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Republicans and Democrats Choose their Soul Movies

George Salamon
August 3, 2016

by George Salamon

Social Media JPGTHE TWO CONVENTIONS are over. The nominees, Donald Trump (R) and Hillary Clinton (D) are presumptive no more. If we look at both events less as introductions to each party’s vision and program if victorious, but more as reflections of the kind of society they’d want to shape, we have to go to the movies to help us understand what they mean and expect to do.

After all, the Republican wish to “Make America Great” is neither a public philosophy nor a political program. And the Democratic dream of “Together”-ness falls equally short of instituting New-Deal policies. As Friedrich Engels pithily remarked : “Nett sein ist noch kein Programm,” or, “to be nice to each other is not yet a program.”

But words and performances, especially by the conventions’ leading actors, reminded us of iconic American movies: Each reflects the attitudes and inclinations of a bygone period, each revived by one party or the other in order to instill hope of that period’s return among those at the conventions or watching at home.

Unsurprisingly, the Republicans went to the Cold-War movies of the 1950s and early 1960s to represent their version of a “great America.” They brought on 93-year-old Bob Dole, their presidential nominee in 1996, as a benign and saluteless Dr. Strangelove, waving his good arm and smiling, a sad and silly echo of Strangelove’s final words of the movie, “Mein Fuehrer, I can walk,” now rendered as “Mein Donald, I can wave.” The 1964 movie was a brilliant and scathingly funny indictment of the Cold War madness that gripped the USA and the USSR.

And wasn’t it Dole who said at Richard Nixon’s funeral in 1994, “I believe the second half of the 20th century will be known as the Age of Nixon.” Laugh, cry and gag a lot if the “party of Lincoln’s” vision aims for a return to the times of Tricky.

And then there was the speech of Trump’s Frau, Melania Trump, telling us the story of the 1953 classic “How to Marry a Millionaire,” upgraded to a Billionaire sequel appropriate to a wet dream shared in Wall Street locker rooms and in bimbos’ New York and Los Angeles apartments. It was hardly what liberated and feminist women hope to see as “great” in America six decades after Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe pranced their way through a pleasant piece of fluff for Men in Grey Flannel Suits and their spouses.

THE DEMOCRATS went back farther, to movies of the late 1930s and 1940s. HillarySocial Media JPG Clinton’s slogan, suggesting that we can be stronger “Together”, takes us back to 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” in which Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion dance along the Yellow Brick Road to confront and expose the Wizard of Oz, who represents the money masters now ruling a “once free people.” Echoes of the Wall Streeters referring to themselves at the height of our second gilded age as “masters of the universe.”

The other movie invoked by the Democrats is 1946’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in which the little guy, played so well by Jimmy Stewart, takes on the big bankers. The happy Christmas night ending encourages voters to believe that, together, yes we can take them on, win and be happy with a little help from the angels, aka the Democrats, led by Hillary Clinton.

Many voters, young Bernie Sanders followers and old populists and progressives, still don’t know what role Hillary will play if the Democratic slogans win the day in November. Will she play the Wicked Witch of the West or the Good Witch of the North?

Dorothy, Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow want to know.

We want what used to be called a “public philosophy,” not just information on the political and governmental acts the Democrats under Hillary would perform, but a rationale for those acts, the state of mind and outlook on government and politics informing those acts.

Luck, be a lady this election.

George Salamon professed German language and literature at Harvard, Haverford, Dartmouth, and Smith colleges, worked as a business reporter and editor, and now writes for the Gateway Journalism Review, the New Verse News and Jewish Currents from the American heartland in St. Louis, MO.