[SPOILER ALERT for a nearly 50-year-old movie]
As fans of Mike Nichols’ fine 1971 comedy-drama of American male inadequacy Carnal Knowledge know, Jack Nicholson’s lothario co-lead winds up an aging, bitter, impotent woman-hater who can only achieve tumescence at the hands and attentions of obliging sex worker Rita Moreno, who coaxes his self-esteem to attention by showering him with copious praise of his towering manliness. As those watching the news this week know, Donald Trump apparently demands not one, but two strategically supplied folders throughout the day (called his “propaganda documents” by aides behind his back) bulging with nothing but ego-stroking pro-Trump tweets and laudatory news stories from state media organ Fox News. As Stephen Colbert put it in Friday’s Late Show monologue, even that twice-daily fluffing often isn’t enough to do the trick, as aides are admonished, “It needs to be more fucking positive!” by the person who is, god help us, the president. As Colbert explains to Trump, propaganda is traditionally a tool to make the populace love the leader, not to convince the leader to love himself.
Another bracing strategy Trump employs is retweeting dubiously sourced Trump-loving Twitter supporters (in between nearly tweeting us into nuclear armageddon). One such recent retweet of an enthusiastic black Trump supporter has been shown to be a sock-puppet pro-Trump account that makes memes from stock photos. Another was a super-scientific Twitter poll by a rabid Trump supporter and conspiracy theorist whose big, manly, definitely not-flaccid bar graph showed Trump trouncing Barack Obama in a “who’s your fave” contest by a score of nearly two-to-one! (Sadly for Trump’s vulnerable self-esteem, actual polls have his approval down in the 30s.)
Also unluckily for the validation-craving Trump, Colbert showed that the will of small, self-selected sample sizes is a fickle mistress, as the Late Show host busted out the old applause meter and Robin-Williams-style forearm gauge (dubbed the Elbow-Tron 5700, for extra science) to register what looked like a solid 99-100 per cent verdict for Colbert in a theoretical Colbert vs. Trump election. Ouch. As Colbert posits, Trump might need the added assistance of a Breitbart-headline mobile to drift off to happy, manly, self-deluded dreamland tonight.