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GET REAL: Playing the role of president


GET REAL: Playing the role of president

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SIR ROGER MOORE, who played the role of James Bond, got some publicity a while ago over comments he made concerning who should become the next OO7.  Sony Email leaks had revealed that producers of the spy series were considering casting Idris Elba in the role.  When asked about this, Sir Roger responded: “Although James may have been played by a Scot, a Welshman and an Irishman, I think he should be ‘English-English’. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting idea, but unrealistic.”  

Elba is not English enough to play the role of the iconic British spy even though he was born and raised in East London. His parents, however, are African-born.  

Months ago, the idea of Donald Trump in the role of US president was also considered by many people as interesting, but unrealistic. Elba had more of a chance landing the Bond role. Trump has no political experience, failed in business to the point that he filed for bankruptcy six times, and has questions hanging over his morality that would cripple most political careers. Yet, apparently, in the minds of about half of voters, he fits the role of president better than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.  Like the role of Bond, the president of the United States of America is a one many feel is best played by a white male. 

For Trump and others like him, Obama was never American enough for the role of president. There were calls for Obama to prove his Americaness by producing his birth certificate. Once the birth certificate was produced, the criticisms and disrespect did not stop.  

It couldn’t be his religion. Unlike Trump, he is a regular churchgoer. It couldn’t be his personal morality. Unlike former President Bill Clinton, Obama has never been caught in a sex scandal. The Twin Towers came down under the watch of George W. Bush, and his invasion of Iraq helped to create ISIL. Obama presided over the assassinations of Osama Bin Laden and Muamar Qaddaffi. There have been no hugely successful terrorist incidents on American soil under his watch. It is tempting to conclude that Obama managed to keep America relatively safe in the aftermath of Bush Jnr’s bungles. Yet, he still was not American-American enough.

Like the Buffalo Soldiers in the American civil war and the black G.I.s of WWI and WWII, Obama shed blood for America while America struggles to shed a tear for them. The boxer Muhammad Ali seemed like a true visionary when he refused to enlist in the US military to shed Vietnamese blood during the Vietnam War. He observed that no Vietcong had ever called him the N word. Maybe there are some roles that, while prestigious, should be refused.

There are some roles that still seem reserved for certain people. That is exactly why non-traditional actors should seek those roles. The front seat of the bus may be fully integrated and inclusionary. The front seat of power, less so. Obama and Hillary Clinton challenged the stereotype of power in American politics. They are symbols of what is possible for an individual from a disenfranchised group.

Many Americans were mobilised to vote Trump by what they felt was eight years of the indignity of living under the first black president. A vote for Clinton was seen as a vote for four more years of Obama. Clinton may have been a victim of her predecessor’s success.  

Mrs Clinton’s biology, no doubt, posed an obstacle for many voters seeing her as president, but it may not have been her major issue. She may also have been a victim of another stereotype: the establishment politician. While she and Obama represent a new look for the role of POTUS, their substance is old. Obama had the benefit of the doubt. Enthusiastic voters held on to the hope that he could usher in a new political culture. After two terms, voters are cured of that illusion. Clinton did not have the benefit of the hope that as a woman, she would be any different than a man in the role of POTUS. 

If Elba were to land the role of Bond we hope he would bring not just fresh swag to the role, but a new narrative. We would want the first black 007 to really shake things up at headquarters. Maybe instead of killing innocents and thugs in the Third World and Eastern bloc countries, he could set his sights on a corrupt police force which routinely assaults and abuses minorities. This would be an interesting, but unrealistic storyline. Bond, a double 0, will be an agent of the system, even if black. Obama is not the president of black America. He is an agent of America. Neither would Clinton have been the president of female Americans.

Trump won. The writing was on the wall from the day Obama became president.  The graffiti just kept building. Republicans vowed from day one to make it difficult for Obama. And they kept their word. Trump, who is now asking for the public to respect the outcome of the election and join hands in unity behind him, was one of the loudest, most persistent, most irrational voices against Obama: possibly against Obama’s DNA. He used the same belligerent strategy on Clinton.

Trump also beat a host of other white males during the Republican primary. In the minds of those who support him Trump may represent the most American-American of all the candidates: A white male who is above the rules, like Bond, who will say and do whatever he wants, in the American tradition of John Wayne, Rambo, and Chuck Norris.

We will now see if Trump is for real or if he is playing a role.  


Adrian Green is a creative communications specialist. Email [email protected]