I woke up on Wednesday, like most of the Western world, with a dizzying sense of horror. Donald Trump was President-elect. The liberal worst nightmare, manifested as an orange reality TV star with no inner life and a loathing of public humiliation. Maybe we should have paid more attention to Citizen Kane. Welles’ film has been rightly praised for its technical sophistication and narrative daring, but what’s overlooked, perhaps, is its portrait of a man with a corrupted soul, a dark hole where his empathy should be. A man who inherited obscene wealth, then spent it on ruinous businesses, a man whose lack of self worth drove him to seek the admiration of the public at large, only to drive a wedge between him and those who were closest to him. A man who adored his mother, yet had no satisfactory female relationships. A man who came out of nowhere, smearing his opponent to ride a populist wave to political glory.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. It’s a blueprint for Trump. What’s weirder is that Trump loves Kane, once naming it his favourite film of all time. To many, this may seem absurd. How can a man with the intellect of Donald Trump like such a film as Citizen Kane? A man who ordered French fries at a posh restaurant and liked watching TV on his own with a bag of popcorn? He’s a philistine! But to think this is to underestimate a man who somehow managed to survive multiple bankruptcies, multiple scandals and a mass of bad publicity and yet still manage to win the 2016 General Election. He may appear stupid. But like Kane, he knows how to play people.
Watching Errol Morris’s interview of Trump back in 1999, one gets a curious insight into this mindset. Here is a man who is able to understand that wealth doesn’t bring happiness, who is able to understand that wealth isolates you from people, who is even able to understand the parallels between Kane and his own life. He speaks with a remarkable insight and clarity about Citizen Kane; something that comes as a shock when you consider the soundbites of him on the campaign trail, bloviating about taxes, Muslims and the machinations of Crooked Hillary,
And yet his misogyny, his arrogance, creeps in. For all of his perceptive analysis of Kane’s misery, for all his understanding that wealth does not make you happy, there is his assertion that Kane suffered ‘a modest fall’ when Susan left him. His understanding is limited by his youth; unlike Kane, he has not found himself alone just yet. His life is one surrounded by his children, his wife and his cronies, where a moment is never truly spent alone. Give him a moment locked away in Mar-a-Lago, when it’s all over and done, and we may see a very different Trump. His preferred advice to Charles Foster Kane, ‘Get a better woman’, is also a telling sign of the misogyny that would define his Presidential campaign; the very idea that women can be changed for a newer model when she refuses to satisfy you, either emotionally or physically. Grab her by the pussy, anyone?
At once, we see a man with an astonishing understanding and awareness of Kane’s predicament, yet fails completely in his emotional understanding of those around him, and how his actions cause Susan and Leland and Thatcher a great deal of pain. But there are significant differences between Kane and Trump. The most obvious is that Kane never won political office. The sex scandal that killed his career, ironically, was far tamer than that which threatened to engulf Trump; a deeply uncomfortable repost to those who believe we’ve progressed in the past seventy years. The idea of Charlie Kane being interested in hosting a Miss World competition seems somewhat improbable, even factoring in the censorship of the day
Yet both men were forces of nature. They projected an image of themselves that was almost superhuman; as limitless sources of energy, always doing something, always somewhere at some point. People began to know their faces. People began to trust their faces, rightly or wrongly. But that trust will fade. Kane became a recluse, desperately trying to control a world that had no more time for him. He died alone, unmourned. And more than likely, this will happen to Trump
Why am I so confident? Because the narrative laid out by Kane touches on something universal; that those with the most power, with the most influence, are often the saddest, the most empty individuals. Rupert Murdoch. Hitler. William Randolph Hearst. Men who wanted people to love them, who wanted people to trust them unconditionally. Last time I checked, Murdoch’s on his fourth marriage. Hitler’s love life is a horror story in itself. And Hearst lost his money and his mistress by the time he died.
Trump will go the same way. He will be abandoned by all but his most devoted fans and servants, and die quietly in his bed. There will be press coverage. But don’t be surprised if it doesn’t take kindly to Donald John Trump. No one that greedy for power is ever truly adored.
So sit back, light a cigar, drink a glass of good port and watch the show. Welles would have approved.