Inherit the Wind (George Eastman Museum)
This month the Dryden Theatre is screening Inherit the Wind. Based on the Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925, the film is one of Stanley Kramer’s masterpieces. In the words of the Dryden: “Inherit the Wind relates the sensational trial of a young teacher, Bertram Cates (Dick York), who is prosecuted for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution in a high school science class — a violation of state law. . . released during the McCarthy era, Inherit the Wind provided a means to critique the present through history.”
The McCarthy reference in particular forced me to consider Kramer’s film in the context of Donald Trump’s presidency. Although society has come a long way since 1925, today, the policies and views of Mr. Trump are as bigoted, irrational, and unscientific as those who fought to block evolution from schools nearly a century ago. Even as Trump has successfully co-opted the language of the McCarthy scare — to cast himself as a victim of a witch hunt — the real crusade has been the one Trump himself has launched against common sense, moral decency, and science.
Take Trump’s performance last week. Referencing a comment made by Patrick Moore, a self proclaimed co-founder of Greenpeace, Trump retweeted: “The whole climate crisis is not only Fake News, it’s Fake Science. There is no climate crisis, there’s weather and climate all around the world, and in fact carbon dioxide is the main building block of all life.”
According to the organization, “although Mr. Moore played a significant role in Greenpeace Canada for several years, he did not found Greenpeace…Phil Cotes, Irving Stowe, and John Bohlen founded Greenpeace in 1970…and the group eventually voted Mr. Moore out of leadership roles and he left the organization in 1986.” Furthermore, Moore is a member of the C02 coalition, a nonprofit group that contends carbon emissions are not bad for the environment.
Trump also doubled down on another lie when he signed his first veto to block Congress from ending what he calls a “national emergency” at the border. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, “I am vetoing this resolution…Congress has the freedom to pass this resolution, and I have the duty to veto it.” He called the resolution “dangerous,” “reckless” and a “vote against reality.”
To that, The New York Times replied, “Mr. Trump has long insisted that there was a security and humanitarian crisis at the border with Mexico, an assertion that was undercut by Mr. Trump himself when he acknowledged that he could have waited to issue a declaration. But he offered a flurry of statistics to support his contention, though many were vague. He blurred numbers that reflected a humanitarian problem with those he said represented a security issue.”
Yet his comments about white nationalism, in the wake of the New Zealand massacre, were the most despicable of all. Asked whether white nationalists are a growing threat around the world, Trump replied: “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. It’s certainly a terrible thing.”
Bob Dylan once sang: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
Mass killings fueled by hate, the reemergence of fascism across Europe, and the populist movement behind Trump’s rise to power, are all clear examples of this threat. It may not be in Trump’s self-interest to rebuke these movements — after all he is indebted to them — but he is telling a lie to the American people when he says it is just a small group of fanatics.
Because we live in an era when Truth itself is under assault, I am very glad that the Dryden is showing Inherit the Wind. As with the Scopes Monkey Trial, in the Trump era, we are all willing and unwilling participants in a supreme trial. Today, like in the courtrooms and schools of our nation in 1925, the very concepts of truth and falsehood are being waged in a mighty battle for the soul of our country.