Trump is nuts*. This didn’t seem ‘hold the front page’ news for the start of 2018 (only a year after that eerily dystopian inauguration), but Michael Wolff’s ‘Fire and Fury’ has alleged a lot more specified meat on the bones for all us carrion hunters to chew over. And carrion it is, as, really, fake news or not, it’s old news.
We didn’t really expect it to be any other way, did we? We all knew what we were getting with Trump, didn’t we? Isn’t that the real point? And the real question. The real mystery.
How did this guy ever get the nomination to be on the ticket in the first place, let alone get into office?
I’ve been convinced, for quite some time, you only need to look at one American story to make sense of it, and, just before Christmas, watching a re-run of that story, I was reminded again of the key to that mystery.
Donald Trump is Scarlett O’Hara.
And it’s perfectly logical, given where we are, that the American people would put Scarlett in the White House. Perhaps what they didn’t reckon on was that every day now would feel like that ultimate of cliffhangers.
With Scarlett, we never got to know what happened next.
Gone With The Wind is a problematic movie (and an even more problematic book) viewed through the filter of contemporary thought – not that it wasn’t problematic when it arrived in the world in 1936 (I was quite surprised it was on in our current climate where the very notions of artistic licence and altered contexts are worthy enough of outrage in themselves), but then, it’s always on – always has been on – at Christmas, at Easter, and, judging from the generally positive response I saw on Twitter, still draws a less than derisive audience.
The real problem with Gone With The Wind is that it takes artistic licence, and distorts the context of its setting, to extremes – and, because the historical context covers divisive representations of race, gender, slavery and a civil war, its political narrative gets in the way of what it’s actually about.
Because it was never intended to be about these things (its not trying to make a political statement or provide accurate social commentary), the portrayal of these issues are sketchy, lopsided, romanticised, historically-inaccurate. They’re background. Deeply divisive background, of course, but author Margaret Mitchell, by her own admission, wasn’t really bothered about that.
Even today, clearly, people can put all that aside, because, above all else (and this you could clearly see from Twitter’s response) the movie is not really about the American Civil War at all: it’s about Scarlett. It’s Scarlett’s story. Scarlett’s movie.
It’s Scarlett we cannot forget.
She’s the ultimate anti-hero. Brutal. Narcissistic. Vengeful. Entirely selfish. Non-reflective. Unfiltered. Childish. Cruel.
There’s the spite:
“Oh, she’s a pale-faced, mealy-mouthed little ninny and I hate her!”
The viciousness in that hiss to Melanie as she gives birth in a war-zone:
“Don’t try to be brave Melly, scream all you want, there’s nobody to hear.”
The dismissiveness of anything that doesn’t directly impact on her:
“War, war, war. This war talk’s spoiling all the fun at every party this spring. I get so bored I could scream!”
The grandiosity, vanity and constant desire to one-up others:
“I want everyone who’s been mean to me to be pea-green with envy!”**
She’s the worst parts in all of us.
She has few redeeming characteristics.
And yet, she’s a survivor, a force of nature, and, against our better selves, we can’t help rooting for her.
Why and how some people survive (and thrive) in crisis, and others don’t, is really the question at the heart of Gone With The Wind. Mitchell wanted to explore why some people, given a set of challenging circumstances, can face them down, while others go under.
What is the key to survival? What did Scarlett have, in spite of all the things this anti-heroine clearly lacked, that enabled her to survive, to fulfil her mission to never be poor or hungry again?
Mitchell thought the answer was gumption. Scarlett had gumption. Much of a conscience? No, she is the master of offsetting the painful consequences of her actions (though it has to be acknowledged she is able to acknowledge them as less than desirable) –
“I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
But she is a ruthless pragmatist, a protectionist: needs must. And any means to any ends that result in money is the goal – as God is her witness, whatever the cost.
Forget her gender. She doesn’t give much thought to it until it constrains her. She’s a pragmatist, as I say: she knows it’s a man’s world. She doesn’t rage against this (she doesn’t rage against any ideology, in fact, because she’s not what you’d call an ‘ideas’ person).
As a woman in a man’s world, she has to use a different set of tools in order to gain control over others, and, cunning as she is, and shameless as she is, she exploits them to the hilt, because, only waveringly, can she ever be bothered to truly give a damn.
Viewed as a human being rather than a representative of her gender, Scarlett O’Hara provides the perfect template for the soul of the Corporate Leader. Like Scarlett, it doesn’t mean to be bad, to over-ride the feelings, needs or sensibilities of others. But, like Scarlett, it is assured of its god-given right to rule, of its superiority, and that means thinking about the negative consequences of their actions can always wait until tomorrow.
She’s a ‘Red’, Alpha, Field-Marshall type leader. She’s dynamic and driven. She’s all about the results. And if people and ideas, sensibilities or sensitivities, or emotions, get in the way, you side-step them, steam-roller them or conveniently forget about them as best you can.
Gone With The Wind is probably the most viewed movie of all time. More people have seen it, and seen it multiple times, than any other. Think about all those viewings. The endless repeats at Easter, at Christmas. That imprint.
What we might remember are the sketches – the endless stretch of dying bodies laid out on bare earth; the ravaged, silhouetted Scarlett against an orange sky; the immortal lines. But what goes in is the portrait of an anti-hero (Vivien Leigh is in almost every scene of a four-hour movie), who we needn’t like, but can’t help admire.
She does get results, doesn’t she? The same could be said for any ‘Red/Alpha-type’ CEO.
It’s the hope at the heart of Trump’s ascendancy. Scarlett’s in the White House now – he’ll make the world pea-green with envy. He’ll ‘fiddle-dee-dee’ away all the bureaucracy, shut down the mealy-mouthed ninnies – drain the swamp.
Of course, there’s something else easily forgotten about Scarlett O’Hara. She is so memorising, so magnificent and mercurial (Mitchell stated that Leigh was perfect casting for the role after seeing a series of stills from the filming – “She looks like a different person in every one,”), it’s all too easy to overlook that her instincts are constantly, helpfully, mitigated by two main influences: Rhett, and Mammy.
Left to her own devices, Scarlett O’Hara wouldn’t have survived. Too reckless, too ruthless, too hot-headed, she is constantly steered onto a steadier path by her rival/lover and surrogate mother/slave. Even Ashley brings some moderating influence to bear.
Those who didn’t wish for Trump but got him kind of thought Ivanka and Jared and co. might have the same effect, but, scarily, Scarlett’s in the White House all on her own it seems – and with red buttons in her sights.
I can’t help feeling a little sorry for Trump, I can’t, in some strange little corner of me. It’s the same with Scarlett. She gets what she deserves, to lose everything of real value in her life because she only values cold hard cash and the grandiosity it affords, but she can’t help that she was born that way, and shaped that way too, and, because of the constraints of her gender, has to rely on some of the most dubious methods to succeed.
Trump can’t play that card, but it’s not hard to see a broken child who wasn’t helped to become a person that can really cope with being a grown-up. Only a child would claim their genius.
Of Scarlett, Mitchell writes,
“…all the bullying instincts in her nature rose to the surface. It was not that she was basically unkind. It was because she was so frightened and unsure of herself she was harsh lest others learn her inadequacies: and refuse her authority.”
In bleak times, it can be a good thing to bully your way into the world in order to survive, to get yourself to the head of the queue. Mammy gets this. For all her disapproval, she knows Scarlett is the right horse to back because she’s ruthless enough to do it, and Mammy’s no fool.
I think a lot of Trump voters thought the same way.
But while these might be bleak times indeed, politics, unlike business, demands a more subtle, diplomatic approach. That’s why we have diplomats. That’s why we don’t put Scarlett O’Hara’s into office but leave them to enterprise (and trust our politicians will moderate, and regulate against, their worst excesses).
Or, at least, we didn’t.
But everyone got so desperate, enough thought it was worth the experiment.
We can only hope some voices of wisdom get heard. We can only hope, just as Rhett discovers at the end of Gone With The Wind, the carnage, the destruction, the grandiosity, the narcissism, the ruthless, ruthless, heartless pragmatism, the ignorance, greed and vanity, are just too much for everyone and they walk away at the first opportunity they get, into a new morning, not looking back or giving a damn any more.
Another dark period of American history will then also be gone with the wind.
*While this term isn’t a medically accurate diagnosis, I felt it was the most appropriate
**I’d just like to reiterate that these are quotes from the movie and not Tweets from Trump’s timeline