Back in August 2016, I was pleased to have been able to amaze the world with an important literary discovery: a hitherto unknown manuscript by the famous Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.
Everyone knows about Kurosawa’s classic 1950 film Rashomon. In that clever post-modernist exercise, the sanguinary tale of the woodcutter, the bandit, the wife, and the medium is told from several different perspectives, giving us in effect several different tales each of dubious narrative authority.
What the world had not previously known, but what I was pleased to reveal, was that Kurosawa, possibly in cahoots with his far-seeing medium, had privately given the 2016 U.S. presidential election the Rashomon treatment. In one scenario, Hillary, always the inevitable candidate, won hands down, shoulder pads nudging Bernie Sanders to the side of the road, pantsuit girded so she could walk like Nancy Sinatra right over The Donald.
There were other scenarios. One revealed just how sick, another just how corrupt, Hillary Clinton really was. She withdrew and Joe Biden, bravely doing it “for Beau,” stepped up to the plate and snapped up the top job.
Another scenario explored the unlikely and showed how Gary Johnson (remember him?) and William Weld insinuated themselves into the space between incredulity and contempt and rode the wave of discontent all the way to White House.
Then of course there were a couple of scenarios featuring Donald Trump. In one,
Paul Manafort quit as Trump’s campaign manager and went to work for Kim Jong Un. Eric and Ivanka Trump took their father aside and explained that the Trump brand would be unrecoverably damaged if he persisted with the campaign. Trump held a press conference at Trump Tower, announced that the election was “rigged” against him and withdrew from the race. Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels jumped into the race and led the Republicans to victory in November.
Remember, this was August!
Kurosawa’s final scenario was the most stunning. Looking forward to the first debate on September 26, he depicted Trump as the clear popular favorite. Then an alternative inevitability took over.
The polls began to wobble and then shift decisively in Trump’s favor. November 8 came and he won decisively, narrowly losing New York and even California, and sweeping Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Colorado. Nate Silver, the sage of the poll FiveThirtyEight, announced his retirement and the #NeverTrump hashtag was rewritten to read #IKnewItAllAlong.
As I noted at the time, Kurosawa left no hints about which of his several scenarios would actually come true.
What I did not know then, but what I am delighted to announce now, is that Kurosawa left a second manuscript. This one is just a draft, with many scratchings out, unpolished prose, and incomplete plot lines. But it nonetheless makes makes for very interesting reading, for it bears on the post-election reality that Donald Trump would face. (Hermeneuts take note: the fact that Kurosawa had this second script lying around in his drawer strongly suggests that he knew, even though he never said, who would win in November 2016.)
As I say, this manuscript is far more fragmentary than the one about the election. Even its title is provisional. The cover says “Making America Great,” but there is a half-title page on which is typed “Making America Break” with two big question marks added in Kurosawa’s spidery hand.
Who knows what he really thought?
But here are the possibilities he limned:
Scenario One Disgraced former FBI Director James Comey’s bosom buddy Robert Mueller collected a large posse of lawyers from the deep bench of former Clinton and Obama supporters. Since Mueller had been handed a fishing pole and a bucket of bait by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy Attorney General who appointed him Special Counsel with the world as his portfolio, it was only a matter of time before they dredged up something embarrassing. It turns out that in 1998 Donald Trump had neglected to renew an elevator certificate in Trump Tower, the same year he pioneered TrumpSauce, a line of Russian Dressing to complement Trump Vodka (need we say more?). Mueller then impanelled a grand jury to consider the implications of these obvious ties to Russia and flagrant maladministration. Trump’s approval rating cratered, almost matching that of Congress itself. The House, though still staffed (I won’t say “controlled”) mostly by Republicans, began muttering in public about impeachment. Like Henry VI, Trump suffered a mental breakdown and Melania Trump and John Kelly effectively took over the running of the White House.
The rest of this scenario is lost. But then there is
Scenario Two Max Boot, Jonah Goldberg, and poor Gabe Schoenfeld declared themselves a new Triumvirate (supported by many other Optimates). Their primary platform revolved around the contention that no one could be allowed to be President of the United States without their permission. Unfortunately, someone leaked NSA dossiers on the triumvirs, secretly compiled in 2012 during the Obama administration when our intelligence agencies routinely spied on ordinary Americans (of course they don’t do that any more), and they had to emigrate to the Andes and take up llama farming.
Scenario Three In this dark scenario, Robert Mueller’s investigation actually does spark the impeachment of Donald Trump. It is not clear whether the Senate will vote to convict him, but Trump saves the country from that wrenching prospect by resigning, à la Nixon, “for the good of the country.” He takes his last flight aboard Marine One in April 2018. Five million females don vagina costumes and flood the Washington Mall in celebration. But what was meant to be an affirmation of democracy’s renewal turns tragic when President Mike Pence has the entire crowded rounded up and sent to prison camps scattered across the country. The news media is outraged but rendered impotent by a Presidential Order closing them all down. District Judges across the country issue temporary restraining orders “on a nationwide basis,” but no one pays them any attention.
Scenario Four Despite the increasing static from CNN, The New York Times, and other anti-Trump entities, Donald Trump soldiers doggedly on. He finally manages to get Congress to repeal Obamacare and manages to push through a tax bill that cuts the corporate tax rate to 15%, offers a one-tine repatriation-of-capital incentive of 10% for companies hoarding cash offshore, and lowers the top marginal rate to 36%. Growth picks up markedly, hitting 3.5% in the fourth quarter. America becomes the world’s largest exporter of energy and Trump’s attack on counterproductive regulation spurs a renaissance in business start-ups. A downside is that compliance offices in many companies shrivel in size or are abandoned altogether as companies no longer have to spend huge resources complying with an ever-proliferating phalanx of paralyzing rules and regulations. Compliance officers across the country swell the welfare rolls, but are gradually weaned from the public teat by grateful companies who are only too happy to provide private subsidies for their supererogatory former employees. Meanwhile, in North Korea, the pudgy dictator is incinerated by one of his ICBM tests gone awry, the two halves of Korea unite under the hegemony of the South, and millions of North Koreans are treated to their first Big Mac courtesy the U.S. government. A sad human, all-too-human coefficient of these developments is the collapse of Jim Acosta, who stopped shaving and was last seen in a rough part of Washington repeatedly reciting Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus.” Donald Trump endeavored to have him cared for by the VA but it turned out that Acosta had never served in the military.
That’s it. That’s how the second Kurosawa manuscript ends. We’ll never know what he really thought, but his oscillating clairvoyance suggestions a range of possibilities facing America. 1) The administrative state reasserts its dominance, bringing every facet of life under its purview and a new compilation of Brave New World and 1984 is produced by a committee staffed largely by employees from the IRS and the EPA as a training manual. Every home and public gathering place is required to broadcast CNN non-stop, around the clock, and the monitors broadcasting the news are equipped with microphones to pick up heterodox opinions, which are tagged by GPS locators in real time and sent to local police departments for “remediation.” 2) Donald Trump continues his wacky recalibration of American political life. Paul Ryan gets with the program and cajoles Congress to do its job and respond to what the people, not poor Gabe Schoenfeld, want. 3) Something else that I haven’t yet thought of. Last summer, I noted that
There is a powerful tendency to believe that, whatever local disruptions we face in the course of life’s vicissitudes, “normality” will soon reassert itself and the status quo ante will reinstall itself in the driver’s seat … Whether you embrace or repudiate Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton doesn’t signify in the context of my contention: the oddity of this campaign season is not over. We are likely to see not just local disturbances like the sudden sacking of campaign managers, but spectacular changes, reversals, upsets, and dei ex machina.
And I concluded thus: “This is the place where I might quote the philosopher Yogi Berra, that master of tautology, and mention that it is not over till it’s over, but then someone would likely remind me about the sonorous lady of adipose aspect, and I have too much regard for your fine feelings to subject you to that.”
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