The King Who Wished to Pardon Himself

Frog Prince smashed against the wall
The Frog Prince — raw and unDisneyfied (from “Ich war der Märchenprinz,” 1983)

I was brought up in Germany on the raw and unDisneyfied version of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. The version in which the princess smashes the Frog Prince against the wall instead of kissing him. That’s why my past four years in America were filled with childhood flashbacks. There were all the usual suspects: an ugly king with a beautiful daughter who wants to be queen one day, and an evil stepmother who is green with envy (or yellow according to the Grimms’ emotional color chart). Everybody else around the king has court jester credentials including his personal counsel Rudy Rumpelstiltskin who in the original story takes a very sad and, by today’s standards, clearly R-rated ending. He throws a fit after not winning his case, grabs his left foot and tears himself in two — something we might actually witness any day now in real life.

But it’s not just ancient folklore and feudalism that the Trump administration has taken its cues from. They must have scrolled through the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 funniest movies all the way down to #69: Bananas. This 1971 movie — a big hit in Germany during my teenage years — is set in San Marcos, a fictional Caribbean island that has just been taken over by the deranged jungle despot Esposito. Because of his soft spot for blondes, Esposito’s first executive order is to make Swedish the official language of his freshly minted banana republic. The only difference with Trump’s early tenure is that he wanted more immigrants from Norway, not Sweden, but that’s close enough for someone who thinks Belgium is a city.

Bananas might rank a lot higher on the American Film Institute’s list had Woody Allen been able to draw from the material so generously provided by the Trump administration. Just think of Esposito’s guerrilleros putting up fake ballot boxes or ambushing mail-sorting machines in the way Trump’s junta member Louis DeJoy did. Or how about a scene with a tyrant pardoning himself? Neither the Grimms nor Allen seem to have been aware of the comedic potential of such a scene.

They clearly lacked the imagination and fantasy of today’s originalists whose flashbacks have nothing to do with the Grimm Brothers but everything with the Founding Fathers. To them legal courts are Renaissance fairs where judges let their minds happily time travel to the 18th century before they make a decision. Imagine a legal séance where a presidential self-pardon simply sails through because nobody recalls hearing the ghost of a Founding Father stamp his foot and say no to it. Too bad that the Founding Fathers didn’t want to waste time and parchment on an extra paragraph in the Constitution to state the obvious — that self-pardons are ridiculous. Something must be really rotten in the state of Denmark (or District of Columbia for that matter) when court officials are debating in all earnest if the king can certify his own innocence — prophylactically!

And by the way, “The King Who Wished to Pardon Himself” is not in the Grimms’ portfolio. I made this up. There is however, and I am not making this up, “The King Who Wished to Marry His Daughter,” an old fairy tale that hails from Scotland — just like half of Donald Trump’s DNA.

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