I’m not a huge fan of the film The African Queen. I’ve actually only seen it twice. But I know it well enough to know that, much as I’d like to tell you I identify with Charlie Allnut, Humphrey Bogart’s character in the film, I’m actually closer to Rose Sayer, as portrayed by Katharine Hepburn. I’m aging and unmarried, straitlaced, religious, and set in my ways.
In the last few years I’ve discovered another personal resemblance to Rose. I feel as if I’m riding a boat down a river, in hostile territory, tied up with, and dependent on, someone I’m dubious about.
President Donald Trump is Charlie Allnut to me. I didn’t want him for a candidate, though I voted for him in something like despair. His behavior often appalls me. And yet …
Although I live in the Minneapolis area, I didn’t attend the big rally last week. Can you imagine Rose Sayer at a Trump rally? Neither can I. But I heard a lot about it. Especially, thanks to a particular radio talk show host, one memorable line.
It’s line I’m not going to repeat here, because Rose wouldn’t approve. It had to do with a certain politician kissing another politician in a particular way. The talk show host I mentioned, whom I generally admire, was so delighted with that statement that he played it over and over on the air.
I had to turn it off. Rose and I were not amused.
I can remember a time, not that long ago, when no American politician would have said that in public. Even inveterate pottymouths like Lyndon Johnson knew how to button it up when the microphones were on.
I’m not blaming President Trump for lowering the tone of political discourse. That started long ago, in my college years, when the Left decided that common courtesy was hypocrisy and integrity meant using a lot of obscenities. Those campus radicals grew up to run the country and enshrined those ideas in the culture (see R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.’s recent column on this site). President Trump is only throwing their trash back over the fence where it came from. There’s some justice in that.
But still I sit here, under my metaphorical wide hat and parasol, thinking, “Here we are. We’ve descended to this level as a culture.”
My Never Trump friends will now jump in to say, “At last you’ve seen the light! Join us in standing for righteousness. God will never bless our country while a reprobate like that is our leader!”
Ah, but that seems unjust to me. Charlie Allnut is uncouth, and he drinks (which President Trump, I’m told, does not), but he’s done what no one else has done for me. He’s getting me through the rapids and the marshes and the crocodiles and the Germans. He isn’t the man I’d choose, but he’s the man on the job.
Was Rose a hypocrite for not going ashore and trying to make her way alone overland? Should she have given herself up to the “civilized” Germans? I can imagine one of her old friends, once she’d gotten home, saying, “Don’t you think it would have been better for your soul if you’d just accepted death rather than partnering with that evil man?”
But of course, Charlie wasn’t evil. He had serious character flaws. He was no doubt an embarrassment to Rose in later years, in many situations. But that’s not being evil.
Evil is advocating for unrestricted abortion and extending it past the point of birth. Evil is luring children into sex-change operations and barring parents from interfering. Evil is promoting voluntary euthanasia and gradually transitioning to the mandatory kind. Evil is identifying race as the most important characteristic of any individual. Evil is promising poor people free stuff in order to kill their ambition and doom them to lives of dependency. Evil is identifying the most wonderful country in the history of the earth as a conspiracy intended to perpetuate slavery.
In many ways, Charlie Allnut was his own worst enemy. His manners masked his virtues. I’ve always found Donald Trump annoying. He exemplifies that particular kind of stereotypical New Yorker we Midwesterners have always disliked — brash, arrogant, pushy, verbally abusive.
The danger for the Rose Sayers of the world is judging the Charlies by their manners alone. Charlie Allnut promised he’d go down the river, and he kept his promise. And Donald Trump has kept more of his campaign promises (for good and ill) than any president in my extensive lifetime. When did keeping promises cease to count among the virtues? I disagree with some of the president’s decisions, but the man is going down the river, and I’m headed that way myself, and I expect I’ll stay with him until he changes course.
I do wish he’d clean up his mouth, though. There are ladies present.
Lars Walker is a novelist and Norwegian translator, living in suburban Minneapolis. His latest novel is The Elder King.