The never-ending scandals surrounding the Trump administration reached hysterical levels recently with the allegation that in 2016 Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr., met with Russians allegedly linked with the Kremlin to secure damaging information against the Clinton campaign.
The media reacted by publishing a series of pieces that compared Trump’s son to another troubled scion of a great family, Fredo Corleone, brilliantly played by John Cazale in the first two films of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy.
Fredo is the runt of the Corleone litter – lacking the macho bravado of his elder bother, Sonny, and the ruthless cunning of his younger brother, Michael. But to compare Donald Jr. with Fredo seems something of a lazy comparison – especially in the light of how many alarming parallels there are between the Corleone and Trump clans.
Now, there’s no suggestion that the Trumps leave severed horses’ heads in rivals’ beds, ship drugs and literally “whack” opponents, but closer and more considered review of these families provides not only similar characters but also some potential plotlines that might ensue for The Donald – or, should we say, The Don?
Vito: meet The Don
First and foremost, Donald Trump is the head of the family in the same way that Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone was the head of his clan. Vito was a gangster, a self-made man who dragged himself up from poverty though crime and made himself and his family rich and powerful in the process. Trump is no gangster but certainly likes to put himself forward as a self-made tycoon who is the greatest of dealmakers (neglecting to acknowledge that his wealth was inherited from his father).
But how do the other players in the Trump saga fit the characters from Mario Puzo’s novel and Coppola’s films? Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr., actually more closely corresponds to Sonny – played in the film by James Caan. He is headstrong, arrogant – but, above all, dim. He doesn’t see the big picture and is eager to “go to the mattresses” and have a metaphorical gang war instead of being a sly diplomat like his father.
Donald Jr. showed the same hot-headedness in taking the Russians’ bait: “I love it,” he is reported to have replied to an email suggesting that he might be interested in a meeting to hear how Russians had been digging the dirt on Hillary Clinton. This lack of caution has prompted talk of potential felony charges that might well leave his political career, just like Sonny – cut short at a causeway tollbooth.
Ivanka, the most visible of the Trump children, corresponds neatly with Vito’s daughter, Connie (played by Talia Shire, Coppola’s sister). Connie is supposedly the good daughter, not involved in the family business, but is eventually scarred by it. Connie becomes something of a black widow but also enormously influential in the Corleone clan structure. By the third part of the trilogy, she is not only feeding poisoned pasta to rival mobsters but is also the de facto capo bastone (underboss) of the Corleone family (almost unheard of in such a patriarchal organisation). We won’t be seeing Ivanka poisoning her rivals, but, like Connie, she is a power player.
Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, meanwhile, has taken on a public role as Trump’s special adviser or consigliori, a position similar to that filled by Corleone’s Tom Hagen (played by Robert Duvall).
Will the real Fredo please stand up?
If there is a Trump who is a fit for Corleone’s second son, Fredo, it is Donald’s second son, Eric. Poor Eric is rarely wheeled out to face the media. And he appears to embody many of Fredo’s fictional flaws: he certainly doesn’t come across as the sharpest knife in the drawer.
Another weirdly relevant parallel with Fredo is that, before the US election, Eric was nominally in charge of Trump International Las Vegas. Fredo, of course, was packed off by the family to Las Vegas to look after the Corleone’s casino holdings there.
Keeping it in the family
It’s easy to see metaphorical parallels between the Trump organisation and Puzo’s picture of a Mafia family. As well as a consigliori in Kushner, The Don has surrounded himself with trusted lieutenants – or capos, to quote the Mafia lingo. Prominent among these is Steve Bannon.
In a previous life, Bannon ran the far-right website Breitbart, known for its pugnacious tone. “We call ourselves ‘the Fight Club’. You don’t come to us for warm and fuzzy,” he is reported to have said.
While the Corleone capo, Pete Clemenza, encouraged Vito Corleone to the top, Bannon was an early cheerleader for the Trump presidential campaign. In the White House, as Trump’s chief of strategy, he also shares some key Clemenza qualities, most obviously his pugnacious nature. Bannon’s trust has been tested by internal divisions in the troubled White House – but you just know he’d be dangerous when cornered.
But we need to address the one obvious omission. Michael was the Corleone child kept away from the family business so that a clean break could be made from its criminal past. Michael would go legit. However, just when he thought he was out … they pulled him back in. Who might fulfil this role in the Trump dynasty? Step forward Tiffany. She is an unknown quantity but may well be the one to rescue the clan from the mess in which it is now embroiled.
For Tiffany, destiny awaits. That destiny might be to become Capo di tutti capi … The Godmother.