Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Mr. Trump, meet Mr. Gardiner.

On August 16, 2015, presidential candidate Donald J. Trump appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," for an interview with Chuck Todd. The interview included this exchange:

CHUCK TODD: Who do you talk to for military advice right now?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, I watch the shows. I mean, I really see a lot of great-- you know, when you watch your show and all of the other shows and you have the generals and--

CHUCK TODD: So you do the--

DONALD TRUMP: And you have certain people that you like--

Trump's initial response reminded me of one my favorite scenes from one of my favorite films, a film that I think about more and more often as Trump reveals more and more of how he operates as a person. The film is "Being There," a 1979 comedy starring Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine and Melvyn Douglas, adapted from a novella by Jerzy Kosinski.

Sellers plays a man named Chance who has lived his entire life as the gardener for a palatial estate, and who only knows two things - gardening and television. His employer dies, and he is turned out to make his way in Washington, D.C. He has a minor accident with a limousine, and the passenger, Eve Rand, insists on taking him home so that her husband's live-in medical staff can tend to him. Along the way, she misunderstands his name, "Chance, the gardener," as "Chauncey Gardiner," and we're on our way: from that point on, the richest and most powerful people in D.C. misunderstand everything he says, including the reporters who catch him escorting Eve to a formal affair, and seek comment on newspaper stories about him:

"I like to watch TV."

The sauce on this delicious scene is the look of sheer admiration on the TV reporter's face at the very end.

If you have not yet seen "Being There," put it on your list. After viewing it, you'll understand why, for more than a year now, one commenter after another has compared Donald Trump to Chauncey Gardiner - most recently, Malcolm Jones at The Daily Beast:

"...both Trump and Chauncey are, in their respective ways, almost purely creatures of television. It is their shared window on the world, and not only that: Each man also owes his success to television." 
In 1979, "Being There" was one of the funniest movies I had ever seen. Nearly 40 years later, without being less funny, it has also become one of the scariest.
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