The estimable David Goldman argues that Donald Trump fits the mold of American hero, and a traditional one at that. He points out that “the protagonists of American popular culture are outsiders with scant patience for authority.” He goes on to compare Trump to Western heroes like the ones portrayed by John Wayne or like William Munny in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.
I see little merit in these comparisons or in Goldman’s thesis. Start with the fact that a typical John Wayne hero wouldn’t have run for president or sheriff. Accepted a genuine draft? Probably. Sought self-aggrandizement? No.
A Western hero wouldn’t ridicule a disabled man. That’s what the bad guys do in Westerns.
He wouldn’t lash out at a female for asking a difficult question. John Wayne characters admired and respected sassy women.
A Western hero wouldn’t escalate a minor insult into a gun fight. These guys usually required considerable provocation. Violence was a last resort.
The comparison to William Munny is particularly off-key. The plot in Unforgiven centers around Munny’s attempt to avenge (in exchange for money) an assault on a women (albeit a vastly more serious assault than the ones Trump bragged about and a dozen or so women accused him of).
William Munny doesn’t boast about winning gun fights. He is ashamed of his ruthlessness. When he wins the big gunfight at the end of the film, he says he was lucky, adding “I’ve always been lucky when it comes to killing folks.” Not very Trumpian.
Western heroes like Munny are the strong silent type. Trump talks incessantly, and usually about himself.
In this respect, Goldman compares him to wise-cracking private detective, like the heroes in Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett novels. But Trump rarely delivers wise cracks. Whining and crude insults are his medium.
Goldman suggests that Trump “could be a character in a Frank Capra film.” But which character. Trump is the anti-John Doe, Mr. Deeds, and George Bailey. He’s much closer to Mr. Potter.
If anyone was going to label Donald Trump a traditional American hero, I would have expected it to be a leftist professor attempting to deconstruct the idea of the American hero. The thesis would be that the traditional American hero is a ruthless killer at heart — like William Munny. Some leftists made this kind of argument about Richard Nixon.
Goldman isn’t starry-eyed about the American hero, but he’s not making the leftist, Nixon-era argument.
I cheered Mr. Trump to victory in the last election out of disgust for the do-gooders and world-fixers of both the Republican and Democratic mainstreams. Now I wish him good luck.
So do I. But let’s not define American heroism down in the process.