The strange old colon blockage we’ve elected president is at it again, complaining about the temperament of reporters like CBS’s Weijia Jiang and Paula Reid: “It wasn’t Donna Reed, I can tell you that.”
Well, if turnabout is fair play: Donald Trump is no Jimmy Stewart.
Donna Reed is the actor (or “actress,” if you want to use a word that will make many present-day actors who are female want to claw their faces off) who was best known for playing compliant housewife types in the 1950s. She died in 1986. Reid and Jiang are good at their jobs, and it’s totally out of line for the president to try to police their professional conduct by evoking an archetype that American women (including his daughter, the very important ripoff shoe design copyright holder turned presidential adviser) have spent decades fighting.
But as nice as it would be if we had a president who didn’t do stuff like this, this is what this guy does. It’s so predictable. It’s tiresome. I’m bored. I’ve sighed enough times formulating a reaction to this that I feel like I’m doing a deep-breathing exercise.
So rather than issue a sincere response along the lines of Actually, Donna Reid Was A Badass or Sir! Leave The Women Alone! (Byline: A Man Doffing His Cap), I think it’s more important to discuss some of the ways in which the president compares to male archetypes of the Donna Reed era, like, say, Reed’s It’s A Wonderful Life costar, James “Jimmy” Stewart.
In real life, James Stewart, like Donald Trump, was a Republican. He campaigned for Barry Goldwater and had some pretty kooky views on Vietnam (even after his son was killed there, in the war that Donald Trump faked having bone spurs on his foot to avoid). But just as Trump wasn’t comparing female reporters to the real Donna Reed, we’re comparing Trump to some of the characters Stewart played.
In the 80 films he acted in during his career, Stewart played pretty much every mid-century American male film archetype. And Trump can’t live up to the good in any of them.
Is Trump a loving family man, a la George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life? Bailey had a wife and four children whom he loved so much he almost killed himself on Christmas Eve because he was so ashamed of the prospect of being a failed provider. Trump has cheated on all three of his wives, spent his newest wife’s 50th birthday rage-tweeting about Noble Prizes, and sometimes it’s hard to guess which of his non-Ivanka children he cares for the least. He’s run every business he’s ever managed—including America, natch—into the ground. He’s written off over $1 billion in losses on his taxes, that we know of. Some have noticed that Trump actually has a lot more in common with Bailey’s nemesis, the evil, greedy, and gross Mr. Potter. Nope, he’s no George Bailey.
Is Donald Trump a cowboy, like the ones Stewart played in Anthony Mann westerns? Movie cowboys ride horses through the unforgiving and lawless American West, solitary and not caring what anybody thinks. The president parks his wide ass on the bench of a golf cart, being driven around the tacky, over-manicured abomination of the golf course. Cowboys are the strong and silent type; Trump calls Fox & Friends from the toilet.
Is Donald Trump like Jimmy Stewart the hard boiled private eye? Sort of! In Vertigo, former police officer Scottie is afraid of heights; Trump is afraid of stairs. But Scottie is a brainy depressive haunted by his past mistakes; the president has never demonstrated a capacity to feel bad about anything, even 70,000 Americans dead from a largely preventable outbreak his government mismanaged. And Scottie is capable of understanding a plot that, if I’m being totally honest, was almost too complicated for me to fully grok the first time I watched Vertigo.
Trump has nothing in common with Stewart’s character from Anatomy of a Murder, another film about a complicated crime. In the film, Stewart plays Paul Biegler, an attorney who defends a man accused of murdering an alleged rapist. President Trump is on the record as declaring E. Jean Carroll too unattractive to rape.
Last: Donald Trump is no Senator Jefferson Smith, the Mr. Smith who Goes To Washington as an everyman so good and pure that when he arrives in D.C. and is horrified by the dirty status quo of government, its corruption bends to his goodness instead of the other way around? Drain the swamp, am I right?
Most of all, the president is nothing like the actor’s most iconic characters because he’s demonstrably incapable of positive change. No amount of exhausted chastising from the decency police is going to impact him; if anything, he’s going to keep pulling “say wild shit into a microphone to distract from how bad he is at his job” from his bag of tricks for as long as it’s going to work, which is apparently forever. But at least now you have a good list of great old movies to re-watch during the lockdown.