Advertisement

Column: As we were warned, the villain Trump has returned. The news cycle proves it

Donald Trump attends the closing arguments in the Trump Organization civil fraud trial at New York
Former President Donald Trump attends the closing arguments in the Trump Organization civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court in New York earlier this year. (Shannon Stapleton / AP/Pool)

Three years ago, I honestly hoped I would never have to write, or even think much, about Donald Trump ever again.

Three years ago, the then-still-sitting president made his despotic intentions clear to the world by sending a mob, in which many were armed, to the Capitol to prevent the ratification of a fair and legal election that he lost. The mob became violent. Many of those involved have since been sentenced to prison. Twitter shut down Trump’s account — once a lifeline to his supporters — and he fled to Mar-a-Lago.

Where many wished he would stay for the rest of his life.

It was as if I had never seen a movie, watched a television show or read a book. If popular culture has taught us nothing else, it is that villains, even those caught and banished from the lands they would subjugate, always return: Michael Myers, Thanos, the Joker, Emperor Palpatine, “Doctor Who’s” the Master and, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien’s uber-villain, Sauron, who was spectacularly defeated by Isildur only to rise again and attempt to control all of Middle-earth once more.

Just like Trump. For months, polls and then primaries made it clear that many voters either did not believe the facts about Trump’s political, financial or personal misbehavior, or did not think any of it precluded Trump from becoming president. So once again, Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee and the center of every news cycle.

As it was from 2015 to early 2021, every day brings another mind-numbing story. About the state of his four major court cases, in which he faces 91 felony counts, including attempting to interfere in the 2020 election, mishandling classified material after he left office, and using hush money to pay off Stormy Daniels so she wouldn’t go public with their alleged sexual relationship.

Read more: Stormy Daniels alleges in new documentary that Donald Trump cornered her the night they met

About the money he must pay E. Jean Carroll for defaming her after he sexually abused her. Or the fact that he is forcing the Supreme Court, much of which he appointed, to rule on whether a president is, in fact, above the law. Or the threats of bloodshed he regularly makes should he not win in November and the gag order the judge in the Stormy Daniels case felt compelled to issue to keep Trump from personally threatening those involved in the trial. Even the $60 God Bless America Bibles and $399 gold Never Surrender High-Tops he is now selling as he confronts a mountain of legal fees.

Just when you think there is nothing this man can do to shock you, he becomes a Bible salesman. As if Flannery O’Connor never wrote “Good Country People” — in which a Bible salesman is revealed as a serial predator of the disabled — or Ryan O’Neal never starred in “Paper Moon” — as a con man who scams widows into paying for Bibles he claims were bought by their husbands before they died.

In the classical narrative, let's say "The Lord of the Rings," we have entered the phase of the story in which the forces of evil break through the gates, only to be thwarted by last-minute reinforcements from the realm of the good.

So where is the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?

For years, many of us have been waiting for a modern day Théoden of Rohan to emerge. Someone who, having woken from Trump's spell, would cast aside their fear and old grievances to send the political equivalent of the Rohirrim sweeping into the battle to save Middle-earth.

For a minute it seemed Liz Cheney might do it, or Mike Pence, or any of the many former Trump advisors who now regularly caution against electing a man who has made it clear he has nothing but crashing contempt for the presidency, the judicial system and any member of the American public who does not wear a MAGA hat.

But as Théoden wondered, “What can men do against so much reckless hate?” Not enough, as Cheney found, losing her House seat after serving as vice chair over the damning discoveries of the Jan. 6 committee.

Now our hopes instead are pinned on the more solitary figures trudging through the Mordor-like pits and plains of lawsuits and countersuits. The lawyers and plaintiffs who are attempting to hurl into the fire Trump's oft- and baldly stated belief that he is above the law.

"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?" Trump famously said in 2016.

Now many regularly ponder if prison is a possibility and whether it would be enough to keep him out of office. Could he go to jail for falsifying business records? For taking, and refusing to hand over, sensitive classified documents? For pressuring Georgia election officials to manufacture votes? For violating a gag order?

Could he be convicted of, and sentenced for, any of these crimes, still win the election and pardon himself?

The fact that anyone is asking any of these questions, particularly the last, is proof that the future of this country really does hang in the balance.

As the 11th hour approaches, millions wait and pray for something, anything, to dispel the shadow Trump continues to cast over our society, to thwart his desire to return to power.

And for those who think I am being ridiculous by comparing “The Lord of the Rings,” with its wizards, ents and orcs, to the current state of American politics, please consider that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote his masterpiece after experiencing two world wars. And if his epic celebrates a certain type of monarchy and the invariably white races “of the West,” it is also a cri de coeur against authoritarianism, political division and the power of exploited grievance.

Not for many years have we seen how ordinary people can fall under the spell of a political figure so closely aligned with the classic villains we have created in books, films and television. A man who, like every megalomaniac who sought to control Gotham City or Metropolis, refers to himself in the third person and violently blames all that goes wrong on everybody else.

Read more: 'Stormy' filmmakers say they wanted to show how the justice system failed Daniels

A man who like every dictator in fiction or history regularly chums the waters with disjointed, bloody bits of rhetoric designed to appeal to those who feel, history and fact notwithstanding, that too many “other” people — immigrants, minorities, women, liberals, college graduates, the LGBTQ community, whoever— are stealing their jobs, changing the face of their communities, raising their taxes, killing helpless babies, committing violent crimes, and making them admit that slavery is a bad thing.

I may be a liberal but that doesn’t mean I think the Democratic Party is without its own failings or that certain forms of conservative thought don't make sense, even if I don’t agree with them.

But everyone, conservative, liberal and everyone in between, deserves a president who actually supports American democracy. And Donald Trump does not. Instead he has blatantly and unapologetically attempted to blast through and destroy virtually every aspect of this Great Experiment: the belief in free elections and peaceful transfer of power, the independent judiciary, the legalities of American finance, the hard-earned conviction that, at the end of the day, all Americans are “real Americans.”

We have to stop waiting for someone else to stop him. Only we, the voters of this seemingly fractured and exhausted nation, can stop him.

The battle is already upon us; it is up to us to ride out to meet it.

Get notified when the biggest stories in Hollywood, culture and entertainment go live. Sign up for L.A. Times entertainment alerts.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.