“Shane” ranks among the finest movies crafted on American soil. It tells the story of a mysterious 19th-century man who rejects the soul-crushing violence of his youth, a man who yearns for a quiet life in open spaces, a man who returns to violence in noble defense of those he loves.
The 1953 Western lingers in your gut for years, even decades. Do we sometimes require, the movie asks, a flawed man to lead our battle against evil?
A recent National Review article by Victor Davis Hanson compared Shane to … President Donald J. Trump. This favorable comparison, if read with an open mind, is highly entertaining and provocative.
“Daily,” Hanson writes in the venerable conservative magazine, “Trump tweeted retorts to his myriad of attackers. No one was too small or too big to win exemption: All that mattered was that if anyone drew first on Trump, he would empty his six-shooter back, in a way quite disturbing even to those who had once invited him in … Trump can no more stop tweeting or ridiculing than Shane could put down his guns.”
Somehow, Hanson explains and excuses Trump in a fresh way.
For decades, I’ve savored news and opinions and features from the American Print Machine, a combination of newspapers and magazines. Once, it was all about paper. Today, it’s a mix of paper and computer screens.
Always, a variety of views awaits. A lightly motivated American reader can find President Trump compared to Shane, a forever film hero, or to an unsavory dictator.
The press is under attack, but of course it’s under attack because it’s always under attack.
“Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1807 to John Norvell, a newspaper editor. (Trump recently repeated this quote in a speech.)
This is the same Jefferson who later wrote: “Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.” An aggressive press, Jefferson said, keeps the waters of American democracy “pure.”
How to explain these battling versions of Jefferson? (A contradictory man and thinker, he often waged internal war with differing versions of self.)
“America’s third president was decidedly pro-press, unless the press was covering him,” Ryan Mattimore writes.
Jefferson, of course, can’t read Mattimore’s dead-on analysis, but the message remains precious. We applaud when the press aggressively examines a politician we despise. Then, like Jefferson, we bellow with rage when “that polluted vehicle” sets its eyes on a politician we embrace. We are all Jefferson, a founding member of the Society of Contradictory Americans.
Trump, a conservative, is unhappy with The New York Times. A native New Yorker, he considers the Times his hometown paper. He believes the Times is unfair.
So did Bill Clinton, a liberal. Our 42nd president publicly shared his wish to punch Times columnist William Safire after the writer called Hillary “a congenital liar.” (I would have bet on the ever-feisty Safire to triumph in that fistfight.)
Perfect balance could not be found in 1807, when Jefferson was griping, or 1996, when Clinton was griping, or today, when Trump is griping. That perfect balance won’t be found tomorrow, either.
Try this: Instead of moaning about the unfairness of America’s press, try exploring the wonders of America’s press. This celebration of the press is not a celebration of cable news, by the way. When I listen to friends complain about the state of American media, they accurately lament the excesses of cable news, which is a different topic for a different day.
While exploring, don’t stick with one side of any issue, or personality. Read this newspaper and other newspapers and find magazines that push conservative ideas and magazines that push liberal ideas. Develop a balanced reading diet. This balance never has been easier to pursue.
Who knows, while pursuing that balance, what you will find. You might even see a New York tycoon turned president compared to a hero from an uplifting, troubling Western movie.