In 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, The Manchurian Candidate starring Frank Sinatra (Captain Bennett Marco) and Laurence Harvey (Sergeant Raymond Shaw) debuted. It’s the story of two former Korean War captives, Captain Bennett, a career soldier and war hero Raymond Shaw, the scion of a powerful Right Wing political family. Captain Bennett is plagued by a recurring nightmare involving their time in Chinese captivity during the war. The military doctors chalk it up to what we call, “PTSD.” Captain Marco remains unconvinced and conducts his own investigation revealing that their Chinese captors had “brainwashed” the platoon into believing that Shaw was a war hero; had saved their lives. As the story unfolds we come to understand that Shaw’s mother colluded with the Chinese to turn her son into an assassin whose brainwashing would compel him to assassinate the Party’s Presidential nominee. This would catapult Shaw’s step-father, the V-P nominee, into the Presidential nominee slot. Once elected, the evil mother would ally the USA with China and impose an authoritarian regime.
The film’s message: extremist messengers, even those on the Right, are no friend to Democracy. Their intemperate ideology moves them from our founding principles into the realm of authoritarianism. They operate under the cloak of fear and promises of a return to law and order. They, not outside enemies, are the genuine threat to “American Exceptionalism.” In the end, our downfall will come from within and not from without.
Donald Trump, in this respect, is the Manchurian candidate. He comes to us cloaked in his self-proclaimed ability to “make America great again,” to restore “law and order, ” and rid us of a myriad and growing list of enemies. His track record, for anyone willing to examine it, screams his love for dictatorship (à la his mentor Vladimir Putin). Key staff have links to the Kremlin, while the only objection he raised to the Republican Party’s Platform was to remove its opposition to Russian interference in the Ukraine.
Manchurian candidate? Maybe “Kremlin Candidate” is more apt.