I'm not going to beat around the proverbial bush. The answer is Donald Trump. I am comparing Phoney Bone to Donald Trump. I am telling you this now because I do not value wasting anyone's time.
I've strove to be as apolitical as possible in these blogs I write. Movies are escapist entertainment that often merge with politics, but the problem is that politics are polarizing (Plus it's impossible to be wholly neutral in discussing films on a deep level without getting political at some point, not necessarily having anything to do with the government). And since I don't get that many readers as is, I best play it safe and avoid angering anyone if at all possible. I'm admittedly liberal-minded, but since I have friends and family who are conservative, I value the importance of looking at a situation with dual perspectives to allow moderation.
BUT...I can't Idly sit by as this man, whom l am coerced to recognize as the commander-in-chief of my country, flaunts arrogance as if it's a trait to admire. He has made dangerous and wildly outlandish statements that repeatedly won him headlining slots on the news. He won the hearts of millions of voters because he refused to play nice and chose to berate and insult everyone around him, circumventing the tactical politician's playbook entirely. He was a private citizen, albeit a wealthy one, and an outsider who might be able to intimidate our foes abroad and in our federal government, by "draining the swamp". And while everyone and their brother is comparing him to Hitler, I'm going for a different tack.
Thousands, if not millions of thought pieces have been written about the how and why of Trump and what led him to the White House, but none of them change the fact that he won the election (by the electoral college, not the popular vote) and now the man has access to every facet of American life. And I am legitimately scared.
But all that being said, I will do my damnedest here to be as partial and objective as possible. I can't speak for Trump's motives, I can only speak about what he's said and done, even if he detracts it at a later date.
But as I retreated to the safe zone that I call books, I cracked open my anthology of Bone, where I could get lost in a mystical realm of dragons, monsters, monarchies, prophecies, cults, swords, giant talking animals, and...uh, cow races? That's when I saw some disturbing parallels between Donald J. Trump and Phoncible P. Bone, aside from the fact they're frequently addressed by their full name and most of us don't know what their middle initial stands for.
You might recall when, not too long ago, I wrote an article celebrating the awesomeness that is the graphic novel Bone. Phoncible P. "Phoney" Bone is the deuteragonist of the series. While his cousin Fone Bone is virtuous, noble, optimistic, courageous, and compassionate...Phoney is decidedly none of these things. Much like Daffy Duck or Eric Cartman, Phoney is self-centered, manipulative, vainglorious, cunning, and materialistic. He serves as a counterbalance to the honorable Fone Bone and other cousin, the naively friendly Smiley Bone. Once the richest Bone in Boneville (a fact boasts about repeatedly), he gets run out of town from an angry mob, and got away only because his cousins helped him escape. While all three strive to escape the mystical valley, Phoney refuses to leave unless he can bring back wealth and riches back with him, and it's often his money-grubbing schemes that cause the most trouble and frequently muddy up everyone's - both the villains' and the heroes' - plans, often needing to be saved at everyone else's expense. Everyone admits he's way too much trouble than he's worth, but by virtue of family and the sanctity of life, our heroes reluctantly save him...often muttering under their breath all the while.
The first and most obvious parallel is...
The Wealthy Man Who Would be King
Within the first two pages of the story, it's explicitly stated that Phoney was the richest Bone in Boneville, he tried running for mayor, but given his history of shaky business deals, the citizens rioted (stoked by the expired prunes he provided at the picnic event where he announced his candidacy). Only with his cousins' assistance was he able to evade their grasp.
Of course, it's way to easy to point out how this makes me think of Trump. A wealthy business man decides to run for political office isn't a unique narrative. Heck, Lex Luthor, Superman's greatest enemy, has appeared in numerous stories as president of the US. But Luthor has ambiguity from the public on his side. Though he'd been in and out of prison hundreds of times, the general public of Metropolis is largely oblivious to his corrupt dealings, often using his clout and public relations committee making him look like a hero almost every time.
We have markedly little insight into Phoney's life pre-Bone, but it's shown that the public is well aware of his dealings and they forced him into exile. We can assume he probably had some sort of board of directors he ran, but he makes no mention of them, not even a secretary. We don't even know how he got his wealth (a brief backstory reveals all three cousins used to be homeless orphans). Perhaps he runs his company like Scrooge McDuck runs his: he owns everything, slaps his name on the businesses he owns, and is essentially his own P.R. representative. For the purpose of simplicity, let's go with that.
Right after Trump announced his bid for presidency, journalists and pundits wasted no time in researching his past. We knew him as the the "You're fired" guy on the TV reality show, The Apprentice, the guy who made cameos as himself in movies like Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and The Little Rascals, and the guy who had a messy public divorce in 1992. Other than that, he was just kind of a stereotypical rich guy. After all, wealthy CEOs blurt out crazy, irrational things all the time, from Mike Jeffries, who claimed only good-looking people should wear his Abercrombie & Fitch clothes, to John McAfee, of McAfee antivirus software, who went nuts and hid in Belize for several years to avoid the US government. Trump looked pretty tame by comparison. Sane, even.
But many were startled that the man known for being rich had a handful of failed business ventures: Trump Airlines, Trump Steaks, Trump Vodka, Trump Shuttle, Trump Mortgage, GoTrump.com, and Success all faltered or went bankrupt over the years. Of course, no great enterprise is completely fail-proof...but many of us worried since the man is going to handle our nation's economy, we can't play many risks. Trump asserts that HE did not go bankrupt, the businesses did, so they're not worth mentioning. Unfortunately, it's an economic gamble I'm not feeling safe with.
With Phoney, it's more basic. We're given a few insights of the deals that went belly-up, like the orphanage that was on a hazardous waste landfill, or a nuclear reactor/salad bar chain. These aren't just failed businesses, they're colossal blunders that either had or almost had serious repercussions, though we're never told what they might have been (Though one could guess.) And it's pretty clear these failures had direct consequences on the town's citizens. So much so that they immediately set to string him up the minute he announced he was running. The runaway campaign balloon and the bad prune tarts only exacerbated an already trepidatious situation.
But the examples are primarily gags rather than anything to be taken too seriously, obviously. In fact, the main reason why we're given so little insight to Phoney's investments and industries is because it streamlines the exposition. What Phoney dealt in is irrelevant as long as we know that his shady business deals are what caused the town people to riot and reject phony as a candidate for mayor of Boneville. But I didn't reject Donald Trump because he was a bad businessman, we opponents rejected Donald Trump because we perceived him as an awful person. Totally different thing.
Here's where things get weird. We know fully who Phoney Bone is because we see him in moments with other characters and by himself whereas with president Trump, we only know him for what he says and does in front of crowds, on Twitter, and in television interviews. We can guess, assume and judge Trump for what we see in the media, but it's impossible to tell who the man really is, what he believes in, and what he cares about. Phoney we can judge much more freely. After all, he's fictional. It's not like he's going to condemn me in a tweet.
We know that Donald Trump is obviously a skilled businessman, but for someone who is supposedly very good at making deals, he seems very poor in making rational, levelheaded choices considering his primary persona in the media is someone who yells insults, patronizes, and gets offended at the slightest drop of a hat against him. Phoney seems much more controlled in his temperament, but he can still lose his cool in moments where it's necessary for him to keep a level head.
Phoney is largely a coward, often talking a big game while unable to back it up. The only thing he'll stand up for is his cousins, but even then it's touch and go: he has made repeated attempts to escape the valley without them. As a last resort, sure, but still not exactly a virtuous act of selflessness. But as the eldest of the Bone cousins, he was the one responsible for looking after the other two when they were kids. Fone Bone even admits his theory that his drive and ambition for success is fueled by an instinct to take care of them.
What is factually verifiable is that Trump has never known poverty. Having grown up in military school and starting off with a "small loan of a million dollars", he has never had to struggle to get food, unlike Phoney. It could be argued that as a result, Trump has little idea how middle class or low class people live, but that's pure speculation. Phoney handles the barter-system economy of the valley poorly and physical labor even worse. At least we can say Phoney has known hardship.
Phoney even admits that anything intangible isn't important, firmly establishing his belief that all that matters to him is material wealth. Comfortable with who he is, he isn't one to get introspective, let alone on a spiritual level. Trump's perspective on faith seems clumsy at best, suggesting he either doesn't think much of faith or spirituality, or he prefers keeping his opinions to himself on such affairs.
Also, Phoney doesn't waste time or energy on courtesy. His initial encounters with Gran'ma Ben, the great red dragon and Lucius Down are loaded with snark and attitude, where he shows he has zero patience for anything that doesn't interest or concern him. And if Trump's media persona is anything to go by, he has the same amount of civility, causing his supporters to refer to it as "straight talk".
Both Trump and Phoney have huge egos. That much is obvious. Aside from Trump being fiercely defensive about his businesses and his perspectives, he has made it clear he has little tolerance for dissent and opposition. While presidential candidates in the past do all they can to look like the better man, Trump's tweets suggest he thinks of himself as better than everyone else, especially his opponents and rivals. Even those who voluntarily take over his old gig on Celebrity Apprentice.
The big indicator is Trump's use of his name on his businesses relentlessly. Give the Disney company credit, at least you're not watching "Disney ESPN" or "Disney Star Wars" or "Disney Marvel" or Disney "Muppets". Very few organizations under Trump fail to bear his name.
Trump repeatedly talks about how great he is. He claimed he doesn't need to attend intel briefings because he's already smart. He bragged about the size of his manhood when Marco Rubio ribbed about Trump's small hands. He made several announcements on the campaign trail from how to fight Isis to what he plans to do with health care, but failed to explain what his plans were, and instead just assured us that he had a plan. There's self-promotion, then there's making Kuzco look like pillar of humility.
Phoney had a massive balloon of himself with a banner saying "Phoney Bone will get your vote"
Phoney lives to be exalted. He perceives his shady business deals as minor issues and that simply being a wealthy member of the community more than makes up for any and all of his shortcomings. Even when Phoney is mired deep in the results of his chicanery, he refuses to see it as anything but fate conspiring against him. He even seems blindly naive to the repercussions of his scams, firmly believing that riling up a mob and skipping town will result in things going back to normal. He becomes so focused on getting rich he fails to consider others' feelings. In book two, he actively rigs the cow race to get a bunch of stuff to take back to Boneville, and changes his mind when he has the opportunity to win ownership of Lucius' bar. He even adamantly pursues treasure in book eight, in a city where they already have to keep a low profile and a war is brewing all the while. During the height of battle, he tries to coax Fone Bone to drop everything and leave for home...amid the flying arrows and clashing swords.
Oh, and he commissions Smiley to take gold coins with his face on them.
Trump's flagship campaign promise was a massive wall that would block any/all illegal immigrants from crossing over the border from Mexico to the United States. It was Trump's first major announcement and was so outlandish and transparently anti-Mexican (Some call it patriotism, others call it xenophobia) that many were certain his campaign was over right then and there. Scholars and researchers have repeatedly explained that the project would be irrational, expensive, and ineffective. Worse, statistics show that in spite of the public's fears of illegal immigration, not only is border-crossing at an all-time low, but illegals are statistically less likely to commit a crime than a native-born citizen. What this means is building a wall is also unnecessary if the threat hardly justifies the reaction. Whether or not Trump actually believes illegal Mexicans are a threat to the country or he just doesn't want to be soft on illicit border crossings, we may never know.
After Phoney gets the town riled up on an anti-dragon bender, Phoney happily exploits their paranoia, and calls himself a dragonslayer, and proudly vows to end the dragon threat.
Thing is, Phoney knows the dragons are friendly. And he admits to Smiley that he knows he's willfully deceiving the townsfolk to his advantage. But he still exploits the townsfolk's inherent paranoia and fear of the mysterious happenings since the Bones' arrival, even though they are no threat to the town and worse, are actually their allies against the rat creatures. They just want to live their lives in quiet solitude.
But even though Phoney blatantly ripped off the townsfolk with the cow race, he won them over by being the only one to tell them about the existence of dragons. It was a critical step in having Phoney take over Barrelhaven and have the citizens put up a fence around the town.
The fence, intended to keep out the dragons, accidentally keeps out Fone Bone and Thorn because, according to Jonathon Oaks, "everyone outside the fence is a stranger". They get allowed inside without incident, as with Lucius as he returns to town for the first time since it gets put up, though Lucious angrily denounces it.
Eventually, while Phoney leads the townsfolk out to hunt a dragon (really an attempt to allow him to skip town), the rat creatures burn down Barrelhaven. And they move in when the dragon is caught by the town. If that's not a fitting end to a narrative about why walls don't work, I don't know what is.
Being the "Solution"
During the campaign, Trump bragged that no one could fix Washington but him. Unlike his other opponents, democrat and republican alike, who promised that "we" would work together.
The biggest selling point of American democracy is the notion is that the average joe can, in fact, be president. Not only does this mean that more than one class can run a nation, but it also means that a commander-in-chief can be "one of us": they can know and understand the struggles and trials of the working class. They can bear empathy to the poor and destitute and enforce policies that can benefit them, where monarchies seem to actively exclude such a notion.
Trump may have endured bankruptcies and debt, but he still inherited his wealth from his father. His cavalier boast of "a small loan of a million dollars" was a notion wildly absurd to the average voter. But it was supposedly his wealth that attracted voters; someone who was immune to lobbyists and special interest groups. But the bottom line is that Trump insisted that he and only he would save the country.
When Phoney saw the town's fear of dragons take hold, he wasted little time in moving in on the opportunity. By proclaiming himself a professional dragon slayer, Phoney was able to assuage their fears when it was just rhetoric. One huge criticism many had was that Trump bragged and boasted that he had plans to fix everything, but failed to specify what those plans were. Phoney had no intention to slaying any dragons, of course, and put up every appearance that he would. building the fence was a good middle ground since it had all the appearances of solving the problem without actually doing anything.
When it came time for Phoney to deliver on his promise of slaying a dragon, he couldn't follow through with it. He'd never held a sword before, he was too squeamish behead a chicken (let alone a dragon), and he knew that the dragon was a friend. Time will tell if Trump will follow through on his promises, though he's explicitly stated he won't put Clinton in jail, build the wall as big as he promised, or completely dismantle the Affordable Healthcare Act.
Mocking their Opponents
Phoney's main rival is Lucius Down, the tavern owner. At first, Lucius is just the man he has to work off his bar tab for, then to compensate for rigging the cow race, and finally for a wager for ownership of the bar. Phoney is initially resentful of Lucius' leverage over him, and grows to pine for owning the tavern. As he continues to ascend the town hierarchy, he uses his one asset to discredit Lucius: the knowledge of the existence of dragons.
Before long, when Phoney tries shaming the town for stocking for the annual summer picnic, Lucius publicly confronts him, finally admitting to the dragon's existence. This turns about as well you'd expect, with Phoney openly shaming him and Lucius losing the last shreds of dignity he had. When the town leaves to go catch a dragon, he can't help but shout his triumph at Lucius. All the while, Lucius stews silently. Eventually, as it becomes known that Phoney deceived them yet again, their alliances return to Lucius, and Phoney tumbles from grace yet again.
Trump became renowned for being ruthless to his opponents. The attack ads campaign every politician runs are pretty bloodthirsty, but the campaigners themselves in American politics at least try to look like the bigger man. But instead, he felt few to no qualms about denouncing everyone around him, and not just the democrats. Trump got vicious in mocking and insulting his republican rivals, members of his own political party! Many republicans distanced themselves to save face, which led to Trump even declaring that he was going to go alone if necessary.
For his supporters, this meant that Trump was tough, a man who wasn't afraid to square off with others and was always poised to defend himself and his supporters. For people like me, this represented a man who refuses the art of compromise and courtesy, instead of acting with a modicum of dignity or civility.
The Trump family is poised to be the next Kennedy family, in that they are wanting to be the next elite family of America. With their wealth and political power, they aim to represent what it means to be successful in America, right down to sporting the Trump name like a badge of honor. Trump's sons are set to take over Trump industries, which have raised concerns over Trump's ability to be impartial to any conflicts in interest.
Phoney's cousins, Fone Bone and Smiley, have zero interest in taking part of his businesses. Smiley, however, gleefully helps Phoney out, from dressing up as a cow or making Phoney's currency. Very much like Pinky in Pinky and the Brain. However, Smiley is similarly kind-hearted as Fone Bone is, from his devotion to the rat creature cub Bartleby to forcing Phoney to pay back all the people they stole food from when they were kids. While this all seems counterintuitive, it should be noted that he does the less honorable deeds simply to help Phoney rather than any inner desire to gain wealth. Smiley even earns a "90/10" split of the profits with no complaint (Ill let you guess which part he gets)
Fone Bone, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with Phoney's schemes, and frequently begs him to go straight. This is always met with heavy resistance as the lure of the almighty dollar is too much for Phoney to pass up.
In the end...
Phoney Bone is not an evil character. He's not even a bad guy, per se. He's not stupid, he's actually dangerously clever. He's an egomaniac with scant perspective with others. He thinks he has a leg up on everyone else by virtue of being wealthy. But he doesn't do the things he does to hurt anyone intentionally, least of all his cousins. He simply fails to see the world from a non-materialist point of view.
And I think Donald J. Trump is the same way. Hear me out:
No one rises to presidency aspiring to destroy the country: they want to save it in their own image. Obama wanted to make us look dignified. Bush wanted us to look strong. Clinton wanted us to be practical. Trump wants us to look something like a Rob Liefeld action hero: strong, tough, intense, no-nonsense, intimidating, threatening, "Go hard or go home" mentality, and overconfident with toxic masculinity. And probably with lots of pouches.
I can't pretend I know Trump's true desires. But he's had more than enough time to show a side of him that features compassion, patience, dignity, and understanding. I will support whatever proposal he suggests to help our country if it means the poor get help, our veterans get assistance, our schools get funded, our healthcare gets accessible, our friends get compassion, our enemies get diplomacy, and our infrastructure gets fixed. But he doesn't seem to want to do any of those things, instead tweeting how mean the press is to him and how Alec Baldwin isn't representing him right.
Trump's Achilles Heel is his ego. Phoney Bone is the same. I can't provide any solution as to how to we can overcome Trump and his administration. Life just isn't that simple. Journalists spent over a year pointing out his lies and contradictions to no avail.
But let's try to work together and stand up for what's right. Instead of senselessly bickering and blaming, let's work at finding solutions and make our country a better place. Because we were great already, and we didn't need any stupid hats for that.