DADA

Posted in Quick Hits on June 12th, 2017 by Ed

Rankings and superlatives are endlessly subjective. What does "best" or "most important" mean? Bear that in mind when I describe Barbet Schroeder's Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait (1974) is the best documentary ever made. Is it the most enjoyable? The most technically accomplished? The funniest? The most informative? No. But it's the Best.

If this seems like a random thing to bring up, I'm doing it at this moment because the Trump cabinet meeting on Monday looked like a scene taken directly from that movie. In fact there is an extended scene of a cabinet meeting and many other settings in which subordinates are forced to praise him effusively, even comically. I saw video of the Monday meeting and read the quotes the various secretaries were forced to offer up and the similarities were more than a little eerie.

As difficult as it is to believe, the depiction of an illiterate, violent, charismatic, psychotic dictator in his own words (the film has about 50 words of narration total, and the director lets his subject speak for himself) feels topical here in the United States in 2017. Now, let's not go overboard. Our current president doesn't murder and torture his enemies by the hundreds, if only (primarily?) because he couldn't get away with it. But within the framework of institutions that constrain him – something conspicuously lacking in 1970s Uganda – it's essentially the same person. If Amin can't read and Trump can but refuses to, what's the practical difference?

The idea of a nation being run by a large, violent child who requires constant ass-kissing and obsequious praise to teeter back toward something approaching sanity and away from another temper tantrum is not new. Nor will the consequences of it in the United States be as brutal and severe as they are and have been in many countries around the world. But if you've been waiting for a Smoking Gun to prove that our president has the classic narcissistic Third World Strongman personality, you can rest your case now. A person who is not severely maladjusted is embarrassed by fawning praise by obviously insincere lackeys. Trump apparently can't function without it.

On the plus side, we all know what happened to Amin.