It’s All In the Reflexes

One of the funny things about Big Trouble in Little China is Jack Burton’s (Kurt Russell) smug self-confidence about his superior reflexes. It parodies a certain American ideal, at least for me.  There is another line that sticks in my mind from the movies. I only saw the trailer, but Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach is some guy in a foreign land with his foreign friends staring across a body of water at a distant shore. They are thinking about swimming the distance and one of his friends estimates it must be 900 meters away, and he’s doubtful about all of them making it. DiCaprio’s character looks confidently into the horizon and says “How far in miles?….Americans think in miles..”  —or something like that.

I remember these two scenes whenever I observe how Americans measure themselves against a situation and rather quickly decide whatever the problem, it can be solved; if it’s a set-back, it can be overcome; if it’s ‘wrong’, it can be righted; and perhaps most importantly, if there is  sin, there is also redemption.

Americans believe in the American Reflex. We believe our response to any adversity will result in something that is technically possible, morally correct, and will ultimately prevail. That we may look like fools in the meantime is disregarded ( like swaggering Jack who waves his machine-pistol around menacingly all-the-while unaware of the lipstick he is wearing ). DiCaprio’s character–ever the optimist– only needs the challenge intimidating his mates to be re-framed in American terms. If he can understand it, he can rise to it.

There is something to be said for optimism especially when people around you despair. The can-do spirit has long been associated with the American national character. It is like a reflex. We are raised to think we can succeed by dint of our own efforts. There are no insurmountable obstacles.

I think that is one reason American culture lavishes so much attention and adoration upon  celebrities in the mistaken belief they are heroic, and therefore leaders. And we go on to presume leaders are also the bearers of fame and fortune. Fame and fortune quickly becomes the definition of leadership, and leadership becomes synonymous with fame and fortune.

And so we arrive at Donald Trump. Given enough time, Jack Burton would become Donald Trump. It might take a couple movies to move beyond the confines of his sixteen-wheeler, don a business suit and a comb-over, but the essential ingredients are all there. I am convinced Donald Trump has seen Big Trouble in Little China and realized the real threat of China and how to handle it…handle it like Jack Burton.  Trump supporters roared their approval of Trump’s reflexive reading of the China threat, the in-your-face talk that shows no patience with concessions to competitors. They are “eating our lunch” , he said, but clarified that it was Chinese real estate moguls who were setting up hotels next-door to his.  Hey! If they assault me, they are assaulting you, America!    Get it?    Get it??

The sad thing is that many Americans do “get it” in precisely that way even if they aren’t Trump supporters. A successful rich guy (net worth $8.73 billion*) must be rich and successful for a damn good reason. He must know something the rest of us don’t. Sounds like presidential material to me.

I wonder why people don’t see: Jack Burton with lipstick = Donald Trump with comb-over.

In the end, Jack Burton didn’t want the girl he worked so hard to win the heart of. He got in his truck and drove away pontificating on his CB radio. He got what he wanted and that was enough. Donald Trump has what he wants : a platform to rant upon and people to listen like Jack’s CB audience.  He can easily afford to drive away from his presidential quest no matter what effect he has on others in the race.  In many ways, he seems to me the reincarnation of H. Ross Perot, and I am surprised more commentators haven’t brought that comparison up.

But comparing him to Jack Burton is more fun. If he were a serious candidate, I might compare him to Leonardo DiCaprio.

* avowed

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