In the movie “Cast Away,” a driven Fed Ex official survives a plane crash, isolation on an island and a daring open-sea voyage only to be rescued and discover that his fiancée has moved on – marrying and having a child – during his four-year absence.
“You were the great love of my life,” he observes in their farewell reunion, realizing that though he has lost her, she was there when he needed her most – on that island, in his mind, keeping hope alive during all those years of solitude.
Spoiler alert: At the end of the movie, he delivers the one unopened package from the crash and, though the last shot shows him standing at a crossroads, we’re lead to believe that he will form an attachment with the woman the package was intended for. Indeed, you could say that everything he went through was designed to lead him to that moment.
I was reminded of this listening to President Donald J. Trump’s continuing rants against the French and their president, Emmanuel Macron. Of course, these rants aren’t about the French any more than his tirades against the press, the losing Republicans, the Democrats, California fire management and the kneeling NFL players are about those subjects. Trump’s tirades are actually about what everything is with him – his narcissism. Not only must he always win but in the zero-sum game he plays, you must lose. What happens, however, when he loses, as in the recent mid-term elections? Ah, well, he must explode, because otherwise he would implode. He must redirect blame, dig in, double down, because to borrow from what legendary filmmaker Samuel Goldwyn said of himself: “I may not be right but I’m never wrong.” And so, on and on about his disastrous trip to France and how it was the Secret Service’s fault he didn’t visit the American cemetery there during the centennial Armistice Day commemoration and how the French would’ve lost World Wars I and II but for the Americans.
There is, however, another way of looking at this, which brings me back to “Cast Away.” Perhaps everything America went through in its Revolution – separating from England, accepting help from the French – was designed to lead it to the moment when the New World would come to the aid of the Old.
It’s not that we saved the French, but rather that they were there for us so that one day we would be there for them.
Gen. John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front in World War I, understood this – or rather his aide, Col. Charles E. Stanton did. Arriving in Paris, Stanton uttered the words attributed to Pershing: “Lafayette, nous sommes ici.” (“Lafayette, we are here.”)
Trump would’ve done well to remember this. It would’ve created a moving, bonding moment in France. But he is an island unto himself.