I was born in New York City in 1949, just a few years after the end of WWII. My parents and grandparents, all Jewish, lived through WWII hearing horror stories about Jewish persecution and the concentration camps. They genuinely feared that if Germany won the war, a distinct possibility for much of the war, the ‘final solution’ for the Jews would spread all around the Nazi-controlled world. It was a scary time for everyone, but particularly for Jews, even in America.
My grandmother’s sister, Rachel had stayed in Russia, with one other sister, while her siblings and eventually her parents emigrated to the United States. They lived close to the western border, so when Hitler broke his pact with Russia and invaded, their town was one of the first to be taken. This was before the Russian army had even begun to mobilize. The Jews in their town were rounded up and put in the synagogue. The building was set on fire and anyone who tried to escape was shot.
Rachel’s oldest son was in school in Moscow at the time his family was murdered. After the war, organizations were formed all over the world to help Jews locate relatives and friends who were missing after the war. My grandmother spent years searching for her nephew, but no trace of him was ever found.
My mother and grandmother were obsessed with the Holocaust when I was growing up. They read everything they could find on the persecution of Jews, and particularly about the concentration camps. I was given graphic books about the camps at around nine or ten years of age. Way too young, in my opinion.
But I also learned about the camps in another, more personal way. Two Czechoslovakian, identical twin sisters named Irina and Elena were good friends of my parents. They told us lots of stories about their time in concentration and work camps, including Auschwitz.
They were sixteen years old when they and their parents were put in overcrowded cattle cars, squashed together with other terrified Jews, and shipped to Auschwitz. They had no food, water or bathrooms for several days. People were crying and screaming. People got sick and died. The smells were unbearable. They arrived at the camp in horrible shape, physically as well as emotionally.
There was a line of Jews being processed into the camp. Dr. Joseph Mengele was at the front of the line with a whip which he used to indicate if a person should go to the left into the camp, or to the right, directly into the gas chambers.
He also picked people out of the line to be subjected to his horrible, sadistic ‘medical’ experiments – all done without anesthesia.
Irina and Elena tell how their lives were saved by a camp guard. The guard recognized that the girls were twins. He also knew that Dr. Mengele loved to do experiments on twins. This guard’s wife was also a twin so he took pity on the girls. He whispered to them that they should say that they were a year apart in age. Bewildered, the girls did as they were told and were sent to the camp, saving their lives. They also threw away their eyeglasses so they would be judged healthy and ready to work, thus avoiding the gas chamber.
I don’t remember all their stories about the camps. I remember that they were separated from their parents and didn’t know if they were even still alive till the end of the war. I also remember that a good friend of theirs, also a teenager, got sick. They tried to nurse her back to health. They even gave her part of their meager rations of food. But she died anyway and they were crushed.
They told us that they tried very hard to preserve some of their Jewish traditions – a reminder of life outside the camps. They feel this helped preserve their sanity and gave them the strength to survive. They and a few other friends would save up pieces of their daily bread so they could sneak off and have secret Shabbat ‘dinners’ and celebrate Passover at a makeshift Seder. They managed to find something to use as a tablecloth and maybe a candle, to make these celebrations as real as possible.
They were liberated by the Americans and the British at the end of the war. Miraculously, their parents survived (they had also been separated in the camp) and they were reunited. They were emaciated and weak and their heads had all been shaven. They went back to Czechoslovakia and began to recuperate and start a new life. Their hair began to grow back, which was a huge deal for the still young twins.
Tragically, Elena’s new life was cut short in 1948. She was arrested for being a communist, turned in by a ‘friend’. The Czech authorities shaved her head again and threw her into prison for another year. She had emotionally survived the camps but this was too much for her to handle. She had a complete mental breakdown in prison. She was mentally very fragile for the rest of her life. She went up and down emotionally and had many periods of serious meltdowns and crises. Her sister was at her side through all her problem periods, even when they lived in different parts of the world. They remained close the rest of their lives.
I made sure that my children understood the Holocaust, but in an age-appropriate way. When my daughter, Sarah, was around seven, we were in Germany and we visited the Dachau Concentration Camp, which is now a museum to the Holocaust. We answered any questions she had but didn’t push too much information on her. She came across a photo that got to her on a visceral level. It showed a child being torn away from its mother and the mother and child were frantically reaching for each other. Sarah was horrified when she realized that children were being separated from their parents. That’s what she could relate to at her age and it made an indelible impression on her.
Both my children are adults now and know a lot about the Holocaust and World War II. Hopefully, they will make sure that their children never forget.
“Donald Trump’s victory and this current political crisis were decades in the making. This moment is a reflection of serious institutional and structural problems in American society. How do you make sense of it all?
During the 1960s I was part of a generation that benefited from the expansion of American meritocracy. I was one of the first group of students to be admitted to Yale when it was opened up to Jews, admissions was made need-blind, people started getting financial aid and Yale transformed from being just the old boys’ network to something a bit more meritocratic and open. The beneficiaries of that in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990’s would become the lawyers who created and engineered corporate takeovers and ways to fight unions in the South, as well as how to lobby so that regulations would not be passed. That generation also became the bankers who created casino capitalism.”
This was the piece on AlternetI would have liked to reblog. Instead, I thought I’d give the story and a link so you can read the original yourself. It’s long and worth the effort.
The closing lines got me. They dug right into my soul and reminded me why I find myself so troubled by today’s world. It isn’t ONLY that Trump won the election.
“What are you worried about in this moment regarding the United States? And what are you happy or more positive about?
Well, if you see the people who are really in the trenches fighting back to improve society you’ll be optimistic. But the truth is we’re going to go through a lot more pain before we start to turn things around.”
I have understood for a long time that this thing we are living through didn’t start with the most recent presidential election in the U.S. We are seeing similar patterns in any number of European countries, including Great Britain, France, Holland and many more. For that matter, we see similar patterns in Muslim and Hindu nations. Hate is big.
Rolling the world back from this horror show will not be a matter of one or two elections. It is going to require a serious rethinking by many of us — including me — of what we want our world to be. Of who we, as human beings, need to be.
Right now, humankind is standing in front of a distorted fun house mirror. In it, we see evil. We see people without conscience targeting everyone. Whether they are bankers, politicians, hackers, or that nasty bastard down the street … they share a complete absence of concern for those who have less and need help.
These are not people who “help.” They are the destroyers, whether they are rich or poor. They have no moral center.
There are a lot of them. Many more than we imagined might exist in our world. Some of them are “friends” or “family.” Forgiving them because they are familiar to us is how most people deal with them, but it’s not an answer. It merely perpetuates the ugliness.
It says: “Your racism is okay because you are my uncle, cousin, or old friend from school. I will forgive you because you are part of my pack.”
But their racism is NOT okay, even if it is your twin sibling. It’s not okay under any circumstances. It is wrong, absolutely and completely. Sometimes, wrong is wrong. That’s the beginning and end of it. It isn’t okay because “Oh, well, he doesn’t really mean it.”
Yes, he means it. He always meant it. When it was politically incorrect, he shut up about it but now, it’s okay. After all, when the President says it, it must be alright. But you still think he’s okay, right? Family and all that.
You give him support and continue to support him or her. And you are as wrong as he or she is.
“Trump won every single category of white voters. It wasn’t some cartoon caricature of the “white working class” that the mainstream media likes to paint about the rubes out there in the hinterlands. That narrative about white “economic anxiety” is easier to report on and write about than it is to dig into the real systemic and structural problems in American society.”
No matter how we want to play with the statistics — after all, Hillary Clinton won the general vote, right? — that statement should scare the wits out of you. It stands white America as one group facing the rest of America with the potential of being the biggest, ugliest, deadliest race war ever to hit this planet. It not only stands white Americans against all other Americans. It stands our white American politics against the rest of the world, most of which is not white.
Most of the world is Asian or brown or black or some mixture of these. Most of the world is not white. Our political descent from white Europeans has skewed us to think that somehow we are better, stronger, fitter than “those other people.”
That might have been true — at least in terms of resources — 75 years ago. It most certainly is NOT true now.
If nip comes to tuck, the result is likely to be a world in which none of us can live. Not here, or there, or anywhere. And science fiction notwithstanding, there’s no other world waiting for our survivors. This is it. We screw it up, it stays screwed up for us. Forever.
Note: I’m not saying that everyone is evil or racist or in any way bad. But there are an awful lot more of them than I imagined this world could support. I don’t know why I didn’t realize it. With all the wars — civil and uncivil — obviously there is a lot of room for bad people. But I’ve lived in a world where my friends are good people. My family are good people. I have not lived with hatred and racism. I know of it and had some skirmishes, but the number of really bad people out there is way outside anything I imagined possible.
“Sticks and stones can break my bones,
but names can never hurt me.”
It’s an old childhood chant, a miserably inadequate defense against bullies and bigots when one is small and powerless. It was oft-repeated, not only by we, the little victims, but by parents, teachers and other wise counselors. It was supposed to comfort us.
It didn’t because we all knew for a certainty it was untrue.
Names can and do hurt. The hurt caused by a cruel name goes deeper than any mere cut or bruise to the body. Psyches heal but slowly. Sometimes they never heal.
Horrible words. Can you still tell me — with a straight face — that names can’t hurt? Will you give me all your arguments that “political correctness” is stupid? That anything which makes it illegal or socially unacceptable to spew hate is too restrictive of free speech? Really? Your free speech? It’s not my free speech. I don’t talk that way and I don’t hang around anyone who does.
Do you actually believe it? Or did you read it as part of some rant on Facebook?
Of course names hurt. They’re intended to hurt. They have no other purpose on earth but to cause pain. These words carry with them the ugliness of generations of haters. It has been argued by otherwise respected bloggers that if a member of a minority (in your opinion) does you wrong, you have every right to strike back any way you can.
I disagree. Racial and ethnic name-calling epithets are never justified. By anything. Is it the word or its intent that hurts so much? I think both. Words have power.
“The pen is mightier than the sword.”
But wait a minute. I thought words could never hurt me? Yes, they can.
Words bring with them the weight of history. A hate word carries the ugliness of everyone who has spoken it. Each time these words fly into the air, their potency is renewed and reinforced.
It’s time to stop forgiving bigots, stop letting them off the hook. Those hate-filled monologues by drugged and drunken celebrities were no mere slips of the tongue. They were not caused by drugs or drink. You could fill me with all the drugs and booze in the world and you’d never hear that from me. Because it’s not in me.
People who talk hate never do so by accident. It isn’t because of their environment, upbringing, or environment. It’s a choice they made. They know exactly what they are saying and why. It isn’t a joke. It isn’t funny. It isn’t okay.
Excuses are not repentance. Don’t give bigots a second chance. Be politically correct. It’s not merely political correctness. It’s also the moral, righteous, decent, civil, and humane way to behave.
2017 was big with late night comics, but depressing to real people. Like us.
We laughed because comics are funny, but we weren’t really laughing. Wrapped around the humor was the realization we weren’t going to get out of this mess for years to come. Like — three years — if we do it right. Please, let us do it right!Remember way back in 2016 when Clinton said, “Look, I respect his children. His children are incredibly able and devoted, and I think that says a lot about Donald.” She was lying. I knew it. You knew it. I suppose it was the best she could do. She still thought she had to be polite.
We have all learned otherwise in the year since. His children are as awful as he is, though mostly they have a better education … yet they stayed surprisingly stupid. I didn’t know you could get that much education and remain so stupid.
In 2016, I could think about the high points of the year. I don’t believe there were any high points in 2017, except that Roy Moore wasn’t elected to the senate. Otherwise, it’s been a down and dirty year with another one on the way. I’m trying to feel better about it. If we beat the crap out of them in 2018, I might begin to breathe.
But here’s a link that brought tears to my eyes. It a video of dreams, our hopes for the future. Check it out. It’s better with music.
This year may turn out to be hilarious at some point in the future, when the world has gone around the sun a few more times. Maybe very funny. If I live long enough, it’ll be ROTFL for me and mine.
But not yet. My sense of humor needs an attitude adjustment.
For a few days, I hooked up with a Boston Globe group. Its purpose was supposedly to address racism in Boston. Though we don’t live there anymore, we did live there a long time and we lived in Roxbury, the darkest part of the dark part of Boston. We lived there for ten years and they were ten of our best years. If that condo had anything other than electric heat — electric heat in New England is not really heat; it’s just burning money to take the chill off — and there was a way to get from the ground floor to third floor bedroom, and they hadn’t decided to redesign every road in Boston, AND we had somewhere to exercise our dogs, we’d have stayed. But I could see the future and a 3-story walk-up condo didn’t look like a good choice for us. Especially not for me.
I found this house online. It was the right price. It had land and two fireplaces. The house needed work, but seemed structurally sound otherwise. It was in the whitest place I’d ever seen, so we found ourselves moving from the darkest area of Boston to the whitest area in central Massachusetts.
Having lived as a mixed couple in Boston, I thought we might have some interesting feedback to offer the group.
It turned out, this group was exactly like talking to a bunch of Republicans, but from another part of the spectrum. These were people who made pronouncements like “Black men have a lifespan in Boston of just 21 years and everyone hides their children.”
We lived on Circuit Street which is right in the middle of Roxbury. Garry was a lot more than 21 and so were all our neighbors — none of whom hid their children. It was a safe place to live because everyone watched out for everyone else. The crazed drive-by shooters never drove by our place. Probably half the men in the complex were police officers, sheriffs and a reporter, so it was probably just as well. I never felt unsafe walking the streets, though I have always preferred to avoid gangs of teenage boys. I have a firm belief that gangs of teenage boys are inherently dangerous, no matter what their class, color, or ethnicity. They are hormonal and quite probably, insane. They will not become sane until their mid twenties when the hormones slack off a bit and their brains clear.
Otherwise, I walked downtown and to the post office. I liked my neighbors and I think they like me. We had block parties with great food, music and laughter. It was a jolly place to live. I miss it.
So when whoever it was said “Men are doomed to die before age 21 and everyone hides their children,” I took umbrage. It was just like Trump telling Black people that they might as well vote for him because “what did they have to lose?” In fact this guy who was supposedly “fighting” racism was essentially going out of his way to prove all the crap people like Trump say, is right. Sometimes, you have to step back and consider what you are really saying to the world.
Making racism the whole story is stupid and not true. Most people in “the hood” live normal lives. Those reputed heavily armed tanks full of crazed shooters don’t roam the streets. In the ten years we lived there, NO ONE shot at me, near me, or threatened me. I wasn’t raped, assaulted, or propositioned. Men were polite and helpful. Women were charming and funny. No one tried to break into our house. No one stole our cars, which is more than I can say for living on Beacon Hill where both of our cars were stolen.
There’s racism in Boston as there is everywhere. In my humble and apparently insignificant opinion, the serious racists don’t live in Boston. They live in the white, wealthy suburbs. Those liberal places where everyone tells everyone tells everyone else how they many wonderful Black Friends they have, but you never see any of those friend around. They don’t visit — or get visited. Scratch that thin, brittle liberal surface and you’ve got a butt-load of racism underneath.
In fact, every state in the continental United Stateswith the exception of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermonthas had lynching casualties.
Boston is a real city. Black neighborhoods, many mixed neighborhoods. In fact, most neighborhoods are mixed. Some a lot, some just a bit. There’s a lot of intermarriage. Kids go to school together and it stopped being a big deal a long time. If Boston isn’t the most diverse city in the U.S., it is also very far from the most racist.
Boston is a complicated city. People in Boston are often surprisingly casual about race. People work together, walk together, shop together. And — Boston has never had a lynching.
So I was in that group and just a few days later, I resigned from it. I can’t talk to people whose minds are rigidly made up. If there’s no chance of anyone changing his or her opinion, there’s no point in talking.
At some point in time, everyone will have to stop and hear what other people are saying. Otherwise, there will never be any problems solved in this land of ours
In 2016, during the final few moments of the final debate — and I use all these words very loosely — the “contestants,” excuse me, I meant “candidates” were asked if there was anything at all that they liked or admired about their opponents.
Clinton said, “Look, I respect his children. His children are incredibly able and devoted, and I think that says a lot about Donald.” She was lying. I knew it, and you knew it. I suppose it was the best she could do. She still thought, as a politician, she had to be polite.
I believe we have all learned otherwise in the year since.
Trump accepted Clinton’s words as “a nice compliment,” and added, “I will say this about Hillary. She doesn’t quit. She doesn’t give up. I respect that. I tell it like it is. She’s a fighter.” Really? Wow. Praise indeed.
It was the “high point” of the event. The high ground of a depressing hour of television but ironically, not nearly as depressing as reality was going to become a mere one month later. It probably was funny … and maybe, if I live long enough, I’ll laugh. Not yet. I think my sense of humor is just not up to par.
George Clooney Opens Up About Why Hillary Clinton Lost: ‘I Never Saw Her Elevate Her Game.’ The Oscar-winning actor-filmmaker-humanitarian spoke with Marlow Stern about his timely new film ‘Suburbicon,’ racism in America, and what happened with Hillary.
If the Hollywood powers that be ever endeavor to produce a Cary Grant biopic, George Clooney would be the perfect man for the job. Like Grant, he is possessed of an immense level of charisma with a pinch of playful mischief. It lends his best performances — Out of Sight, Ocean’s Eleven, From Dusk Till Dawn — a carefree insouciance.
The charm bleeds off-screen, too. When you chat with Clooney, he will regularly address you by name, and maybe even compliment your place of employ. But the 56-year-old has a serious side, too. For nearly a decade, he has been a UN Messenger of Peace; has served as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations; and has done more than perhaps any U.S. civilian to shed light on the genocide in Darfur. In August, it was revealed that he and his lawyer-wife, Amal, had partnered with UNICEF to help send 3,000 Syrian refugee children to school in Lebanon.
On top of acting, humanitarian work, and starting a family, Clooney has found the time to direct (and promote) his latest film. Suburbicon, which premiered at this year’s Venice Film Festival, is a tale of two families in 1959 suburbia. On one side of the picket fence is Gardner (Matt Damon) and Margaret Lodge (Julianne Moore), a middle-class white couple prone to kink and murder; on the other is William (Leith M. Burke) and Daisy Myers (Karimah Washington), a middle-class black family—Suburbicon’s first—whose arrival sets off a powder keg of racism and resentment. The white townsfolk’s suspicious stares soon give way to a full-blown lynch mob, as dozens of angry, torch-bearing East Coast “liberals” form a wall of hate around the Myers’ home, completely oblivious to the real villains across the way.
The Daily Beast spoke with Clooney about the film’s resonance in the wake of Charlottesville — and much, much more.
I enjoyed the film. One of my big takeaways from it was that it confronted white liberal guilt in an interesting fashion—similar in some ways to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The notion of, “oh, you say you believe in equality but then don’t uphold those values when it comes to your doorstep.”
I remember the movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and, although not a perfect film, there’s something great about the idea of, “Yeah, I’m a liberal, but don’t marry my daughter!” And it was fun because, having grown up in Kentucky, when I see movies depicting any type of racism it always sounds like Mississippi Burning—hick accents and all. And when I was looking at the crisis of Levittown, these people sounded like they’d come from the East Coast and they were still hanging Confederate flags on houses and saying all these racist things. It’s good to remember that it wasn’t just the South that was fucked up. It played out everywhere.
You mentioned your home state of Kentucky. Did you witness any acts of racism in your formative years that really stuck with you?
‘BATTLE OF THE SEXES ‘ — IS TRUMP VS. HILLARY WISH FULFILLMENT?
Sure. Look, by the time I was aware of things we were in the midst of a very progressive time in history. I was born in ‘61, so by the time I was really aware of things it was the end of the ‘60s. At that moment, we were all very hopeful. We felt like segregation—certainly in the South—had just ended, and things were moving in the right direction. So the way you saw racism was always in much sneakier ways. If you were going to a restaurant they’d say, “Oh, no open-toed shoes” or “No shirts without collars” but they would only enforce it with black people. There was pervasive implied racism. It took me a while to realize what was going on because most of us growing up at that time, we thought, “Oh, this is all fixed. Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X, they all died for a reason. And this reason is now coming to fruition.”
And what we soon realized was that we weren’t even beginning to exorcise our deep-seated original sin.
In Suburbicon, it’s an interesting juggling act as a writer and filmmaker, balancing the A and B stories—the white family and the black family—and giving each ample heft while managing the disparate tones.
Tone is always the trick, you know? And I’ve sometimes failed at getting tone right. It’s a tricky thing. But this one was interesting because, when we sat down to work on it, one of the things I talked to the actors about—including Karimah, who plays Daisy Myers—was that there’s somebody out there that would be the perfect person to do the African-American version of this story.
That’s not where my expertise lies, and probably where it shouldn’t lie, but I do have a fairly strong sense of white males worried about losing their place in society and blaming minorities. I grew up around that so I can speak to that, and we wanted to focus on that version of it.
And also, here’s the interesting thing about this: films never lead the charge. They’re usually reflective of a point in time.
So what we were talking about, when we started to do this, was less about black and white, although that’s something that unfortunately always comes up, and more about the idea of how I was watching a candidate on the campaign trail [Trump] talking about building fences, scapegoating minorities, and branding Mexicans, Muslims, or anyone who didn’t look like a seventy-year-old white guy as “the enemy.”
When we were doing this, I thought it was unique to see [the white community] building fences around a black family’s home and scapegoating them, while the entire time the white family’s doing everything wrong. I think that’s something that happened an awful lot—and can still happen. It was about white privilege and the fear of losing it, and the reason they think they’re losing it is because minorities are stealing it from them — when of course it has nothing to do with that.
On the topic of Trump, it’s interesting to think of him in the context of this film because the first time. Trump made headlines was in the ‘70s when he was sued by the Justice Department for discriminating against Black applicants applying to live in his apartments.
Yup. And think about it this way: he got up and did that Boy Scouts speech, a nice political speech in front of twelve-year-olds. And in it he did a ten-minute riff on William Levitt and talked about what a great guy William Levitt was. How he was one of the richest men in the world and a brilliant man. He was probably a friend of his dad’s because they were both real estate guys on the East Coast at the time.
William Levitt, who created Levittown, was taken to court because he wouldn’t put Blacks in Levittown. And rather than integrate, he quit! So it just makes so much sense for Trump to say that this guy’s outlook is great. Yeah, it was great if you were a white, straight man. Otherwise, not so much.
You mentioned the hanging of the Confederate flag on the black family’s windowsill during the film’s big riot sequence, with the white mob crowded around their home, some holding torches. On the heels of Charlottesville, it must have surprised even you how prescient those scenes were.
Here’s the thing, Marlow. I do have a bit of a view into this. I grew up in Kentucky, around the Confederate flag, and although Kentucky was technically neutral during the Civil War, it was very much a part of the South.
I remember these guys would come into town and we’d do these Civil War reenactments, and you could choose whichever side you wanted. They’d bring you uniforms and guns with blanks in it, and you could play either a Rebel or Union soldier, and we’d do battle all around town.
We all wanted to be Rebels because it was fun—everybody wants to be a “rebel”—and we never thought twice about the Confederate flag; it never even dawned on me that that was a symbol of hate. And also, I was pretty young and wasn’t paying enough attention.
But as you get older, you see this was only a symbol of hate, and you remember that the Confederate flag was designed to be marched into battle against the United States of America in favor of racism. And they lost.
It’s important to remember all these things. It’s literally a symbol of hate that was designed as a symbol of hate. So OK, you can wear it on a T-shirt or a hat because that’s freedom of speech and you can do whatever you want. I don’t give a shit. Those are the rules we’ve made as the United States, and I believe in them.
But to have the Confederate flag on a statehouse paid for by African-American taxpayers? No fuckin’ way! That would be like going to the Holocaust Museum and saying that they have to pay for a Nazi flag hanging over it. It’s just ridiculous. I grew up in the South, and I know there are an awful lot of people who feel the same way which is, “Hey man, this is not the hill that we want to die on.”
PARAMOUNT PICTURES – Julianne Moore and Matt Damon in a scene from ‘Suburbicon.’
Do you feel that President Trump is emboldening these white nationalists to step out of the shadows of the internet and into the light? And what do you feel is fueling these people? Because many of the (mostly) men who marched in Charlottesville were quite young.
Well, think about it this way. If I was President of the United States and David Duke is praising me and the white nationalists were talking about how I was on their side, the first thing I would do is I would come out and say, “Fuck these guys. Anyone who believes this is not in my camp. I don’t believe it, and I completely reject it.”
Don’t play coy and claim that you don’t remember who David Duke is when you were actually running for president 25 years earlier and said that the reason you got out was because David Duke was in the party. That’s just a lie!
So what you’re doing is winking at everybody and saying, “It’s OK, come on over, because that’s my base.” Well, that shouldn’t be your base! It’s the simplest thing in the world in politics: “Nazis bad.” It really doesn’t get any easier than that.
Those associations between Trump and the “alt-right” seemed to be exacerbated by the fact that a person like Steve Bannon was acting as Trump’s consigliere.
Steve Bannon is a pussy. Steve Bannon is a little wannabe writer who would do anything in the world to have had a script made in Hollywood. He wrote one of the worst scripts I’ve ever read—and I’ve read it. His fake Shakespeare-rap script about the L.A. riots. Oh, you’ve gotta read it! It’s just fuckin’ terrible.
But here’s the truth: if Steve Bannon had Hollywood say, “Oh, this is really great, and a really good script,” and had they made his movie, he’d still be in Hollywood writing his fuckin’ movies and kissing my ass to be in one of his fuckin’ films! That’s who he is. That’s the reality. It’s almost like someone in Hollywood should’ve given him a script—or approved one of his scripts—just to keep him out of the right wing.
You explored the world of journalism in Good Night, and Good Luck., and your father was an anchorman. Why do you think Trump has targeted and tried to discredit the news media?
There’s a great documentary that came out a few years ago called Nixon by Nixon. It’s sort of the last of the Nixon tapes. It reminds us that not one fucking thing about this is new. We think it’s all unprecedented but it’s not unprecedented. It’s a little louder because there’s more outlets to see it, but it’s not unprecedented. You hear Nixon on the tapes talking about [Walter] Cronkite and [Eric] Sevareid and how they’re going to sic the IRS on ‘em and scare the shit out of ‘em. And you see Daniel Schorr, this wonderful reporter who had been doggedly chasing Nixon, in front of Congress testifying about how this administration has set about to delegitimize our news, because if you can delegitimize the news, you can do anything. It’s the exact same thing.
So when Robert Mueller comes in and says, “Hey, guess what? You did fuckin’ obstruct,” and people report on it, Trump can say, well, Robert Mueller has all these liberal Democrat lawyers and the news-people who are reporting it are all fake, when of course all you’ve really done is take the Russian fake news—which is a real problem—and applied it to help serve yourself.
Well, congratulations. I also really feel like the institutions are taking hold. I don’t know how you feel about this, but I think a good number of our institutions abdicated their duty in the run-up to the election. I feel they didn’t ask enough tough questions. If you turned on many of the news programs on television, there would be an empty podium with a message saying, “Donald Trump will speak soon.” That’s crazy.
That’s the interesting thing about Trump’s attacks on CNN. CNN is the network—more than any other network—that perhaps helped the most in getting Trump elected. They had about eight Trump surrogates in regular rotation, and aired his rallies start-to-finish.
Certainly they were the network that enjoyed putting him on the air. But on the other hand, watch how good Jake Tapper has been, and watch how good The New York Times, Washington Post, and even The Wall Street Journal have now taken their jobs, and watch how the other arms—the legislative branch, the judicial branch—they’re taking hold, and I’m optimistic. I feel that, well, with the exception of the one thing the president can do by himself, which is push a button, the checks and balances are starting to take hold. And I’m excited by that.
You held a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton during the campaign, and she’s on her book tour right now. Do you feel like history will look kindly on Hillary Clinton? This election seemed, in many ways, like a referendum on women.
I think it was. Here’s what I see from Hillary. Hillary, for years and years and years, has been the presumptive nominee, and quite honestly, she was incredibly qualified for the job. But being qualified for the job does not necessarily mean you’re the right person to be president. Here’s what I mean. She was more qualified than even her husband was when he was elected president, but she’s not as good at communicating things. That’s simply true. When she got up and gave a speech, it didn’t soar. Now, that doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t have done a great job as president, and I supported her because by the time we did the fundraiser the primary was over at that point and it was time to get on with picking someone to move forward, and she was the right person to side with.
It was frustrating because I never saw her elevate her game. I never saw it. And I had a lot of liberal friends who were like, “She’s not good at this.”
I see that, and I understand it. I also think, though, that if it was a guy it wouldn’t have been so polarizing. I think the fact that she’s a woman made it a much harder uphill battle. They’ve had the “Arkansas Project” where for twenty-five years the Clintons have been accused of murdering Vince Foster and accused of tons of stuff, so I thought it was a raw deal. I think that she wasn’t particularly good at articulating the things that she wanted to do.
Unfortunately we live at a time right now where articulating what you want to do is more potent in the electorate than the other way around, obviously, when Trump only said he was going to “Make America Great Again.” Don’t you think the next Democrat who runs should just run with a blue hat that says, “Make America Great Again?”
That would be an interesting ninja move. Let’s go back to Suburbicon for a moment. I wanted to discuss the power of satire. When you talk about 2017 and the age of Trump, satire has really risen to the fore as a mode of communicating people’s anger and frustration—and brings with it a sense of cathartic release.
Satire was really important in the age of Bush Jr. That was a big deal. Between Jon Stewart and David Letterman, we had people out there who were really funny. And remember, Jon Stewart was the most trusted man in news for a period of time because of it. We needed his voice then, and I miss his voice now.
But Colbert has found his feet and been great, as has Jimmy Kimmel, and Samantha Bee. Television right now is very interesting, and fun to hear. Satire is potent. When they start to make fun of you is when you’re really in trouble. That’s some deep shit.
Trump has been stoking this culture war between “coastal elites” and Middle America—the irony of course being that Trump himself is a “coastal elite.”
Here’s the thing: I grew up in Kentucky. I sold insurance door-to-door. I sold ladies’ shoes. I worked at an all-night liquor store. I would buy suits that were too big and too long and cut the bottom of the pants off to make ties so I’d have a tie to go on job interviews. I grew up understanding what it was like to not have health insurance for eight years. So this idea that I’m somehow the “Hollywood elite” and this guy who takes a shit in a gold toilet is somehow the man of the people is laughable.
People in Hollywood, for the most part, are people from the Midwest who moved to Hollywood to have a career. So this idea of “coastal elites” living in a bubble is ridiculous. Who lives in a bigger bubble? He lives in a gold tower and has twelve people in his company. He doesn’t run a corporation of hundreds of thousands of people he employs and takes care of. He ran a company of twelve people!
When you direct a film you have seven different unions all wanting different things, you have to find consensus with all of them, and you have to get them moving in the same direction. He’s never had to do any of that kind of stuff. I just look at it and I laugh when I see him say “Hollywood elite.” Hollywood elite? I don’t have a star on Hollywood Boulevard, Donald Trump has a star on Hollywood Boulevard! Fuck you!
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