Chicago Sun Times
Trump’s hero fantasy is shared by many — and that’s the problem, not the answer
Neil Steinberg February 27, 2018
Bruce Willis stars as Paul Kersey in a new version of “Death Wish,” a movie originally made with Charles Bronson in the starring role. | MGM photo
Mockery is easy. And kinda cheap. Well, not all mockery. Mocking government officials for political cowardice, for instance, is both important and not that easy, if done well.
I mean mockery over petty stuff. Particularly physical traits. Whenever someone goes on about Donald Trump’s strange hairdo, or tiny hands, or bulging weight, I wince and think, “Really? The man is a liar and a bully and a fraud, not to mention rolling like a puppy at the feet of the Russians and you’re bothered because his necktie is too long?”
Yes, mockery has a purpose. It comforts. The scary thing isn’t so scary. Hitler becomes a little man with a funny mustache.
Though sometimes mockery causes us to miss the larger point.
Such as Monday, when the president strutted his own imaginary courage before a group of governors at the White House, sparking a firestorm of ridicule. Twitter erupted like the Hindenburg exploding when Trump said he would have reacted to the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with reflexive bravery.
“I really believe I’d run in there, even if I didn’t have a weapon,” the president said.
I’m sure he does really believe that.
Trump’s five draft deferments, when ducking military service in Vietnam, began pinballing around social media. Nothing more need be said. We are already familiar with his comic braggadocio. Just jump in with the #TrumpCoward hashtag, savoring clips of the Cowardly Lion and Trump cringing away from an American eagle. My favorite: an audio clip of Trump yucking it up with Howard Stern in 2008 about an 80-year-old man who fell off the stage during a ball at Mar-a-Lago.
“You know what I did? I said ‘Oh my God, that’s disgusting’ and I turned away,” Trump laughed. “He was right in front of me. I didn’t want to touch him.”
But focusing on Trump’s callousness and lack of personal courage, the glaring contrast between the real man and the bloviating fantasy he actually expects us to believe, ignores something vital. Trump dreaming up heroics for himself also articulates the basis of the gun problem in this country, and it’s worth pausing to consider. This isn’t Trump’s failing. It’s everybody’s failing. If he’s a joke, there’s a lot of that going around.
Too many Americans — fairness means I have to ritualistically exclude millions of responsible gun owners, please God the majority, the cops and hunters and target shooters and collectors and such — own guns out of an unspoken “Death Wish” fantasy of blowing away bad guys. They, like the president, not only know how they would react in a life-or-death situation, but are armed and ready, itching for the chance, eager to enlist others — at the moment, teachers.
Fantasy is easy. Too easy. The truth is difficult, so people shrug it off. Trump turned on the sheriff’s deputy who was outside the school during the shooting but did not enter, calling him a “coward” and “disgusting.”
Yet the president pretends to be a friend of law enforcement.
I don’t know what the deputy should have done. I wasn’t there. The assumption that he should have stormed in as the music swelled and shot the first person who looked like a shooter works in the movies. In real life, he might have never found the killer — guards at schools in past slaughters have failed to be in the right spot at the right time — or shot some innocent kid carrying a cell phone that the deputy thought looked like a pistol.
We have a problem in our country that’s killing our fellow citizens, particularly the young. Instead of considering real world solutions, we’re talking dreams of grandeur.
We know sane gun policy works because it works in every country in the world but ours. The reason it doesn’t work in ours is that gun companies have sold a Hollywood fantasy of heroism to a terrified minority. We are in thrall to a bad dream.
Speaking of “Death Wish,” a remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson movie about a wronged man gunning down bad guys, this one with Bruce Willis, hits theaters Friday.
I’m sure it’ll do very well. Nobody ever went broke catering to the revenge fantasies of the American public.
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with the members of the National Governors Association at the White House on Monday. | AP Photo