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.In “Despicable Me,” the main character Gru is introduced via a short interaction he has with a small child. The boy, around five or six, is crying because some of the ice cream from his ice cream cone dropped onto the ground. Seeing this, Gru appears to take pity, and then begins to cheer up the kid by inflating a balloon and twisting it into a fun balloon animal. Gru then hands the balloon to the boy as though it is a gift. In half a breath, he then proceeds to pop the balloon with a needle. This is a part of a longer sequence which help to establish Gru as a “bad guy,” by showing his twisted sense of morality.
Last night, I swear that as I was watching CNN I witnessed events play out which would have felt right at home in a “Despicable Me” movie. Law enforcement officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a crowd of peaceful protesters so that President Donald Trump, somehow personifying the character Gru, could walk across the street and have his picture taken in front of a church while holding a bible. There doesn’t seem to be any other way to explain what happened, because the protesters were not violent, and the curfew for Washington D.C. wasn’t going to begin until 7 p.m. It was though the protesters were cleared out only to demonstrate that the federal government could do that if it chose. It was senseless assholery in the tradition of Gru from the movie. Except, the point of “Despicable Me” was that Gru would learn that being good isn’t so bad, and redeem himself by the end of the movie.
Earlier in the day, Trump told state governors that they needed to call in the national guard and “dominate” the protesters. He had also heard the public’s reaction to reports that he had retreated to the White House bunker on Friday night. It seems as though the tactics used Monday night on protesters were intended to set an example both for governors and American citizens: this is how it gets done. Except, it’s not unless your name happens to be Gru.
I have never been attacked with tear gas or hit with a rubber bullet, but I’ve gathered over the last few days that both can be very painful. I do know what it feels like to be jerked around just to make an example of someone else’s authority, and I didn’t like that either. Imagine being attacked by tear gas during a peaceful protest, and as you are recovering, your eyes still burning, you learn that it was all done because the President didn’t want you there? What I might wonder is why the police didn’t just ask for the crowd to leave? Given some warning?
It didn’t help that CNN merged Trump’s speech in the Rose Garden, during which he said he supported peaceful protesters, in a split screen which included live footage of protesters being dispersed by police. The contradiction and irony were both nearly palpable.
Much like Gru and the balloon animal, the dispersal of protesters, Rose Garden speech, and walk to the St. John’s Episcopal Church were all carefully choreographed to communicate a message. Gru’s would have been, “Do you think you’re sad now, kid?” In the case of Trump and his advisors, it might be “this is how you take care of business.’ Their actions made people miserable, much like Gru’s, but it is difficult to guess if they were as aware of the misery or took as much pleasure.
And, it is almost as though the President had the best of intentions, but then got the implementation entirely wrong. Yes, there has been looting during the recent nights of protesting, and that should be stopped. I am saddened by the fact that landmarks like the Lincoln memorial have been defaced, businesses robbed, and buildings set fire. This is what Trump said in his speech that he wanted to stop, but then his actions seemed to tell a different story. Perhaps he doesn’t see a difference between peaceful and destructive protests, or maybe he doesn’t care about the difference. I think that there is some truth to the idea that he want look stronger by making it appear as though he needed to clear the protesters from the streets.
What’s scary, is that Gru is a comical fictional character who starts out as a villain, but ultimately learns a life lesson about the advantages of being a good guy. Trump’s “story arc” appears to be taking him in a completely opposite direction. Not that he was ever a “good guy,” but each time that he flexes his muscles, he learns that there are no consequences when he abuses his presidential powers.
One final note about Gru is that he knows that he not only knows that he is a villain, but he actually works hard at it. His motivations at the beginning of the movie stem from the fact that he wants to be the greatest villain ever. His redemption, however, comes after he finds new things to be be motivated by. And, at the beginning of the movie, he is a well established villain with a lair, minions, and a bit of a record. He’s comical, but not stupid.
Trump is also not stupid. He has a plan, and he’s getting away with it. He’s Gru shooting patrons in a coffee shop with a freeze ray without anybody around willing or able to do something about it. He says ludicrous things, then makes decisions or changes in the background which are purposefully dishonest.
And, if Trump is proof that villains exist, and Republicans are falling in line like Gru’s minions, the only conclusion that comes to my mind is that we are existing inside the universe of “Despicable Me.” And, as I recall, there weren’t any heroes in that movie, only the villains. Which means that it will be up to us in November to elect a new, non-villain president.