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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Trumbo and Trump

We finally got around to watching Trumbo last night, the superb 2015 movie starring Bryan Cranston as the brilliant, blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who in the 1950s was imprisoned and forced to write under pseudonyms because of the demagogic Republicans of that time, in particular Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, better known as HUAC.

It was impossible not to be struck by disturbing parallels between those Republicans and the kind of campaign Trump is now running.   Scapegoating, division of Americans, lashing out at the media and the intelligentsia were part and parcel of that era and loom menacingly in this one.  Only the names have changed, from Communist to Muslim and Mexican, from Hollywood to cable television.

Indeed, Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and a contender for Vice President on a Trump ticket, called for a revival of HUAC just a few days ago as a way of defeating ISIS.

In the 1950s, the original HUAC wreaked havoc on law-abiding Americans like Trumbo, who was only exercising his First Amendment rights.   As the movie dramatically shows, the unexpected death of liberal Supreme Court Justice Wiley Rutledge in 1949 - appointed by FDR - deprived the court of the liberal majority needed to strike down the anti-Communist witch-hunt.

The Supreme Court again hangs in the balance, with the cowardly Republicans of today refusing to even consider Obama's nomination of a replacement for Scalia.   The reign of terror in the 1950s eventually ended, as actor Kirk Douglas and director Otto Preminger stepped to give Trumbo credit for the great screenwriting he did for the movies Spartacus and Exodus, in one of the best days in American history and the best parts of the movie.   HUAC changed its name to something more benign in 1969, and was put out of business completely by Congress in 1975.  But we've yet to have a happy ending with Trump and his ilk in 2016, and Americans who value freedom should redouble their efforts to make sure he never gets near the White House.

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