When Spike Lee’s Art Is More Real Than a White House Reality Show
It’s a contrast that will reverberate all the way to, let’s say, November
OPINION — It was deliberate and fitting that “BlacKkKlansman” opened a year after the deadly march of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. It is not too much of a spoiler to say that director Spike Lee goes there in the telling of the improbable true story of an African-American police officer who, in the late 1970s, infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado.
The film brings the lessons of the not-so-tall tale up to the present, to this 2018 moment. That includes an appearance from a youthful David Duke, who still appears whenever and wherever racial hate rises up.
In a parallel universe that purports to be real life but more closely resembles a twisted fantasy, Donald Trump managed one weak tea of a tweet marking the anniversary of the march, with a message that condemned “all types of racism,” pushing false equivalency and failing yet again to acknowledge the seriousness of neo-Nazi and Klan sentiment and action that caused the death of Heather Heyer.
Audacious filmmaker Lee — through drama, humor and tragedy — deals front and center with the racial animus bubbling beneath the surface, barely, of American soil. President Trump, to the surprise of exactly no one, finds time to engage in another nasty grudge match with a former employee whose style bears a striking resemblance to his own.
While a film concerned with the past has succeeded in acknowledging the present and in warily eyeing the country’s future, the president of the United States, and those who surround and appease him, are stuck in a show they created. Unfortunately, the rest of the country has been dragged along.
The train stops here
Like Trump, Omarosa Manigault Newman knows how to capture the headlines, this week dribbling out taped excerpts of high-level conversations from supposedly secure locations and private phone conversations, bit by tantalizing bit.
On cue, she has drawn fire from a man she has known for about 15 years — and if he is the “stable genius” he claims he is, why didn’t he see it coming?
Watch: Sanders Defends Trump’s Omarosa Tweets
The name of her book is “Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House,” and from the excerpts (I don’t think I can read the entire thing), it is as messy and gossipy as you would expect. This is the woman who earned one-name acclaim courtesy of “The Apprentice” and other Trump-related adventures and was awarded a vague and undefined top staff position in our White House.
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has said he presented a list of experienced African-American politicos who may have been interested in serving the country in a Trump administration, but said he felt that list was “summarily ignored or rejected.” The test to get on team Trump has always been loyalty to him, above all.
Manigault Newman’s qualifications? When I saw her opening act at a Trump campaign rally, she was advising everyone to get aboard the “Trump train,” complete with “choo-choo” sound effects that were cheered by the crowds who have now turned on her.
Don’t they recognize that the reality show regular’s book, which Trump may keep on bestseller lists, is a perfect next episode in this reality show presidency?
Stranger than flattery
Trump himself tweeted that he urged chief of staff John Kelly to “try working it out, if possible, because she only said GREAT things about me — until she got fired!”
It’s all you need to know about how this president staffs his West Wing and why foreign leaders have discovered that flattery is the can’t-fail path to Trump’s heart.
Is Manigault Newman trying to salvage her own integrity and make amends with the community she purported to represent? (Hint to the White House: No one was fooled.) While that might not work out so well, even those who abhorred her about-face in politics and self-serving move to the Trump camp defended her against the American head of state and leader of the free world calling her a “lowlife” and “that dog.”
He uses cruel and crude insults for all his opponents, but seems to reserve the most relentless and demeaning invective for African-American women. (See U.S. House Representatives Frederica Wilson and Maxine Waters, for starters.)
That White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders can only say in Trump’s defense that he attacks everyone who crosses him, as she dodges and hedges when asked whether or not a tape exists with him saying the n-word, proves how far decency has been defined down. And do we really need a tape, when his actions, policies and what he has said out loud make additional hard evidence redundant?
While redemption does not look to be in the cards for Omarosa, she can probably bank on a big payday that outstrips any keep-quiet paycheck and additional time in the spotlight — there is news of that interview with Robert Mueller she dropped, almost as an aside. All that is something a seething Trump should admire in his protégée.
Down the road to, let’s say, November, this is a fight that may reverberate.
It’s true that since African-American women were most likely to reject the Trump allure in 2016, despite Omarosa’s invitations, the president may figure he has nothing to lose. And historically, few have paid a price for disrespecting this often maligned group.
But the strength that is sometimes used to place too heavy a load on black women’s collective shoulders has shown itself in recent elections. Just this week, long-shot Jahana Hayes, a former “National Teacher of the Year,” won her primary and could become the first African-American Democrat to represent Connecticut in Congress, and in Minnesota, Somali-American state Rep. Ilhan Omar was chosen to run for a seat in the U.S. House.
The Trump team has doubled down with a lawsuit over a nondisclosure agreement Manigault Newman signed when she worked with the campaign. Somehow, I think silence is not an option.
If “Unhinged” ever is made into a movie, perhaps Spike Lee will take on another too-strange-to-be-believed challenge.
Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.