Brow Beat

If You’ve Been Enjoying All the Donald Trump Subtweets at John McCain’s Funeral, You’ll Love This Anti-Trump Film the U.S. Government Produced in the 1940s

Two stooges in Nazi uniforms.
Suckers.
U.S. Army Signal Corps

It’s been a big day for former government officials speaking out against Donald Trump: Ex-presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush both used their eulogies for John McCain as an opportunity to draw an implicit contrast between the late senator and our current president, while McCain’s daughter Meghan, although not a former government official herself, explicitly invoked Trump’s loathsome campaign slogan. By doing so, they joined a grand tradition of former government officials speaking out against the depravity of Donald Trump, from Jimmy Carter, who called him “a disaster” to Abraham Lincoln, who aptly described him as a “highwayman” in his legendary Never-Trump Cooper Union Speech. But perhaps no current or former employees of the United States government have been as vociferously opposed to Donald Trump’s presidency as the staff of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1943, when they originally released their blistering anti-Trump film, “Don’t Be a Sucker.” A clip from the film went around Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the “Unite the Right” disaster, but here’s a cut of the full video from 1945, which spares Trump nothing:

It’s a sad day when people who have given their lives to public service, like the filmmakers behind “Don’t Be a Sucker,” feel the need to speak out against a sitting president. It’s even sadder when Felix Bressart, the Lubitsch stock player who plays the professor in “Don’t Be a Sucker” feels the need to look into the camera with gentle disapproval. There’s no shortage of sick burns aimed at Trump here, from the reference to his “oldest and most persistent enemy, the truth,” to the prediction that his “pure-blooded supermen [will be] defeated by the mongrel armies he despise[s].” But for all the swipes, the film ends on a positive note, speaking to the ideals we continually fall short of, but should continually aim at:

You have a right to be what you are and say what you think, because here we have personal freedom. We have liberty. And these are not just fancy words: this is a practical and priceless way of living. But we must work at it. We must guard everyone’s liberty, or we can lose our own. If we allow any minority to lose its freedom by persecution or by prejudice, we are threatening our own freedom. And this is not simply an idea, this is good, hard, common sense. You see, here in America, it is not a question of whether we tolerate minorities. America is minorities. 

It’s the most powerful indictment of the president and his stooges since the actual Stooges spoke out against him. At press time, inquiries to the White House about how they would respond to this unprecedented attack from the staff of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in the 1940s went unanswered, as did requests about other anti-Trump films The Great Dictator, Inglourious Basterds, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and, of course, They Saved Hitler’s Brain.

Update, Sept. 2, 2018: As several astute Slate readers have pointed out, the version of “Don’t Be a Sucker” embedded above features a reference to D-Day and footage of the detonation of the swastika atop the Zeppelinfeld stadium in Nuremberg, which happened on April 22, 1945, making it unlikely that this is a film from 1943, barring some sort of Man in the High Castle-type situation. Wikipedia alleges that “Don’t Be a Sucker” had two versions, the original 1943 cut and a later, shorter version released to commercial theaters, which they date to 1947 (dubiously sourced to this 1948 paper about the film’s impact, which doesn’t seem to say anything of the sort). Contemporaneous news reports, however, show that Paramount Pictures was distributing an 18 minute cut to theaters in the summer of 1946, keyed to July 4 screenings. The 22-minute cut from the National Archives embedded above is listed in their catalog as being from 1945, so it could be a print in some kind of in-between state or the 1943 date could be incorrect. For whatever it’s worth, a 1946 War Department catalog of films lists it as having been released in 1945 with a 24 minute runtime. The finding guide for the Richard Collins papers—Collins was the film’s uncredited screenwriter—says either “Don’t Be a Sucker” or the script draft they’ve got is from 1945, and that the working title was “Quit Shoving.” In short, the various releases of “Don’t Be a Sucker” are a land of contrasts and a wilderness of error, but every version makes Trump and his supporters look like a bunch of suckers.