When I was younger I used to teach teen boys in underprivileged neighborhoods. I remember riding in a car with a couple of these youths who told me that their dream was to ‘one day kidnap Jennifer Lopez, rape her senseless and ransom her for a million dollars’ so they could buy fast cars. In hindsight, I guess I could find it funny that they would ask so little ransom for Jennifer Lopez, but at the time all I felt was disappointment: how could they aim so low and yet so high? How could they dream they could reach Jennifer Lopez and still feel that there was no other way to be happy in life but to commit a horrible crime and have a lot of money for a short amount of time? But I’ve learned that many people in this world do feel that the best things in life are out of their reach. And some that believe that if not by breaking the law, they will never get what they want. That is maybe why many of us enjoy crime stories, heist stories, and those old gangster movies with James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart – it doesn’t matter if they died in the end, they had the money, the respect, the freedom, and the girl for a while.
The same for Coppola’s THE GODFATHER. The series first two movies are some of the best movies ever made. I’ve seen them again recently and they always blow my mind. Now, I’ve talked about Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT book several times already – it’s one of the best books on writing I ever read. One of the first things Snyder writes about is of the ‘Save the Cat’ effect. I’ve already described it before, it goes somewhat like this: imagine a dirty junkie murderous cop on a stakeout at the beginning of the movie. That’s your protagonist. He’s staking out a Mob jewelry store he’ll rob further along. At this point, we have everything to think that this is a bad guy. He’s unlikable. But then, while he’s staking out the place, he sees an old lady trying to get her kitten down from a tree. She’s already close to tears. So, jeopardizing his plans, the cop gets out from the car and goes help the old lady getting the cat off the tree. Suddenly, we will like this guy. We will identify with him. We ‘saved the cat’, we saved the protagonist. Inside this vile man, there’s something of Good. He doesn’t only think of himself. If there’s nothing good in a character, Snyder tells us, we will be unable to identify with him/her.
That’s the first scene of THE GODFATHER in a nutshell: a man, an undertaker, is asking for Vito Corleone to help him get justice for his daughter. He looks at The Godfather with reverence and tells a sad tale of disrespect for his daughter who was abused in some manner. Don Corleone (Marlon Brando), in a fatherly way, concedes his help. There: the ‘cat’ is saved. Vito is a good guy (in fact, if I recall, the Italian Mafia itself did approve the script beforehand – saying it was respectful). Later, the film will do the same to Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino): he’s a college graduate, a war veteran, who loves his family and is tender to his women. They are the good guys. They are the good gangsters. They go against the bad guys: the greedy rivals who want to start moving drugs into the neighborhood. They will have to fight against these attackers and survive. Some will not survive.
And so we rejoice when Michael chooses to save his father and murder in cold blood a police captain and a rival gangster at a restaurant. And we feel vindicated when he is able to outsmart and murder the leaders of the Five Families at the end of the first movie. We do not judge him. We’re glad he won. Even if Francis Ford Coppola is able to subtly reveal to us the corruption growing in the man, ‘asphyxiating the cat’ as he shows us Michael claiming to renounce Satan at the christening of his nephew while the murders he ordered are occurring, and Michael bluntly lying to his wife and sister as the movie closes.
Also, there are no innocent people being hurt in the movie (with one exception: Michael’s first wife). It almost seems that those cold-blooded gangsters would hurt no-one else but themselves. More: there’s no police. Almost as if the Law couldn’t touch them. The closest they got was when Michael Corleone is brought in front of the Congress in the second movie. And, as Kay (Diane Keaton) would say: ‘I suppose I always knew you were too smart to let any of them beat you’. We take home some sense of vindication from this feeling: Michael Corleone always wins. But at what price? The second movie goes even further: as he defends his Cosa Nostra, his family, he loses his family. His actions lead him to lose his wife, his unborn son, his friends, the brother he ultimately kills. He actively destroys what he tries to protect – ending up protecting only one thing: his father’s work/ghost, even though all his father ever wanted was to protect the family.
Now, I believe that what still fascinates many people in the figure of Donald Trump is the same phenomenon. His story is relatable. Not the millionaire playboy draft-dodger pornstar-banger story, but the ‘rebel dumbass who became President’ story. It’s the childish dream my teen students were having: breaking all the rules, getting the girls and the money, and still win. It’s the same allure as in the Corleone’s story: he is a criminal who can ignore moral codes and rules in general and still win. The big difference is: we fantasize with those icons as we watch movies and TV and read books. That’s what fiction is there for: so you can live your fantasies without bringing them to reality – because fantasies can be outrageous and have disastrous consequences when acted upon. Like cheating on your wife or banging your knock-out daughter.
Most crimes actually hurt other people. They can destroy lives. Many lives. That is why they are crimes. And they should not be tolerated, ignored, frowned upon, excused. If there is a Michael Corleone in real life, murdering, stealing and plotting without consequence, authorities must do everything in their power to bring him to justice – don’t we all agree with that?
Now, in recent History, there were two US Presidents who were under an Impeachment Process. One used the Executive powers to spy on other Americans and then tried to cover it up. The CIA and the Intelligence Community were actively used to spy on the opposition, and then there was obstruction of justice. I guess it is obvious that this is an impeachable offense to most people. It was for President Nixon himself, as he resigned before being thrown out. The other President under impeachment had cheated on his wife and lied to cover it up. Should one lose his job over that? Not really sure.
The current US President, however, did the same: he cheated on his wife and lied and broke the law to cover it up – there are people in jail right now because they helped him do that. And there’s proof the Russians illegally interfered in the US Elections, and evidence his campaign officials were connected with these Russians (over 120 meetings without a clear reason with Russian spies, officials and civilians). There are people in jail right now for being connected with this effort and several Russian individuals and organizations indicted for illegal activity on this front. And he has once and again benefited Russian with his diplomatic actions – including, among other things, revealing Israeli secret information to Russian Intelligence officers in the Oval Office, dumping sanctions on Russian oligarchs and lobbying for Russian presence in international organizations. And we know he obstructed justice to cover this up. He fired the FBI Director to stop the Bureau’s investigation on these illegal activities – he confessed as much on national television. He ordered Special Counsel Robert Mueller to be fired as well for the same reason. There are 10 other instances of obstruction of justice documented and reported on the same subject. He ordered several officials to not-testify before Congress as he was afraid they would help prove wrongdoing – more obstruction. And we know he has been profiting from his Office as he hasn’t divested from his businesses – and foreign officials pay to stay in his hotels when they come to meet him. And we suspect there are many more illegal activities hidden in his Tax Returns he is doing everything not to release – besides all the dark stuff being investigated about his Inauguration activities. And this is a very brief summary on an incredible array of instances of criminal activity that are suspected or already clear.
At what point will Americans realize that this President has done already much worse than the other two impeached Presidents combined? At what point will Americans realize that this is Reality, not Fiction? And that looking at a criminal kingpin with sympathy has consequences? Not marriage consequences or mere internal politics consequences but National Security and Geopolitical consequences. At what points will Americans realize that many people are and will be hurt by his gangster actions? At what point will this story stop being like a gangster movie where the police are not present and are ineffective to countermand Crime? At what point will Americans stop acting as if they were repressed despaired teenagers investing in loser dreams and fantasies?
Obviously, there is no point in ‘impeaching’ Al Pacino, or his character Michael Corleone: their actions are fictional actions – we can identify with them without losing our souls. But it is obvious that Donald Trump must be impeached. His toxic presidency must end. His actions are very real and criminal and dangerous. This should be obvious to everyone.