GOP Plays the Sap for Trump

Astor, Bogard in “The Maltese Falcon”


A recent Brett Stephens column in the New York Times on Donald Trump’s Russia ties was written in such a way as to bring a passage from the Maltese Falcon to mind. Once I began to think along these lines, I saw many parallels between Donald Trump and femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy.

Speculating on the reasons for Trump firing FBI Director James Comey, Stephens lists various shady dealings with Russia:

In all this, the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma is Russia.

Golf courses: RussiaMike Flynn’s lies to the vice president: Russia. Jeff Sessions’s lies to the Senate: Russia. Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Roger Stone: Russia. WikiLeaks: Russia. Donald Trump Jr.: Russia. The Bayrock Group: Russia. Erik Prince’s diplomatic back channel: Russia.

And then Stephens acknowledges,

No one piece in this (partial) list is incriminating.

This reminded me of the scene where Sam Spade has gotten O’Shaugnessy to confess to killing his partner and is listing the reasons why he’s going to turn her in. I pick up his monologue towards the end:

Wait till I’m through and then you can talk. Fourth, no matter what I wanted to do now it would be absolutely impossible for me to let you go without having myself dragged to the gallows with the others. Next, I’ve no reason in God’s world to think I can trust you and if I did this and got away with it you’d have something on me that you could use whenever you happened to want to. That’s five of them. The sixth would be that, since I’ve also got something on you, I couldn’t be sure you wouldn’t decide to shoot a hole in me some day. Seventh, I don’t even like the idea of thinking that there might be one chance in a hundred that you’d played me for a sucker. And eighth–but that’s enough. All those on one side. Maybe some of them arc unimportant. I won’t argue about that. But look at the number of them. Now on the other side we’ve got what? All we’ve got is the fact that maybe you love me and maybe I love you.

The sentences I remembered were, “All those on one side. Maybe some of them are unimportant. I won’t argue about that. But look at the number of them.”

Yes, look at the number of Russia connections. How many do there have to be before the GOP fully commits itself to an investigation?

Back to O’ Shaugnessy. I’m struck by how many lies she tells and how many accomplices she sacrifices in order to get her way. She’s a black hole, luring in men, getting them to “play the sap” for her, and then spitting them out when she no longer needs them. As a result of her machinations, men die left and right while she rides high. She may well be setting up Spade as her next victim.

Notice how practically all those who work with Donald Trump get pulled into his entanglements. These include Devin Nunes, who used to head the House Intelligence Committee until his contacts with the White House had him removed; Speaker Paul Ryan, who is supporting the firing of FBI Director James Comey; Vice President Mike Pence, who seems to get compromised on a weekly basis; and on and on. The most recent example is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a once respected career prosecutor who was designed to take the fall for the Comey firing. All of Trump’s surrogates, from Pence and Mitch McConnell on down, were telling the official story–that Comey was fired because Rosenstein criticized him for his inappropriate handling of  Hillary Clinton’s e-mails—until Rosenstein balked. Then Trump himself exploded the story by admitting to NBC’s Lester Holt that he would have fired Comey regardless of what the Justice Department recommended. And that he did so because “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”

The GOP must stand up to Trump as Spade, in the end, stands up to O’Shaughnessy:

I don’t care who loves who I’m not going to play the sap for you. I won’t walk in Thursby’s and Christ knows who else’s footsteps. You killed Miles and you’re going over for it. I could have helped you by letting the others go and standing off the police the best way I could. It’s too late for that now. I can’t help you now. And I wouldn’t if I could.

Those who don’t stand up to O’Shaughnessy end up dead. How’s that for a life lesson?

Further thought: In an earlier scene, Spade knows that O’Shaughnessy is lying but is so entranced with her that he can’t break free. After all, she makes him feel manly. Is that what Trump provides the GOP at the moment: they get to walk tall, even though they know he is lying through his teeth? Here’s Spade calling O’Shaughnessy on her lies before agreeing to help her anyway:

Spade, who had held his breath through much of this speech, now emptied his lungs with a long sighing exhalation between pursed lips and said: “You won’t need much of anybody’s help. You’re good. You’re very good. It’s chiefly your eyes, I think, and that throb you get into your voice when you say things like ‘Be generous, Mr. Spade.'”

She jumped up on her feet. Her face crimsoned painfully, but she held her head erect and she looked Spade straight in the eyes. “I deserve that,” she said. “I deserve it, but–oh!–I did want your help so much. I do want it, and need it, so much. And the lie was in the way I said it, and not at all in what I said.” She turned away, no longer holding herself erect. “It is my own fault that you can’t believe me now.”

Spade’s face reddened and he looked down at the floor, muttering: “Now you are dangerous.”

The only difference with Trump is that he would never admit to having lied.

Yet another thought: In a world where truth is fluid and where people will lie, cheat and kill to obtain what they want, Spade has a bedrock principle that keeps him grounded. It’s how he finds meaning in a seemingly absurd universe:

When a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it. Then it happens we were in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed it’s bad business to let the killer get away with it. It’s bad all around–bad for that one organization, bad for every detective everywhere.

Our own bedrock principle should be the Constitution. When politicians put expediency above our basic values, it’s bad all around.

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