It’s an exchange I remember, one that instantly stuck while watching the 2017 movie “All the Money in the World,” a version of the kidnapping and ransom saga of the grandson of J. Paul Getty, a man wealthy beyond measure. A hired middleman, watching Getty haggle as the young man’s life is at stake, proclaiming he has “no money to spare,” incredulously asks: “What would it take for you to feel secure?” Getty, portrayed by the brilliant Christopher Plummer, answers with one word: “More.”
I recalled that scene as real-life events, as startling as any movie plot, have played out. Just this week, a former president of the United States appeared in a Florida courtroom to answer to federal charges that he hoarded classified documents in his Mar-a-Lago home, hedged about having them and refused to give them back.
Like any other person accused of criminal conduct, Donald Trump is awarded the presumption of innocence. The grand jury that indicted him was made up of fellow citizens, and his ultimate fate will be in the hands of the same.
But the crimes presented in the indictment issued by federal prosecutors are serious, and what we already know is astounding.
So, why? Why jeopardize national security by allegedly stashing classified documents in unsecured areas in a ballroom, a storage area and, in one weird instance, a bathroom adorned with an enormous chandelier? (No one ever said that wealth bestows good taste.)
Even those who adore Trump would have to admit the man is not known as a reader, so I doubt he wanted to catch up on information he neglected while “president-ing.”
Isn’t this a man who gained the ultimate prize?
While Trump lost his reelection bid, something he never accepted, the former president scaled heights unknown to most people on the planet. Maybe he might be a bit insecure because his business success needed a boost from his dad — though, even then, he acted as though it was his due. Trump became a television star in a world where celebrity is admired and often worshipped. He was elected to the top office in the United States, stood as a global leader, with all the powers that come with the titles.
Did he still want “more?”
Trump’s own actions offer clues. He doesn’t deny as much as justify, all the while accusing others of doing worse. A 3-year-old would get sick of the whining. He sulked his way through his Tuesday court appearance, and predicted to a supportive crowd in New Jersey: “They will fail and we will win bigger and better than ever before.”
Then, he fundraised, aiming to turn grievance and bitterness into cash.
Yet, Donald Trump is not alone. If you are wealthy and powerful, the messaging goes, you must be onto something. Your words must be wise. You have the right to be angry when things don’t go your way because, of course, you must deserve everything you’ve got — and more.
Trump’s enablers illustrate how entrenched that attitude remains and how difficult it would be to dismantle in a country that rewards it. The career of the late Italian leader who dodged scandal after scandal proves the sentiment doesn’t stop at America’s borders, not when the name of a book about him is titled: “The Sack of Rome: Media + Money + Celebrity = Power = Silvio Berlusconi.”
There is a double standard, though not the one Trump and his allies complain about. Who believes for a second that federal authorities would have been as deferential and patient toward ordinary citizens, begging for cooperation and giving them the opportunity to clean up their messes.
It makes sense to refuse to give an inch when you’re accustomed to getting your way, often when all that’s needed is a little humility.
Why were so many of the legislators who carved the state of Alabama into gerrymandered districts surprised when the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled their congressional map wasn’t fair?
Well, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. had never seemed much of a friend to the Voting Rights Act before, not when the court he led stripped away key parts of the landmark legislation’s enforcement power in the 2013 Shelby County decision. So, I have to admit the ruling came as a surprise to me, too.
Yet, why would Alabama lawmakers — mostly white, conservative and Republican — ever think a map that gave its Black citizens (one-fourth of the state’s voting population) just one seat out of seven, was the way things are supposed to be? And this in a state where legal segregation reigned supreme for the bulk of its history, entrenched in the state constitution. Persistent racial gaps in wealth, educational investment, health outcomes and more should lead to the conclusion that more, not fewer efforts toward equity could solve the state’s problems.
Now, those in control might have to go back to the literal drawing board for a solution that this conservative-majority Supreme Court won’t find too outrageous, not a difficult or in any way “liberal” ask. And you can be sure the never-satisfied will grumble about it. Logic would lead to adopting policies that are more inclusive, welcoming African Americans into the Republican Party in Alabama. But giving just a tiny bit of their “more” must never occur to the state’s GOP.
Though some would call my upbringing deprived, I feel lucky I’ve dodged this particular infection; growing up working-class and Black must have been inoculation. But I feel lucky, and satisfied. Love and support didn’t depend on “bigger and better,” to use Trump’s own words. Sure, more than one bathroom in a house with five kids, two parents and a boarder would have been nice. But, in my world, people whose paychecks wouldn’t amount to a tip for the loudest of today’s complainers taught me lessons that stuck as surely as the greedy Getty’s philosophy of life, expressed in a memorable movie one-liner.
Dad and Mom knew the power of the one word Trump and those who follow his lead seem incapable of understanding — a word of satisfaction, and one that those who are sick of the former president’s destructive antics might yet utter.
Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. She is host of the CQ Roll Call “Equal Time with Mary C. Curtis” podcast. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.