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What Citizen Kane Tells Us About Donald Trump

Are there clues to Donald Trump's rise in the celluloid figure of Citizen Kane? It may be that the Orson Welles classic also points to the limits of the billionaire candidate.

Kane or Trump?
Kane or Trump?
Andrés Hoyos


BOGOTÁ — On a recent trip to Lima, I saw Citizen Kane again, that grandest of films by Orson Welles. I couldn't help comparing the lead character Charles Foster Kane with Donald Trump, who is now the Republican Party's presumptive candidate for the U.S. presidential elections in November.

Trump has had it easy so far. He had to compete with a bunch of lackluster, if not mediocre rival aspirants. As I have said before, I don't think he will win against Hillary Clinton, which does not mean he has not set off a most revealing phenomenon.

The first thing to understand is that Trump is not so much the GOP's candidate as that of a large segment of middle-class Americans who are resentful, xenophobic — if not racist — and disillusioned. Among his supporters, it should be added, older, white less-educated men predominate. While this sector used to vote for the GOP, we know now that it did this not for ideological motivations but for some unsavory reasons Trump has brought out in his discourse. The frustrations of these voters grow every time they recall that they are increasingly, less and less of a majority of the U.S. population.

Yet Trump still needs something that even Kane did not consider viable: to spread this sense of resentment and get people to vote en masse for someone who gives you a smile and a pat on the back, even when he really despises you. Trump needs people to put so much trust in his image that the substance in his message won't matter at all. It's a risky bet because, as someone once said here: it's like betting on poultry voting for the owner of a barbecue shop.

Trump's supporters are not so much conservatives as disgruntled. The man's genius consists in seducing them from their lairs like a pied piper, though whether they can actually carry him to the White House is another matter.

The Republicans now face a monster of their own making. The coming contest is between appearances and reality. Trump doing his show of seduction, and Hillary Clinton representing a dull and unattractive reality. Will millions of people vote for Trump because he speaks with conviction?

Undecided electors are as always, decisive; but this time, there is another factor. The Republican establishment does not feel represented by Trump and considers him a grave threat to its future. If it backs him, it will be in a most reserved fashion, like some necessary evil. There will be a party without a candidate and a candidate somehow bereft of his party.

Clinton has a great opportunity here to overcome her undoubted handicaps and win big in November. She doesn't really have to do marvels — just avoid major stumbles. She can count on experiences won from her defeat in 2008 and must learn to administer her weaknesses. Mr. Kane will be watching every step of the way.

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