"Perhaps he loved the people. Perhaps he loved them, but didn't trust them to think for themselves. Or perhaps he was insatiable and wanted even more power to add to his glory. I don't know. But he envied the dictators and thought that all governments of the people and by the people were soon to perish from the earth."
Katherine Hepburn spoke these words to Spencer Tracy in the 1943 film noir, Keeper of the Flame. Does her description of an authoritarian leader sound familiar?
The last sentence contradicts the concluding phrase of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Dedicating a soldiers cemetery during the Civil War, the 16th president declaired that our nation "shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
In the film, Hepburn plays newly widowed Christine Forrest, who has been entangled in a love-hate relationship with her late husband, Robert Forrest. Tracy plays a ruthless reporter who wants to write a biography about Forrest. When it comes out that Forrest ran a vast, secret organization that planned to turn the country over to fascism, Tracy urges Christine to tell the world. This is the only film directed by George Cukor with an explicit political message. He peppered it with attacks on fascism, criticizing hero worship, the effects of leaders on youth, and official speeches about patriotism.
Hepburn championed the project and felt it was a way to contribute to the war effort. Despite mixed reviews, the film was a commercial hit, especially in big cities. One historian of film later writing about Hollywood propaganda during the war noted the film's "strong warning to the American people about demagoguery, domestic fascism, and mind control, while praising the virtues of freedom of the press."
How would Keeper of the Flame be received today? What would Fox News pundits say to the film's warning about authoritarian leaders and their fake promises?
Surely Trump would identify with Forrest. And Trump would probably ignore the film's warning or misconstrue it, as he did Putin's statement at the G20 summit that liberal democracies are over. The Russian president essentially stated that liberalism is obsolete, that the "liberal idea" has "outlived its purpose." Trump explained that Putin may feel this way "because he sees what's going on in cities, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, that are governed by liberal administrations." Thus Trump revealed his towering ignorance. Or perhaps he just made up something to remain on Putin's good side. You know, my country for a tower. He certainly confused the liberal idea, which is associated with representative, constitutional democracies, with liberals. Oh, West Coast flakes. Those cosmopolitans believe they are their brothers' keepers.
Thankfully, others are quite clear about Putin's meaning. As President of the European Council Donald Tusk remarked to the BBC, "Whoever claims that liberal democracy is obsolete also claims that freedoms are obsolete, that rule of law is obsolete, and human rights are obsolete."
WeAre1: Our Brothers' Keepers