I was watching Batman Returns the other night (it’s a Christmas movie, okay!), and it seemed like it was rubbing the past year in my face with all the big budget gothery that Tim Burton is famous for. The plot sees the Dark Knight caught between a powerful woman trying to assert dominance in a male-crowded field with an annoying habit of coming back just when you think she’s gone, and a gross trust-fund brat whose disgusting inside and out, openly misogynistic, and wickedly obsessed with his own revenge and self-satisfaction who cons a beleaguered people into thinking he’s their hero. Sound familiar?
It may be a stretch to retcon Batman Returns to be a reading of this past year’s U.S. Presidential Election, but the comparisons were still easy to come by as the film unfolded. That goes double for the subplot about a corrupt businessman using the Penguin, re-imagined by Burton as a literal bird-man, to run for mayor of Gotham and be a puppet who will let said tycoon get away with various shady deals. Despite the fact that the Penguin has a violent street gang of circus performing lackies, and despite the fact he knows how twisted his benefactor is, Penguin goes along with it because the people love him, and its a kind of way to get back at all those that wrote him off as a freak his whole life and laughed at him.
There are a lot of movies about corrupt people getting power, and a lot of real life examples of politicians being corrupted by power, but rarely does a politician so openly corrupt get elected to take power in a free and fair election. This isn’t the opinion of crazy liberal bloggers talking, this comes straight from the mouth of Donald Trump and his surrogates. The president-elect energized millions with the catchphrase “Drain the Swamp,” they chanted it at his rallies like they were sending a mythical hero out on some Herculean quest, but “Hercules” himself admitted in Des Moines that he never thought his own campaign slogan would be that popular.” Funny how that term caught on, isn’t it?” Trump said at one of his self-serving “thank you” rallies earlier this month. “I tell everyone, I hated it. Somebody said ‘drain the swamp’ and I said, ‘Oh, that is so hokey. That is so terrible.'”
Terribly good? That’s probably not what Trump meant, and certainly his campaign toady Newt Gingrich stepped in it when he confirmed this week that Trump wasn’t terribly worried about actually draining the swamp because, hey, why should anyone take anything the man about to become President of the United States should say literally? Gingrich had to issue a video retraction and say he mischaracterized Trump’s intent. “I want to report that I made a big boo boo,” he told the camera as if he were addressing Buddy the Elf, and not a nation of people who perhaps for an instant felt betrayed in the intentions of the man they voted for.
They should feel betrayed anyway though because while Gingrich suffered from foot in mouth, Trump’s own sons were establishing a charity event that would have allowed donors one-on-one access to the 45th President on inauguration day in exchange for a cheque worth between $500,000 and $1 million. Eric Trump, who so vehemently condemned Hillary Clinton for meeting with a handful of Clinton Foundation donors while she was Secretary of State, apparently has post-campaign amnesia, as he and his older brother Donald Jr. clearly think nothing of “pay-for-play” so long as they’re the ones doing it. One would have thought that Eric had learned his lesson on this account last week when he had to pull a charity auction to win a coffee date with his sister, Ivanka.
For anyone with half a brain, this is the crux of our frustration with the Trump agenda. How can they campaign against pay-for-play and then revel in it? How can Trump get his steel and Trump brand suits made in China, and then win points slamming American trade policy that allows businessmen like himself to profit? How can people supposedly feeling “economic pressure” applaud a man that calls himself “smart” for using his business impotence to get out of paying taxes? And how can you still believe that Trump will #DraintheSwamp when the 15 people proposed for his cabinet have more income that one-third of the people of they will supposedly serve?
I have only one inescapable conclusion: this isn’t a political movement, it’s a cult. The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) has a list of “Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups” including the group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader; questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished; the leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel; the group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality; the group is preoccupied with making money; and, the leader is not accountable to any authorities. Any of this sound familiar?
If there’s a reason to be relieved that the prospect of encroaching Trumpism might not come to Canada, it’s in this idea that Trump has basically become a cult leader. You can duplicate the tactics – as Kellie Leitch has in her “Canadian values” policy proposal, or as Ezra Levant fans did a few weeks ago in Edmonton with chants of “Lock her up!” – but unless there’s a charismatic strong man selling it to the masses, it’s a tough to make a sale. Even Kevin O’Leary, who’s now a step closer in putting his toe in the Conservative leadership race, is not Trump enough to be Canada’s Trump; he’s not rich enough, he’s not appealing enough, and even his fellow Shark Tankers seem to hate him. The picture on his website looks more like he’s running for Lex Luthor in a new Superman movie than Prime Minister of Canada.
Having said that, the day may come when someone actually may be able to sell Trumpism to Canadians. Of course a few short months ago, no one fully believed that Trump could sell it, and look where we are now. If there’s one lesson to be learned from 2016 it’s that we literally don’t know where the future is going, and as we go into 2017, while the president-elect ponders aloud about starting a new arms race and getting cozy with Russia, things seem more uncertain than ever. Where will we be this time next year? Who can say? The point is that we have to be vigilante lest a hideous fish man convince enough Canadians to put *him* in office.