by arousing the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the people. Lonesome Rhodes fits that bill. Sadly, so does the current President of the United States.

Recently a dear little “Aunt Bee” type lady approached me in church and said, “Steve, I love your columns, but I wish you would lay off President Trump. He’s making America great again.”

When I responded, “How is he making America great again?” she laughed and replied, “I don’t really know. I just think he is.” At that point her courtly husband interjected with a sly grin “I don’t believe anything that fella Trump says, Steve. But I sure do love to hear him say it!”

In one of the most insightful scenes in the film, the Walter Matthau character, Mel Miller, delivers one of the most powerful lines about Lonesome Rhodes: “I’ll say one thing for him: he’s got the courage of his ignorance.”

I recommend “A Face in the Crowd.” It’s great entertainment and provides a clear picture of the destructive power of ego and arrogance.

Wonder what scheme Andy of Mayberry could come up with? I bet he could find a way to force President Trump to watch the movie and hopefully learn its valuable lessons.

For other opinion pieces by Steve Patterson see :    or refer to the Opinion/Guests tab in main menu.

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