It can seem incredible that such a man is the front-runner for one of our two major parties.
But as shocking as Donald Trump may be, we’ve seen his type before. The trouble is, we Americans forget our history — and that enables his rise.
Back in the 1930’s, there was Father Charles Coughlin. A Canadian-born Catholic priest, Coughlin started out as a progressive who supported FDR’s New Deal, before using his nationwide radio program and magazine to promote anti-semitism, Mussolini, Hitler and, like all such people, himself, above all.
In the 50’s, we had Senator Joe McCarthy, who built his power by whipping up mass hysteria about communists and homosexuals supposedly subverting the U.S. government and army.
By 1957, the toxic mixture of celebrity, fear-mongering, hatred and phony patriotism — which shocks us so in Trump — was already familiar. Familiar enough to shape the plot of a Hollywood classic, “The Sweet Smell of Success.”
“Success” tells the story of an unprincipled, self-aggrandizing gossip columnist and power broker named J.J. Hunsecker, a character based on the real life Walter Winchell.
Check out this scene, with Burt Lancaster as Hunsecker and Tony Curtis as press agent Sidney Falco. Witness Hunsecker’s greed, dishonesty, violence and narcissistic identification of himself with the nation — and just try not to think of Donald J. Trump.