The arrival of a new movie about the last months of Judy Garland’s life started me thinking about my first encounters with her professional work. It was all those “Let’s put on a show” movies with Mickey Rooney. You’d rush to your neighbor’s house after school (they had a television set), pull out the Monopoly board, play games and simultaneously watch the black and white films of spunky kids saving whatever they were going to save that day.
And then there was The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy, another gumption-loaded kid, was apparently stuck in a world populated by good and bad witches, little people, a wizard and some bizarre singing companions. Over the course of her stay in Oz, she manages to help the cowardly lion find courage, the silly scarecrow discover a brain, and the Tin Man get a heart. She melts the bad witch (another kind of miracle of water) and, with the help of her faithful dog Toto, pulls back the curtain on the wizard, a con man from Omaha.
Unfortunately, in so many ways, the movie as well as the book offers us some lessons. After all, doesn’t it appear these days that we are living in Oz rather than the United States? Up sometimes seems down. Right sometimes seems so very wrong. People are afraid to speak out because the wizard says bad things about them, subjecting them to verbal screeds from his army of trolls, not unlike those frightful monkeys working for the bad witch screeching at Dorothy and her friends.
Our current President is like Ox’s wizard, a very small man who has convinced a nation he is much bigger. He hides behind a curtain of privilege, obfuscates through braggadocio, and multiplies his influence in the minds of followers through fear and falsehoods. Whenever possible he sends others to do his dirty work or he does it behind the curtain of a tweet. Has the man ever gotten rid of someone in his administration directly?
Dorothy and her three befuddled friends, skipping down that yellow brick road, set out to get the Wicked Witch of the West on the promise of rewards they each want. Think of the Americans who have chosen to march down a contemporary yellow brick road looking for what they’ve lost – good paying jobs, confidence, empathy, optimism, pride. If they do the wizard’s bidding, they, so they think, will be rewarded.
We are stuck in Oz. As I write this:
- The Turks are killing our former ally, the Kurds.
- North Korea is not only continuing its nuclear program, but also can now launch missiles from a submarine.
- Iran is ready to abandon its nuclear agreement.
- NATO allies look at us in bewilderment; they no longer trust what we have in the past guaranteed.
- Great Britain is about to go into economic free-fall as their version of Donald Trump tries a no or minor agreement Brexit.
- The President denies arms to Ukraine until they agree to check out already debunked conspiracy theories featuring the Bidens.
- Mayor Giuliani engages in personal diplomacy that seems more likely tied to financial gains than what’s in the best interests of the United States.
- Farmers are in danger of losing family farms because of an ill-considered tariff war. (The Administration’s advice: get big or get out.)
- A child can scale the newly built impenetrable border wall in under two minutes; an adult did it while juggling.
- Children of asylum-seekers have been removed from their parents; several of them have died in our custody.
- Climate change continues unabated and is exacerbated by rollbacks of conservation programs.
- Infrastructure deteriorates.
- Freedom of the press is under attack here and, with the encouragement of our leaders, abroad.
- Our economy, which grew better throughout the Obama era as he ended Bush’s recession, is showing signs of weakness.
- The rich, thanks to recently passed tax breaks, continue to get richer, at the expense of the lower and middle classes.
- Fewer people have health insurance than under the previous administration.
- And, well, there are so many more “ands” out there, but you get the idea.
Bottom line, fake news won. It’s not the fake news that President Trump condemns, but the fakery of his minions and himself. That big microphone behind the curtain works.
And the American people, particularly those in Congress, seem to be on that yellow brick road looking for courage, brains and a heart. There doesn’t seem to be Dorothy around.
A tornado brought us here, a whirlwind campaign assisted by the Russians, carried out in plain sight with conspiracy theories and lies, with the blather of unembarrassed men and women, who knew what they were spouting was wrong. They willingly traded integrity for power, truth for judgeships, and honor for positions.
I await the lifting of the Wizard’s curtain, done in the film by Toto, and a national realization that we have the brains, heart and courage to leave this nightmare. But if the wait is long, the curtain may never be moved.