It perhaps should come as no surprise that Orson Welles' Citizen Kane is Donald Trump's favorite movie of all time. And for good reason: like Trump, Kane started life with a vast inheritance; like Kane, Trump has been oft-married and built a monument to himself - Xanadu for Kane and the eponymous Trump Tower for our PEOTUS. And like Kane, Trump is an egomaniac; a man terribly cock-sure of himself. Unlike Charles Foster Kane who could care less about what people said about him, Donald J. Trump has tissue-paper thin skin and is more than willing to get back at anyone and everyone who criticizes him. Oddly, as much as Trump admires Citizen Kane, he has never thought much of the man who in his first movie, produced, directed, starred in, and shared a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for what a clear majority of film historians consider the best movie ever made.
In a 2016 interview with IndieWire's Graham Winfrey,, Trump opined that: “He thought everybody was a moron . . . . He was like this great genius that after 26, never did it. He became totally impossible.” Winfrey noted of the interview "Perhaps ironically, some of Welles’ least admirable qualities are exactly what Trump says attracted him to the director. “If he had a budget he’d exceed it by 20 times and destroy everything,” Trump said. “He became impossible. I loved that.”
Of course, there are many dissimilarities between the two men, not the least of which being that Orson Welles was a genius, while Donald Trump is a one-trick pony; the former an egoist, the latter an egotist. (We'll get into the difference in just a while.) Welles was the toast of both Broadway and radio when barely out of his teens; he produced directed and starred in a sparse, modern-dress version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (which he called, simply Caesar) by the time he was 22; it ran for an unbelievable 157 performances. At the same time, he was starring (although anonymously) as Lamont Cranston in the radio version of The Shadow. In 1939, RKO studios signed the 24-year old Welles to what biographer Robert Carringer noted was ". . .generally considered the greatest contract offered to a filmmaker, much less to one who was untried. Engaging him to write, produce, direct and perform in two motion pictures, the contract subordinated the studio's financial interests to Welles's creative control, and broke all precedent by granting Welles the right of final cut." It goes without saying that the agreement was bitterly resented by the Hollywood studios and persistently mocked in the trade press. (The picture above is Welles on the day he signed his monumental contract with RKO.)
History records that at the end of Welles' initial tour of RKO, a reporter asked him what his impressions were. Smiling the beguiling Welles smile, the youngster, in one of the most youthfully egoistical statements of all time said, "This is the greatest electric train set any boy ever had." If Hollywood disliked the 24-year old wunderkind before that comment, they now despised him. And yet, regardless of what they thought about him, Welles did manage to helm two of the industry's all-time best films: Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. Welles may not have known a whole heck of a lot about film when he first stepped onto the RKO lot, but was smart enough to surround himself with the very best behind-the-screen talent the industry had to offer: cinematographer Gregg Toland (likely the best who ever lived), screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, editor Robert Wise, composer Bernard Herrmann, special effects director Vernon Walker and set designer Percy Ferguson. Unquestionably, Welles was an egoist. And like all good egoists, he was no one's fool; he knew what he did not know, was a good listener, an eager student, and a wonderful collaborator.
Which bring us to Donald Trump, who is an egotist with a capital "E." Where an egoist - like Welles - might devote considerable attention to introspection, but be modest - even humorous - about it ("This is the greatest electric train set . . ."), an egotist - like Mr. Trump - has an excessive sense of self-importance, speaks mostly in the first person, and is typically both arrogant and boastful ("I alone can fix it . . ."). Where Welles surrounded himself with people who were thorough-going cinematic professionals - people who knew film from A-to-Z - Trump the egotist, in naming people to his White House staff and nominating people to his Cabinet, has shown that he, unlike Welles the egoist, prefers to surround himself with amateurs - with people who, for the most part, have either no experience in government or are ideologues bent on undoing the very departments they are supposed to lead:
- Trump's chief White House strategist and senior counselor Steven K. Bannon has virtually no governmental experience. He has over the years shown himself to be, among other things, a racist, a white nationalist, an anti-Semite and a misogynist. Even right-wing radio talk show host Glenn Beck proclaimed Bannon "a nightmare" and once compared him to Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels. Among Bannon's more revealingly pungent quotes are: “Gay rights have made us dumber, it’s time to get back in the closet," “Let the grassroots turn on the hate because that’s the ONLY thing that will make them do their duty,” and “Hoist it high and proud: The Confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage.”
- Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump's nominee for Attorney General: In 1986, before Sessions became a senator himself, a Republican-controlled Senate rejected his nomination by President Ronald Reagan to a federal judgeship. Several United States attorneys testified that he had made racist comments, including calling an African-American lawyer “boy,” and that he had been hostile to civil rights cases.
- Betsy DeVos, Trump's nominee for Sec. of Education: A billionaire (she's married to an Amway heir), Mrs. DeVos has no education degree or teaching experience, has never attended a public school or sent her children to one, and supports the funding of for-profit Christian schools over public ones. Furthermore, she supports the teaching of Creationism over Evolution (although this may not be high on her list of priorities).
- United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley: Like Secretary-designate DeVos, Haley, the sitting Governor of South Carolina, was hardly what one would call a Trump supporter throughout most of the campaign. Looking over her c.v., one is hard-pressed to find any foreign policy or diplomatic experience. In naming her to this position - which does require Senate approval - Trump likely shows what he thinks about the U.N.
- Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani: both prominently mentioned as possible nominees for Secretary of State, the former has marginally more experience in foreign policy; the latter has virtually none. The difference between the two is obvious: Romney never supported Trump; Giuliani was an avid Trump supporter from day one.
- Commerce Secretary Nominee Wilbur Ross, Jr.: A former Democrat, Ross is a billionaire investor who specializes in leveraged buyouts and distressed businesses. One of his many enterprises is the International Coal Group; the United Mine Workers of America protested the bankruptcy regulations that had allowed him to set up the International Coal Group free of labor unions, health care and pensions. In the 1980s, while working as senior managing director of Rothschild, Inc., Ross assisted and assured Donald Trump that he would be able to keep his failing casinos and rebuild his businesses. It has also been widely reported that the billionaire co-owner of the Chicago Cubs Todd Ricketts is in line for Deputy Commerce Secretary. (Ricketts was originally finance chair for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's failed presidential bid.)
To be sure, there will be more names made public this week. Precisely how many - or few - will have government experience is anybody's guess. Of course, it is not uncommon for major political benefactors to be named to positions by an incoming administration. Generally speaking however, the majority of these positions come in the form of ambassadorships, not cabinet posts. During his campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly promised that he would "drain the swamp" that is Washington. Well, it appears that he is keeping his promise, because he is refilling the "swamp" with billionaires who are likely as clueless as he is. This does not bode well for either the Trump Administration or for the United States of America. As things stand right now, Donald Trump's cabinet is on track to be the least experienced in modern - perhaps all - American history.
Having a narcissistic egotist sitting atop the government is a daunting prospect to say the least. Here's hoping that at some point the Republican-led Congress will acquire some steel in their collective spine and learn how to "just say no" to this collection of richer-than-Croesus amateurs.
Perhaps in the end - or indeed, the beginning - there is one great reason by Donald Trump so admires Welles' Citizen Kane: he relates to that fictional character who said:
"There's only one person in the world who's going to decide what I'm going to do and that's me. . ."
Copyright©2016 Kurt F. Stone