What Paul Newman taught me about the #NeverTrumps
I never understood the #NeverTrumps, those nominal Republican pundits and politicians who declared they would never vote for Donald Trump and would never accept him as their president if he won. Some went even further. When Trump won the nomination, George Will announced he was leaving the Republican Party. A few promised to vote for Hillary Clinton. When Trump won the election, Bill Kristol tweeted his preference for the Deep State over the Trump State. Since the inauguration, the #NeverTrumps have continued to play the part of disloyal opposition, criticizing his every utterance and tweet and pooh-poohing his policy statements and executive orders.
Why do they hate him so? It can't be policy. Everyone disagrees with every president on some things, and most of Trump's positions reflect the Republican mainstream. It can't be because Trump isn't sufficiently conservative. We haven't had a conservative president or nominee for thirty-two years. And it can't be because Trump was once a Democrat. So was Ronald Reagan.
There's something else that bothers them, and as I learned after watching a 50-year-old movie about WWII, it's quite different from what bothers the Democrats. The Democrats think Donald Trump is Hitler. The #NeverTrumps think he's Harry Frigg.
In The Secret War of Harry Frigg (1968), the protagonist (played by Paul Newman) is an Army private with one exceptional skill: breaking out of jail. He's escaped from military jails dozens of times. His continual offense, apart from jailbreaks, is insubordination, which he commits because it's the easiest way for him to get into jail, which he knows he can break out of. Harry Frigg doesn't want to be in the Army.
The movie opens with five WWII brigadier generals (two Americans, two British, one French) discussing military tactics in a sauna when they are captured by Italian forces. The hospitable Italians transfer them to the only place fit to hold such exalted prisoners – a castle in northern Italy temporarily fortified to serve as a prison.
Desperate to get their generals freed, Allied Headquarters summon Harry Frigg. His mission: to drop into Italy and let himself be captured so he can lead the generals to escape. This requires that Private Frigg be promoted to major general – first, to assure that he'll be taken to the same castle prison, and second, to insure that the brigadier generals will follow his orders.
The underlying theme of the film is a different war – class warfare. The generals of the film are proper gentlemen. They have similar educations, and they share similar assumptions. Like the denizens of Downton Abbey, they seem to the manor born, and born to do not very much. Remember: they'd been captured in a sauna, discussing strategy. Later, in their opulent prison, they discuss escape. Endlessly.
Harry Frigg's working-class roots are evident in his speech and manner. When he is introduced to the imprisoned generals as their superior, they can scarcely disguise their discomfort at the prospect of being commanded by an obvious...commoner. An incident at dinner exemplifies the class divide. Each general in turn names a favorite restaurant: "London Charles." "Which one?" "Detroit." "Savoy Grill, of course." "Locke-Ober in Boston." Now it's Harry's turn. He stammers, then comes up with "a little place just outside of Paterson with great veal cutlets."
"Which sauce do you prefer?"
"A little ketchup usually does it."
I contend that snobbery explains much of the hostility of the #NeverTrumps. They opine that Donald Trump, a denizen of construction sites and locker rooms, is a boor, and thus, for them to acknowledge that he is their president is tantamount to a brigadier general taking orders from Private Frigg. Trump has built many magnificent things, but things are of no consequence to people who see beauty and breeding only in words and accents. President Obama expressed this contempt when he sneered, "You didn't build that!" Well, Trump did build that. He gets things done.
After several plot twists that include Nazis and a beautiful contessa, Harry Frigg ultimately leads the generals to escape and earns their respect and affection. The #NeverTrumps are unlikely ever to feel respect or affection for Donald Trump. It was recently reported that he likes his steak well done and with ketchup.