Maybe We Should Take David Lynch’s Thoughts on Trump with a Grain of Salt

The director’s solipsistic approach to life and art is hardly compatible with civic engagement

And we’re back. Welcome once again to the artist-the-Libs-love-voices-support-for-Trump media circus that seems to beset our Twitter feeds every couple months. This time around our featured player is writer/director/coffee snob David Lynch.

As you likely know by now, The Guardian dropped a Lynch profile last week in which the filmmaker describes himself as “not really a political person” then goes on to say that Trump “could go down as one of the greatest presidents in history because he has disrupted the thing so much.” The quote itself is hedged by authorial acknowledgment of Lynch’s deeper ambivalence, and it didn’t seem to raise many eyebrows until Breitbart (your source for both the incessant derision of celebrity involvement in politics and the gleeful lapping-up of any remotely famous person’s apparent endorsement of Trump) published an article misconstruing the statement as wholly complimentary. By Monday the news had found its way onto the president’s radar, and he bragged about Lynch’s apparent praise that night at a South Carolina rally.

Which all came as something of a jolt to Lynch aficionados—and not just because the idea of Trump sitting through even ten minutes of Inland Empire is so wildly absurd. There’s a genuine dissonance between just about any worldview you could defensibly tease out of Lynch’s oeuvre—which, steeped in evil though it may be, tends to radiate empathy and circle back to the transcendent power of kindness—and the Republican platform Trump embodies. There are people in entertainment we expect this from; their vocal support is the product of a coherent and discernible ideology that underlies all their work as artists and public figures. But to hear David Lynch seemingly praise the president was unexpected.

It’s worth making a comparison to Kanye here because, dissimilar though the two men may be, they have a core characteristic in common: pretty intense solipsism. On the part of Kanye, much of his brilliance stems the raw egotism he brings to his music (“I love myself way more than I love you”). His lyrics unearth a trove of unrefined narcissism and examine its corroding effect on the soul in a way that is both gripping and insightful—seriously, listen to “I Am a God” all the way through to the end. The very thing that makes his music compelling, though, makes his political opinions suspect. Shortly after he doubled down on his support for Trump, it became clear he was doing so from a place of profound ignorance. Per T.I.’s account, he “don’t know the things we know because he has removed himself from society.”

A similar thing is going on with David Lynch. I mean, the dude lives in a bunker in the Hollywood Hills. He sacrifices his relationships for his work. His main thing is Transcendental Meditation®, which, by definition, is inward-oriented. He doesn’t go out of his way the engage with the culture at large; literally, in that Guardian interview (which led with the quote, “You gotta be selfish. It’s a terrible thing,” by the way) he could only think of one movie he saw in the past year.

Even his films that have been interpreted as outward critiques of faux-idyllic Americana tend to be more personal than societal in their scope. Take Blue Velvet, which Roger Ebert dismissed at the time as “sophomoric satire” of “simple-minded small town” life, yet which in retrospect is clearly more concerned with one young man’s loss of innocence—with his own personal recognition that the sinister parts of his soul, once awakened, can never be lulled back to sleep—than it is with decrying the falsity of the American dream. The tendency to get insular makes for fascinatingly introspective films that probe the darker corners of one man’s id, and it’s on those grounds that Lynch can be defended as a certifiable artistic genius. None of that, however, puts him in a place to make particularly wise political statements.

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Further, the kind of self-obsession that engenders compelling art is diametrically opposed healthy political leadership. The political sphere, as has become super apparent, is a bad place for solipsism. Donald Trump is the ultimate narcissist, and if you’ve read this far, I doubt I have to convince you that the effect of his leadership has been net bad. Handing over political power to people whose only concern is their own vanity is dangerous (and it’s the reason the very notion of Kanye 2020 is so abhorrent). True leadership requires a deep well of empathy, humanity, and an appreciation for nuance—which, oddly enough, are some of the characteristics that first come to mind when I think of the work of David Lynch.

That’s why things began to make sense again when, Tuesday morning, Lynch clarified his statement with a post to Facebook. He wrote:

Dear Mr. President,
This is David Lynch writing. I saw that you re-tweeted the Breitbart article with the heading—”Director David Lynch: Trump ‘Could Go Down as One of the Greatest Presidents in History.’” I wish you and I could sit down and have a talk. This quote which has traveled around was taken a bit out of context and would need some explaining.
Unfortunately, if you continue as you have been, you will not have a chance to go down in history as a great president. This would be very sad it seems for you – and for the country. You are causing suffering and division.
It’s not too late to turn the ship around. Point our ship toward a bright future for all. You can unite the country. Your soul will sing. Under great loving leadership, no one loses—everybody wins. It’s something I hope you think about and take to heart. All you need to do is treat all the people as you would like to be treated.
David Lynch

Granted, that’s a pretty flaccid admonition. It’s vague, it’s not particularly clued in to any particular issue that might be causing “suffering and division” (I can think of at least two), and it doesn’t negate Lynch’s own apparent political out-of-touchness. But what more did we really expect from a guy who’s primarily invested in plumbing his own inner depths? He’ll never be the best man for the job if you’re looking for a hero of the resistance. That was never the point of Lynch. His power always lay in his individuality: his exposure of twisted inner longings, his articulation of the potency of trauma, and his reified faith in the power of interpersonal grace.

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