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Books & Culture

Impeachment in the Movies

A reference guide for all ages.


- November 4th, 2019
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The Pelosi-Schiff impeachment inquiry has grown ever more complicated and the perpetrators like it that way. The complexity and mysterious cast of characters give the impression that something nefarious must be going on. Those who remain puzzled might find some clarification in American cinema.

The closest movie reference to Donald Trump is Paul Newman as Michael Gallagher in “Absence of Malice.” Zealot prosecutor Elliot Rosen (Bob Balaban) leaks a fake story to frame Gallagher for a crime he didn’t commit. “Somebody’s trying to get to me, somebody with no face, and no name,” Gallagher tells reporter Megan Carter, (Sally Field). “You write what they say and then you help them hide.” Just like Adam Schiff hides the conspirator-leaker he calls a “whistleblower.”

This recalls the courtroom scene in “Bananas,” in which Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen) tells the judge, “This trial is a travesty. It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of two mockeries of a sham.” The trial features FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover, disguised as an African American woman because, “I have many enemies.”

The wide-eyed, vacuous Schiff seems to be playing the first person to see the flying saucer in one of those 1950s science fiction movies. If people gave the pasty-faced Schiff any thought they might despise him, like Rick (Humphrey Bogart), with Ugarte in “Casablanca.” Schiff’s co-conspirator Nancy Pelosi also offers a wide range of possibilities. One thinks of Paul Newman in “Harper,” telling Robert Wagner about “that Fraley broad.”

She’s a “blemish come to life,” Harper says, a “human disaster area” and touching her would be like “cozying up to a piece of fungus.” What R. P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) said about Nurse Ratched, (Louise Fletcher) in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” would also apply to the current speaker of the House. Those born after 1975 can find it here.

Pelosi also recalls the scene in “Network” where Lorraine Hobbs (Marlene Warfield) tells the Great Ahmed Khan (Arthur Burghardt) he’s going to be a television star like Archie Bunker. The Great Ahmed Khan looks up from his dinner and says “What in the fuck are you talking about?” What Howard Beale (Peter Finch) said about television also applies to the impeachment inquiry and its coverage on CNN and MSNBC. In highly technical language, “none of it is true.”

Pelosi also brings to mind Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire” as he deals with the devious Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh). “There isn’t a damn thing but imagination, and lies, and tricks!” Stanley tells Blanche. “I’ve been on to you from the start. Not once did you pull the wool over my eyes.”

The Pelosi-Schiff show stars witness Alexander Vindman an “expert on Eastern Europe who is currently the director of European affairs at the National Security Council.” Vindman often appears in military uniform with a hat bearing bands of bright yellow and blue. That recalls what Carl Showalter, (Steve Buscemi), told the parking lot attendant in “Fargo.” “I guess you think you’re, you know, like an authority figure, with that stupid fuckin’ uniform, huh buddy?” Carl says. “You know these are the limits of your life, man!”

Like the vaunted Mueller probe, this show is all happening because Donald Trump had the temerity to defeat former First Lady Hillary Clinton in 2016. That recalls a scene from “On the Waterfront” with Brando as Terry Malloy, whose testimony took down the mob boss who had Joey Doyle bumped off. “I’m glad what I done to you,” Terry says. “And I’m gonna keep on doin’ it.”

Trump wants to win in 2020, and that’s why Schiff has the star chamber surging. In these conditions, Trump is again like Michael Gallagher, who learns the identity of the man out to get him and runs an intelligence operation of his own. As the most powerful man in the world, President Trump can declassify a lot more than some phone call with a Ukrainian politician. That prospect worries the Democrat-Deep State-Media axis as John Durham continues his criminal investigation.

For his part, Durham is like assistant Attorney General James J. Wells (Wilford Brimley) in “Absence of Malice,” who says we can’t have people leaking to reporters because “it ain’t legal, and by God it ain’t right.” When his hearing is done, Wells says, the Department of Justice is going to know what’s going on, and “I’m gonna have somebody’s ass in my briefcase.”

Durham’s criminal investigation, coupled with the Michael Horowitz probe on FISA abuse, could well render a similar result. Meanwhile, as he observes the 2020 field, Trump is like Wil Andersen (John Wayne) in “The Cowboys.” As Wayne tells bad guy Bruce Dern, a younger man, “On my worst day I could beat the hell out of you.”

As the president likes to say, we’ll have to see what happens.

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