The Big Lebowski and our present moment

I’ve been thinking about The Big Lebowski a lot recently, specifically this line from Walter Sobchak, the gun-toting, conspiracy-loving, live-wire, converted-Jew Vietnam vet. “Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, at least it’s an ethos.”

Walter, in the moment, is complaining about the German nihilists who have been bedeviling his friend The Dude, but the line gets me thinking about Jeffrey Lebowski, the “Big” Lebowski of the title. Jeffrey Lebowski is a local plutocrat who sets the mystery plot of The Big Lebowski by hiring The Dude to help recover his kidnapped wife Bunny. In the tradition of American noirs, things are not as they appear. Specifically, (spoiler alert) Jeffrey Lebowski is a fraud. He’s not wealthy, he’s a desperate embezzler who is using his wife’s disappearance to steal a ton of money from his family’s foundation.

Does that sound like anyone we know?

Jeffrey Lebowski likes to lord his wealth over people and pretend to be a big shot. “Your revolution is over, the bums lost!” he bellows at The Dude, advising him to “get a job.” Lebowski, of course, has no job of his own, he’s been living on his family’s wealth all his life.

Which brings me back to our President. Donald Trump could have been a Jeffrey Lebowski, whiling away his time in his mansion, living off the interest of his inherited wealth, but he had to be a big shot. He just had to be, he couldn’t live otherwise. He had to put his name on a thousand buildings, in letters as big as structurally possible, and put his face in front of every camera in sight. Unfortunately for all of us, he’s a bona-fide mouth-breathing idiot, a devastatingly stupid businessman who has never had a success in his life.

As a liar, con-man and thief, Donald Trump lives in constant desperation, terrified that, at any moment, he will be unmasked, that people will learn that, like the big Lebowski, he’s a tiny man in a big house, a blustering fool who blames his threadbare soul on everything but his own actions, actions he made while possessing every possible advantage available in his society.

And so he’s destroyed the foundations of an entire country, turned an entire government into a criminal enterprise, replaced a generation of civil servants with toadies and sycophants, not out of any ideology whatever, but simply to cover up his crimes, which escalate exponentially with every passing hour. Our nation is being demolished not from a fiendish plot toward fascism but to distract from the crimes of a single man.

Say what you want about the tenets of national socialism, at least it has an ethos. Or, as Rick and Morty put it, “You’re like Hitler, but even Hitler cared about Germany, or something.”

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