All I really need to know about Donald Trump I learned from “Ghostbusters II.” An undercurrent of hate and fear-a river of slime, if you will-is fueling his march toward the Republican nomination. How far this takes him depends on whether, as Ray the Ghostbuster put it, we can summon what is best about America before it’s too late.
For those of you who live full, productive lives and have yet to see the sequel to Ghostbusters-the goofball scientists who rid New York of ghosts-let me catch you up. In the movie, a river of slime flows under New York, turning everyone it touches angry and violent. This rise of negativity reincarnates a genocidal madman named Vigo the Carpathian, who was, as another Ghostbuster put it, “not exactly a man of the people.”
According to his backstory, Vigo was so hard to kill that he was “poisoned, stabbed, shot, hung, stretched, disemboweled, drawn and quartered,” which might be what it takes for Republicans to stop Trump from getting the nomination. Says one character in the movie, “According to my source, the end of the world will be on February 14, 2016,” or between the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries.
In the end, the Ghostbusters learn that only love and optimism can counter Vigo and the river of slime, so they animate the Statue of Liberty to summon these feelings of goodwill from surly New Yorkers and win the day.
The movie is even dumber than I just made it sound, but it’s a good lens through which to analyze Trump. D.C. folks have thus far failed to understand why Trump is enduringly popular with so many Americans. They hypothesize that his supporters hate Washington politicians, or the establishment, or D.C. pundits, or Wall Street, or foreigners, or women, or people of color, but the answer is not “or” but “and.” It’s not what they hate but that they hate. It’s one, big river of slime.
The latest manifestation of the river of slime is Trump’s jihad against naturalized citizenship. Angry that the children of unauthorized immigrants automatically born in the U.S. receive citizenship, Trump says the 14th Amendment-which grants citizenship upon everyone born or naturalized here-is unconstitutional. This makes as much sense as saying the Pledge of Allegiance is un-American, but making sense isn’t the point. The point is that he’s angry, animated by the river of slime.
I could reason that undoing birthright citizenship would force everyone to trace his or her ancestral citizenship back ad infinitum and ad absurdum. I’d make more progress yelling at a hurricane. You do not stop the river of slime with lawyers, logic and lectures.
The 14th Amendment is what is best about us. We enacted it to reunite our country after the Civil War so that enslaved Americans became U.S. citizens. The 14th Amendment says each of one us puts the pluribus in the unum. It’s how we become out of many, one.
Getting rid of birthright citizenship is not just an attack on the American-born children of unauthorized immigrants or even on Hispanics but on all Americans. Finding a loophole in the 14th Amendment through which the river of slime could flow would mean America existed only for certain Americans and not for everyone. We would become a smaller, meaner country.
As Ray the Ghostbusters says, “You know, I just can’t believe that things have gotten so bad in this city that there’s no way back. I mean, sure it’s messy, it’s crowded, it’s polluted, and there are people who would just as soon step on your face as look at you. But come on! There’s got to be a few traces of sweet humanity left in this city. We just gotta find a way to mobilize it.”
In the sequel to “Ghostbusters,” an iron lady rallies people to defeat Vigo. Take from that what you will, but Trump isn’t going away on his own. To defeat him and to prove again what it means to be an American, we will have to mobilize the best of us to stop the worst of us.
Jason Stanford is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, a Democratic consultant and a Truman National Security Project partner. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @JasStanford