The Air France flight I took back to the US for my father’s funeral — when I was on the cusp of my 19th birthday — showed Network, which had recently premiered at the cinema.
My father, also on the cusp of his late-50s birthday, would have loved Peter Finch’s Oscar-winning character.
Dad deeply admired Ronald Reagan, as far back as the early 1970s. He really wanted to vote for him, even though he had voted ‘D’ along with his family every election of his life. My dad typified the Reagan Democrat: well-read, modest and of the mind that the US was going to the dogs.
I’m so glad he did not live to see Carter’s dismal final years. But I do regret that he was unable to vote for his Californian, B-actor hero.
I didn’t get it at the time. I was too young. But now that I’m Dad’s age, I surely do understand it today.
Like many Americans whose mood Reagan tapped into, my dad was mad as hell. Not in a violent or destructive way, just frustrated. Not a day went by when we didn’t read or hear about street gangs, shootings, muggings, rapes, gas prices, food shortages, pollution, inflation and everyday disappointment — all made to sound as if they were normal occurrences.
Suddenly, every city was getting as bad as New York, which we used to laugh about in the 1960s, thanks to Johnny Carson (who didn’t move to ‘beautiful downtown Burbank’ until 1972). On that subject, New York revived, in important ways, thanks to a certain 2016 GOP presidential candidate. Detroit, on the other hand, seriously tanked (no pun intended with the auto industry).
I would love to have known what my father would have made of Peter Finch’s ‘I’m mad as hell’ plea to Americans on the nightly news. Here it is on YouTube. Even if you don’t turn the sound on — I’ve got his monologue below — do watch this scene, a little over four minutes long, to see how people watching the broadcast respond. You’ll see Faye Dunaway, too:
This is what Finch’s character says in his broadcast (caps in the original). Yes, he breaks the third Commandment, but, if you can, look for the broader points which have been dogging us since the 1970s. Consider all of the following highlighted:
I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV’s while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’ Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has VALUE!’ So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’ I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”
In 2016, these same issues continue along with a few new ones. You know what they are. Even people half a world away know what they are.
Donald Trump is the Ronald Reagan of 2016, the galvaniser of polite, hard-working, disaffected — though not disenfranchised — Americans: Republican, Democrat or independent.
On some level(s), Trump, too, is fed up and has been for years (see old YouTube videos of testimony he gave before the Senate in 1990) and this considered 14-minute (nearly) WNET New York interview from the same time period:
He might not be ‘mad as hell’ but he is motivated enough and wealthy enough to be able to turn around a decades-old situation, in the words of Finch’s character,
as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be,
and at least go halfway towards making America great again.
No one — not even he — knows if he actually could make the Republic great again. Even eight years of Reagan couldn’t do it — in the 1980s. But, by golly, it’s worth a try.
And to those who say Trump needs policies when, frankly, no one else has framed any outside of wimpy soundbites, here’s an honest and accurate response:
If Congress thinks America has time to wait out a clearly dangerous, dishonest president, America has time to wait for Trump to sharpen “candidate” details on issues which he, like millions of grown-ups, have been informed and outraged about for years.
Like Reagan, Trump represents a Spring clean for the United States. This is why he has huge — ‘yuge’, in his and Bernie Sanders’s lingo — support.
I’ll have to watch Network again this year. It was right for America’s time then and must still ring true today.
One post to come next week on Donald Trump.