Citizen Trump: The sequel

I'm not the first person to compare the life of Donald J. Trump to that of protagonist Charles Foster Kane in the classic film Citizen Kane. Though it seems a good time to reflect on the similarities that are just too delicious to ignore as the U.S. Republican primary season approaches game time.

The top 10 "Citizen Kane/Donald J. Trump" moments:

  1. They both have towering egos. Kane and Trump built iconic towers as paeans to their empires. Trump Tower and the towers of Kane's Xanadu estate convey power and lots of it. These structures function as cathedrals to the dollar bill. What could be more American?

  2. Media is key to their power. Kane turned a family fortune in gold mines into the yellow newspaper The New York Daily Inquirer. Trump's popular reality TV show, The Apprentice, gave him a platform to fire people at his discretion and showcase his bombastic style.

  3. They spout patriotism in response to, well, everything. Both accused of being fascists, they rely on slogans to prove their patriotic chops. Whether it's Trump's trucker hat with "Make America Great Again" or Kane's "I am, have been, and will be only one thing—an American," they know how to sing an American tune.

  4. They embrace, then denounce, other powerful figures when it suits them. Trump used to heap praise on the Clintons, before he didn't. Kane was seen cavorting with Hitler. These mens' loyalties are as fickle as the New England weather. 

  5. They know how to make news, about themselves. Despite financial foibles that could have diminished their reputations, both Kane and Trump never lost their ability to be utterly fascinating to the public. Their skill is in making the outrageous newsworthy. People can't look away.

  6. They present opinions as facts and use a megaphone to prove them. As Kane says, "If the headline is big enough, it makes the news big enough." Trump shouts whatever he wants and people seem to believe him. Both adhere to Kane's motto that people will think "what I tell them to think."

  7. They like numbers and name calling in equal measure. Kane brags about his circulation figures nearly as much as Trump boasts about his poll numbers. They conflate the accumulation of wealth with statesmanship. And if you dare to attack them, expect to be labelled an anarchist by Kane or a liar by Trump. That's that.

  8. They like to feed the animals. Kane had a virtual Noah's ark of exotic creatures in a zoo at Xanadu, though in the end he was left with only a few monkeys lurking at the gate. Trump attracts rabid crowds at his campaign events and seems happy to treat supporters as chattel.

  9. Politically, they are always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Their egos can't resist taking a turn at politics. While Kane ran for governor with an eye toward the U.S. presidency, he was never elected. Fingers crossed, this similarity continues and Trump never takes an oath of office.

  10. Ah, Rosebud. The thing about sledding is that no matter how fun it is, you always end up downhill. Listen to this clip from documentary filmmaker Errol Morris in which Trump analyzes the meaning of Rosebud and reflects on the ups-and-downs of Kane's great wealth. Now who wants to argue with that?

It's time to step away from the T-word

As if you have to ask. You know you've said it. You know you've been saying it too much. You may have tried to stop, but can't. In the U.S., especially, people seem fixated on it.

The T-word makes many of us incredulous. It enthralls some, repels others. No one is neutral about the T-word. Some repeat it out loud to make sense of it. Few of us are immune to it. It baits us like P.T. Barnum, or Harold Hill, or Jay Gatsby.

It seems a distinctly American word: trump. There, I said it. As in "to trump" or be "trumped." It implies a quick, clever trick. It's an abrupt word. Linguistically sharp with edgy elbows at the beginning and end. One syllable, one note. Simple, really. 

There is theater in the trump card. It is often played with an arm-waving flourish, designed not just to win, but also to attract attention while doing it, say, like wearing a bright red cap in a crowd. It implies gamesmanship without the need for consistent skill. 

Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images News / Getty Images
Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images News / Getty Images

The Random House dictionary defines the word trump as "any playing card of a suit that for the time outranks the other suits." It's just a suit of a different color, powerful for the moment, yet transient by definition. A fleeting center of gravity without the gravitas. Still it is a winning strategy at the right time.

In our times, the T-word feeds our infotainment culture perfectly. It's showy and sometimes unpredictable and that is always seductive. The more we drop the T-bomb, the more the media covers it. And the more it is in the news, the more it seems like a real movement. And maybe it is. 

The T-word appeals to our basest instincts. We keep it alive in a national game of gossip. It has a can't-look-away quality that hooks us and makes us feel that maybe we, too, can speak our minds bluntly and be heard and followed and admired. Maybe we are all apprentice celebrities in waiting. 

For now, the T-word remains bold, loud, and fearless. It blares like a trumpet without a score. But it is not sustainable. Our brains habituate naturally. Even the T-word will become a habit and the habit will become boring. We'll stop hearing the continuous hucksterism. It will be like tuning out a barker at the county fair. The non-stop snarling will fade into background noise. 

Until the 24/7 trumping finds its rightful dead end, there is something we can all do. Stop saying the T-word. When you hear it, change the subject to Rubio or Clinton, Sanders or Fiorina. If you have to, Jindal. 

Because the T-word only has power if you let it. Don't let it roll off your tongue. Buck up, be brave and back away from the T-word. You can do it. Really. Go cold turkey if you have to. Now.