To all the Dumb Chumps & Crazy Broads
See if any of this sounds familiar.
A swarthy, coarse, rude tycoon named Harry arrives in Washington D.C. He's ready to do business. He's got a right hand man with political experience and connections. He's got a "bad apple" congressman ready to take bribes. And he's got a statuesque trophy girlfriend, Billie, who knows how to keep her mouth shut as long as she gets what she wants. ("Two mink coats. Everything.")
While Harry wheels and deals, he realizes Billie's own brassy, uncouth manners might be a liability. He hires a bright young reporter named Paul to squire Billie around and teach her a few things. Just to give her something to do during the day, to polish her up.
But Paul begins with books. He urges Billie to read and read and read. He gives her The Federalist Papers and "After Visiting the Tomb of Napoleon" by Robert G. Ingersoll. Billie tries hard to understand it all. She's a high school dropout and a former chorus girl and, worst of all, she's been living with Harry for seven years. Her own father won't see her as long as she is still "living in any way unethical." Paul is the first person to respectfully meet her where she lives and give her a shot at seeing out of her circumstances.
(And Paul is William Holden so, hello sexual tension.)
They visit the Supreme Court, the National Archives, and attend the symphony.
Paul even gives Billie a political piece he wrote titled "The Yellowing Democratic Manifesto." In a moment of tables turning, Paul learns that his liberal elitism has rendered his message and principles all but unintelligible to people like her.
This is a problem, because, in taking on this Pygmalion-style task, Paul has an ulterior motive. Frustrated, Billie asks why it's so important to him that she reads and thinks about the writing of men dead for hundreds of years.
It's sort of a cause. I want everyone to be smart.
As smart as they can be.
A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in.
Here's where I'll stop and say this has always been one of my favorite films. I watch it at least once a year. It began as a smash Broadway play by Garson Kanin, and the dialogue sparkles. It's hilarious. It's also an incredible time capsule of 1940s Washington, as well as a glimpse of the post-WWII re-casting of gender roles.
But with a twist. Billie is the hero.
When Donald "I grab 'em by the pussy" Trump won the American election on Tuesday night, my psyche took a major blow. People I know and love voted for him and celebrated his win. When I asked them to condemn the racist, sexist things the President Elect said during his campaign, they wouldn't. And on Wednesday, I dreamed of Born Yesterday (1950).
At the Jefferson Memorial, Billie and Paul have this conversation:
Billie: Do you hate him like poison?
Paul: Who? Harry?
Billie: You don't like him.
Billie: On account of me and him?
Paul: One reason. There are lots more.
Paul: Think about it, Billie, and you'll see Harry's a menace.
Billie: Oh, he's not so bad. I've seen worse.
Paul: Has he ever thought of anyone but himself?
Billie: Who does?
Paul: Millions of people, Billie.
The whole history of the world is the story
of the struggle between the selfish and the unselfish...
All that's bad around us is bred by selfishness.
Sometimes selfishness can even get to be a cause,
an organized force... even a government.
And then it's called fascism.
They walk into the Jefferson Memorial, and Paul reads the inscription in the marble running in a great circle overhead: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
Donald "Mexicans are rapists" Trump won our election. This is a man who has threatened to jail his opponent. A man who has promised to build a literal wall along our southern border. A man who has suggested imposing a religious test on immigrants in direct opposition to the First Amendment. A man who has said he supports killing the families of terrorists. A man who has praised the leadership of Putin and Kim Jong Un. A man who has insulted and harrassed women--political opponents, reporters, actresses, beauty queens--about their appearance. A man who has agreed with others calling his daughter "a piece of ass."
As John Oliver noted yesterday, "Some argue he might not have meant all those things. That leaves us with two bad options: Either we just elected a president who didn't mean a single word he said, or we elected one who did."
There is a third possibility: We may have elected a president who meant some things and not other things. In which case, we're all going to be waiting four years for the other shoe to drop. That's an easier prospect for people who are not members of the groups he has helped to marginalize for the last 18 months.
The books Billie reads pile up over the course of the film. By the end, they're everywhere. She sits on a stack of them and puts her chin in her hand, like The Thinker.
I hate to spoil the end of this beautiful movie, so I'll just say that Billie pulls through in a big way. A way that reminds us what "the people" are capable of when they embody the principles behind the United States of America. You know the ones: respect, dignity, opportunity and equality, education, sticking together. Knowledge is power. And as Malala Yousafzai once reminded us, "Terrorists have shown what frightens them most: a girl with a book."
I believe my country is in trouble. The man about to ascend to power has threatened to back out of NATO, which, as USA Today reminded us in their anti-Trump endorsement, is "an agreement that has kept the majority of the globe at peace for decades, and has only mobilized once in its history: when our allies joined us to fight Al Qaeda after 9/11." He has said climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. He... I could go on and on.
People are rioting in the streets. (Rioting is always wrong. Protesting is an American birthright, but rioting is never okay.) And right-wing extremists around the world are celebrating.
If you're a Trump supporter who feels that my thoughts on this issue are an attack on you... Fine. I feel pretty impotent on the issue, living thousands of miles away from home while a lecherous narcissist takes power. So, let me be clear:
I respect your right to vote even if I don't respect the person you voted for.
I respect some of the values that inspired your vote for the GOP, but none of the values that boil down to selfishness.
I respect the office of the President, but I will never respect Trump.
I will be watching. If I see racist behavior on your part, I will call it out.
And I'm ready to fight what I fear is coming with every tool at my disposal. That might not be much, but it's what we have as members of a democracy. A right to speak, a right to write, a right to assemble, a right to vote. Beyond that, I will continue to be an ally to anyone--friend or stranger--who feels threatened by Trump and his campaign promises, even if those promises turn out to be hollow. Because if Trump turns out to be merely a liar... meaning he, personally, isn't a bigot, a misogynist, a violent maniac... the wretched side effect has been that he validated all those feelings in a subsection of the American people, and too many assholes are emboldened today by this change in the wind.
Allow me to close with the story of Paul and Billie.
"Dumb chump," snarls a thwarted Harry. "Crazy broad."
And his fixer raises a glass, "To all the dumb chumps and all the crazy broads, past, present, and future, who thirst for knowledge and search for truth... who fight for justice and civilize each other... and make it so tough for crooks like you... and me."
These are my goals for the next four years. Join me, won't you?