Jennifer Finney Boylan: “It’s like Forrest Gump won the presidency,” said a Republican congressman in a conversation that Erick Erickson described last week on The Resurgent. The congressman went on, adding profanities, not reproduced here: “But it’s an evil, really stupid Forrest Gump. He can’t help himself. He’s just an idiot who thinks he’s winning when people are bitching about him.”
This comes from a congressman who, Mr. Erickson said, regularly appears on Fox News to defend President Trump. The same congressman used a barnyard epithet to describe how the president treated his fellow Republicans, and concluded, “if we’re going to lose, we may as well impeach the —” well, as we used to say during Watergate, expletive deleted.
They make a wild duet, Gump and Trump, like the set of identical cousins on the old “Patty Duke Show”: “One pair of matching bookends, different as night and day.” But one important difference between the fictional Forrest Gump as played by Tom Hanks in the 1994 film and the president of the United States, as played by Donald Trump in 2018, is that Gump is a fundamentally modest man, painfully aware of his own limitations. “I am not a smart man,” he says. “But I know what love is.”
Mr. Trump says, in contrast, “I’m like, smart.” Does he know what love is? “You know, I don’t want to sound too much like a chauvinist, but when I come home and dinner’s not ready, I’ll go through the roof, O.K.?” he said in the same year “Forrest Gump” was released. So there’s that.
For Forrest Gump, history is a dream from which he cannot awaken; he’s constantly stumbling into the zeitgeist. In the Oval Office, he meets President Lyndon Johnson, who jokes that he’d like to see Gump’s gunshot wound in the buttocks. Gump obediently drops his drawers, causing Johnson to remark, “Goddamn, son.”
Mr. Trump keeps stumbling over the zeitgeist too; in some ways, he is the zeitgeist. Once, in the Oval Office, he met President Barack Obama, and afterward said, “He’s a very, very good man,” apparently convinced at last that Mr. Obama was neither Muslim nor Kenyan. According to informed sources, Mr. Trump did not drop his drawers. At least not then.
The joke of Forrest Gump, of course, was that this dim but fundamentally decent man was present during so many moments when American history was being made.
The joke of Mr. Trump is that this dim but fundamentally indecent man is present during so many moments when the America we have known is being unmade.
The two men have another thing in common too. Forrest Gump, one day, decides to “go for a little run.” He runs from coast to coast, gradually amassing a crowd of followers. Reporters want to know what his motivation is — is he running for world peace? For women’s rights? For the environment? For animals? For nuclear arms?
“They just couldn’t believe,” he says, “that somebody would do all that running for no particular reason.”
Mr. Trump, after descending a golden escalator, went for a little run too — for president. Why was he running, reporters wanted to know? Did he really want to be the nation’s chief executive, or was it just a stunt?
“I wanted to do this for myself,” he said.
As with Gump, no one could believe that somebody would do all that running for no particular reason. Now he’s stuck in a job that, according to at least some sources, he never really wanted in the first place.
Goddamn, son. Life is like a box full of subpoenas. You never know when you’ll get one.
“I hate ‘Forrest Gump,’” that Republican congressman told Mr. Erickson, referring this time to the film. “Can you believe,” he asked, that at the Oscars “it beat ‘The Shawshank Redemption’?”
I share his admiration for “Shawshank.” But I think he’s missing the point when he describes the president as an “evil, really stupid Forrest Gump.”
It’s the very absence of evil, in the form of loyalty, and truthfulness, and decency, that makes Gump who he is. Without these, all that’s left is his so-called stupidity. And if the Trump presidency has proved anything, it’s that there’s all kinds of stupid.
We are led, Mr. Trump told us during the campaign, by “very, very stupid people.” Later, he observed, “I have the best words. But there’s no better word than stupid.”
It is a good word. You could use it to describe Forrest Gump, whose I.Q. of 75 did not prevent him from expressing loyalty and openheartedness. But you could use it to describe Mr. Trump as well: a man whose alleged smartness has somehow still not enabled him to bring us anything resembling decency, or justice, or economic equality, or love for one another.
Which one, in the end, would you rather have as president — Gump or Trump? Would we really be so much worse off if we were in the hands of a man who, if he knew nothing else, at least “knew what love is?”
I know which one I’d choose. Stupid is as stupid does.
Jennifer Finney Boylan (@JennyBoylan), a contributing opinion writer, is a professor of English at Barnard College of Columbia University and the author of the novel “Long Black Veil.”
Source: NY Times