eyes on the U.S.

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 â€" 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 â€" if not racist â€" 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 â€" 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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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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