Jaideep Shergill: Is Donald Trump the Manchurian Candidate?

16 Jan,2017

By Jaideep Shergill


I am more than a bit teary-eyed coming off President Obama’s farewell speech and my last piece was all about Obama’s legacy. So now it’s time folks for the inevitable (beginning of the end?!) new world order. The new President-elect, Donald J Trump is just days away from the White House and from becoming the leader of the free world.


Frankly, like many people out there, I really don’t know what to make of him. I don’t think he knows either. This said, it’s very important to take seriously the possibilities of him bringing America and the world to its knees.


Being a student of popular culture, it’s important for me to draw parallels and highlight the fictional (I hope so) consequences of the Trump presidency and what it means for us all.


Interestingly, two pieces of fiction spring to mind immediately. The first isThe Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon, published in 1959 which tells the story of a war veteran who is brainwashed into becoming a pawn for the communists. This book was later adapted into two films, the first in 1962 starring Laurence Harvey and Frank Sinatra and the secondin 2004 starring Denzel Washington, Liv Schreiber and Meryl Streep. Many of you may not have read the book or watched the first film but would have likely have watched the 2004 version and if you haven’t, I would urge you to especially as you would find it greatly interesting in light of what’s happening in US politics today.


Interestingly, the 2004 film which is a departure from the book actually tells the story differently. Sergeant First Class, Raymond Shaw comes back from Iraq as a war hero (which was a set up owing to a brainwashing experiment on the entire platoon) and then then works his way up to become a U.S. Representative from New York, then the Vice-Presidential candidate in quick time. He then arranges to have the Presidential nominee assassinated(and take his place) but is foiled by Major Ben Marco (his platoon leader from Iraq, who is also brainwashed but discovers the truth). Raymond Shaw’s meteoric rise is possible owing to his Machiavellian mother, Eleanor Prentiss Shaw, also a U S Senator and her supporters, Manchurian Global, a powerful private equity firm with major political clout and connectionsand who wish to subvert America by planting their stooge as the President. The communist and Russian connection isn’t as direct but is alluded to. The novel has a clearer linkage to communists and Russia (of course owing to the fact that the book was written at the peak of the cold war) but I am sure you get the point especially what’s happening now with the Russian hacking situation in the U S.


The second piece of fiction and one of my favorite novels of all time, Stephen King’s, The Dead Zone, tells the story of Johnny Smith who goes into a five-year long coma after his car is in an accident and then emerges with the abilities of precognition and clairvoyance due to a “dead zone” in a damaged area of his brain. A sort of X-Men like ability. The book essentially goes on to describeJohnny’s quest to stop Greg Stillson, a diabolical and evil business man turned Senator from running for and becoming President. This is all triggered off when Johnny attends a rally for Stillson and on touching his hand has a horrific vision of an older Stillson as President causing massive, worldwide nuclear conflict. In the end, Johnny gives up his own life but manages to destroy Stillson’s political future. If any of you aren’t avid readers, then do watch the 1983 film directed by David Cronenberg and starring Chrostopher Walken and Martin Sheen.


Now doesn’t some of this sound familiar? The character of Greg Stillson so reminds me of Donald Trump and to think that now as President, Trump will have his finger on the button which can trigger of the end of world very quickly horrifies me no end!


These two pieces of fiction are classic examples of “life imitating art” and vice versa and I for one am really wary of what’s to come with the new President. While the world certainly doesn’t need a Greg Stillson in the White House, we don’t need a Manchurian Candidate either. Let’s hope for the future of the world that it doesn’t come down to a choice between these two characters!


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