What Donald Trump has done to politics — uproot the status quo — conservatives must now do to the movie business. Trump ended two political dynasties, revitalized a sluggish economy, constitutionalized the federal judiciary, and is confronting a global pandemic and subsequent protests and riots while shrugging off once-dreaded liberal epithets like “racist,” “sexist,” “xenophobic,” and “homophobic.” He cleared the Grand Old Party of progressive parasites, sending phony rightist thought leaders Bill Kristol, George Will, and Max Boot scurrying to their true masters, the statist Democrats. Trump took his populism straight to the people, over the heads of shocked entertainers, leaving them to spew moronic bile from morning (The View) till midnight (all late-night talk shows except Conan) and on every low-rated awards show. But beneath these high-profile successes, Trump may have managed a more subtle yet durable achievement — providing the blueprint for conservative movers and shakers to circumvent Hollywood with richer material. And they have a literary treasure trove from which to choose.
Good traditionalist writers know as much if not more about popular storytelling as the guardians at the gate of Tinseltown. Our Hollywood-marginalized best and brightest — David Mamet (The Untouchables), Andrew Klavan (Empire of Lies), Nelson DeMille (The Cuban Affair), Michael Walsh (Hostile Intent), and many others — have written books or scripts superior to anything George Clooney, Joss Whedon, Amy Schumer, Seth Rogen, and Judd Apatow have ever made.
Yet the latter group can greenlight $50 million projects, then publicly insult half of their potential audience for supporting the president of the United States. Yet the last movie Andrew Klavan wrote, Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, a gripping account of a real-life abortionist monster, had to be financed through crowdfunding as a small indie film starring Dean Cain. Before Klavan came out as a conservative — knowing full well the price he would pay in Hollywood — films based on his work starred Michael Caine (A Shock to the System), Clint Eastwood (True Crime), and Michael Douglas (Don’t Say a Word). Klavan has been calling for a shock to the studio system since long before Trump’s rise. He was inspired by the man with the plan for doing just that — Andrew Breitbart.
Breitbart’s motto was “Politics is downstream from culture.” It doesn’t matter how many electoral victories we win, he said; they will all be pyrrhic ones as long as the Left sets the narrative, which their control of academia, the news media, and the entertainment media facilitates. Breitbart intended to break the third leg of this tripod ten years ago with a conservative entertainment revolution. Klavan was an early recruit of his. I may have been his last. “We are the counterculture now,” Breitbart told me, and I was ready to march with him. But his sudden death in March 2012 derailed the movement before it began. It remained undead for three years, during which progressives under Barack Obama enjoyed both cultural and governmental dominance. Hollywood became insufferably woke.
It was the worst of times for traditionalist screenwriters like me. I remember a 2016 phone call from my agent, who’d been pitching my first novel Jake for Mayor as a feature film. His pitch: “A disgraced political consultant runs a small-town dog for mayor as his comeback attempt, knowing that the town will be a media laughingstock, until the dog brings out his nobler side.” My agent said he got the same two-word verdict on the book from several producers — one word which I’d never heard before, but have heard often since in the screen trade: “Too heteronormative.”
“So I’ll make the dog gay,” I offered, too late. In the frenzy of identity politics, white male artists could no longer create female protagonists (but women could do white male antagonists), white men couldn’t do black protagonists (but black people could do white antagonists), straight men couldn’t do gay characters (but gay people could do straight characters), and nobody could do feminine, romantic women. At that time, an abrasive asexual woman was certain to become president and forever seal the bridge between progressive politics and culture — Breitbart’s worst nightmare.
Then the earthquake hit — the election of a swaggering, right-wing, “toxic” white male. Even worse, he was married to a gorgeous, graceful supermodel who put the screeching ex-first lady he beat to shame — along with the strident male-bashing harpies overpopulating both large and small screens. The traumatized Industry players could not accept this distortion of their reality. For three-plus years, they continued to depict a liberal fantasyland where Red State patriots, like happy housewives, don’t exist, or are religious fanatic villains. That those same Americans constantly reject such offensive “entertainment” fare, ensuring its commercial failure, means less to the producers than champagne toasts in Malibu. And yet, as in the poem by Andrew Marvell, at their back they always hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near. They can sense impending doom.
Because as long as Donald Trump is president, the imminent conservative counterrevolution in the arts has an inspirational figurehead. What it lacks are sympathetic investors astute enough to enter the entertainment arena the way Trump did the political one and redirect its product to the public instead of the elite. These investors would restore the culture more than by bankrolling another Republican candidate and make money in the bargain with a massive, previously ignored audience.
This hasn’t happened yet. The glitterati have managed to somewhat delegitimize Trump with the help of the news media and their Democratic allies. To wit, Russia got him elected, the Ukraine call got him impeached, and now — with the Wuhan coronavirus crisis ongoing and Election Day rapidly approaching — they cling to the dream that Joe Biden will defeat him and save Hollywood. All its denizens have to do is remain in their Disneyesque bubble until November.
But that bubble is ready to burst. Right-of-center investors can either go with the progressive flow — as too many conservatives have done for far too long — or carpe diem, which the late, great conservative author Saul Bellow translated for the title of his early novel Seize the Day. There are a lot more of us where he came from. All we need are more rich visionaries like President Trump to step up and make the screen art great again.
Lou Aguilar is a published novelist, produced screenwriter, and cultural essayist. His new novel, Paper Tigers — a tale of politically crossed love in the time of Trump — is available from Deeds Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and great American bookstores.