“One minute you’re up half a million in soybeans, and the next, BOOM! Your kids don’t go to college and they’ve repossessed your Bentley.”
Art reflects life – and, as we so often discover, life sometimes reflects art.
The quote at the beginning of this article comes, as you may recognize, from that brilliant 20th-century work of art, “Trading Places.” A Dan Aykroyd send-up of snobbery, greed, entitlement, racism, and pompous self-certainty (among much else). In the movie, the Duke Brothers, born to great privilege and smug with the knowledge that wealth and deference are their natural due, are generally obnoxious and also toy with the lives of others. The brothers are eventually comeuppanced (right, not a real word; got it) by a low-born whom they had used as a pawn, the down-and-out hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy).
Over the past week, our political life has come to strikingly imitate the ending of “Trading Places.”
Like the fictional Billy Ray Valentine, who was placed in a position of un-earned power by the make-believe Duke Brothers, the real-life brash hustler Donald Trump has (in the view of his moral superiors) been elevated to a position that he, likewise, does not deserve.
The obvious answer to Trump’s offensive elevation to power is: (1) a necessary acknowledgement of error; followed by (2) a “do-over.”
Trump is an illegitimate president. The election was stolen. The Electoral College is a cheat. Voter fraud! Trump is mentally unfit! The politicians sputter and fume. The media fume and rage and seek out learned guests to confirm their most trenchant opinions.
The most practical hope for a do-over is, of course, simply to send the bum packing via impeachment. A high crime will serve as a basis. Treason does nicely. The drums beat out: “Russia! Russia! Russia!” Collusion. Many (too many) lectured us about Trump’s collusion with Russia as if it were a certainty – some even spoke of available “proof.” (No less important and public a person than the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, talked often and with gleeful confidence of such proofs – of “plenty of evidence of collusion or conspiracy in plain sight.”)
These thought leaders simply could not tolerate the most obvious crime – that is, impersonation by The Donald of the rightful President, Hillary Clinton. And so they nodded to each other with pompous self-certainty as they waited for information in the Mueller Report to confirm The Buffoon’s impeachable, collusion-based offenses.
All of this thirstful waiting carried an air of impatience, but also a certain unnerving throb of self-satisfied bloodlust: a bit like the quality of a muttering crowd gathered at a French guillotine, demanding the morning’s entertainment – a mob that is controllable for the moment because it is sure of the eventual sport it came to witness; but a bored or dissatisfied mob is a dangerous and unpredictable beast, always hungry for its next prey.
Mueller, as it happened, did not hand Trump over to the headsman.
It turns out that the Russians apparently did try to interfere with a U.S. election. This is a fact not to be taken lightly, and certainly not ignored. But is such attempted interference a surprise? Well, duh! They’re Russians. The winters over there are long and cold; the TV shows are of poor quality; Slavic authors write profoundly depressing books in impossibly complex syntax. So the Russians drink vodka and smoke foul cigarettes and plot regional hegemony and world domination. It’s what they do.
It also turns out that American businessman turned somewhat-accidental presidential candidate Donald Trump did not actually plot to hand over control of the country he loves to the Soviets. Yeah, Trump himself demonstrates many un-lovely qualities (including, but not limited to, his own highly confusing syntax), but I never really suspected that he was swapping microfilms with a handler named Boris.
These anti-Trump thought leaders, however, appear not to know when the “do-over” is done and over. A sampling from Congressional reactions to the Mueller report: Elijah Cummings’s hopeful voice is one of many that are making noises about Trump and “obstruction.” There are solid reports that Jerrold Nadler intends to squeeze U.S. Attorney William Barr before the House Judiciary Committee. Rashida Tlaib continues her tiresome bleat for impeachment on pretty much any grounds.
Likewise, in “Trading Places,” the unsympathetic characters refused to accept that they could be wrong and out of options.
In the film, the balloon of smug narcissism that cocoons the evil Duke Brothers must, of course, be comically punctured. The air is finally let out of their arrogance when the brothers go bankrupt, due to their being conned into reliance on information that they do not know is false. The Dukes use this [inaccurate] inside information in an attempt to profit hugely by trading orange juice futures in the commodities market.
In a final scene that starts at 9:00 a.m., as commodity trading opens, we see the Duke Brothers, secure in their pompous self-certainty, as they (like CNN, MSNBC, Adam Schiff, et al.?) exchange smug glances. Trading begins and there is a frenzy in the brokers’ pit. Somehow, prices do not follow the anticipated pattern. Randolph and Mortimer Duke (like Elijah and Maxine?) offer one another worried looks. “That’s not right!” says one.
The trading pit then goes silent as eyes turn to the televised Secretary of Agriculture, who (like Robert Mueller?) interrupts the action to offer an official statement. “Orange juice prices are expected to fall.” (“No Trump-Russia collusion.”) Pandemonium! Panicked trading!
The final trading buzzer sounds. Sudden silence. The now-deserted trading floor leaves the two stricken Duke Brothers (one thinks of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer) alone, forlorn among a useless litter of paper. One of the brothers clutches his heart: “We’re ruined!”
Now, I leave it to you to decide whether I am quoting from the “wronged” Trump opponents or from the Duke Brothers of “Trading Places” in the following:
“This is an outrage! I demand an investigation! … [This] is ours! It belongs to us!”
Back to the movie, for sure: Mortimer Duke said (but it might as well be the very entitled Rashida Tlaib): “Now, you listen to me! I want trading [impeachment] re-opened right now!” (Sure. He lost. So the commodities exchange should open again for his personal convenience. Or maybe we should re-consider the Electoral College. Or pack the Supreme Court. You know – whatever.)
It began the evening of November 8th, 2016. First they exchanged smug looks, later they swapped uneasy glances. Ultimately, panic ensued. How had it all gone so wrong? The smug in-crowd stood, stunned, clutching their hearts, disbelieving. This election result was… Not right!
And because they will never accept the result of the 2016 election, they will always want yet another, and another, “do-over.” The ever-petulant Maxine Waters has informed us that “[t]his is not the end of anything!”
Or, in the memorable words of the Duke Brothers: “Turn those machines back on! Turn those machines back on!”