For a lot of people, especially those of a liberal bent, it recently got a whole lot harder to be a Clint Eastwood fan. A supporter of the Republican presidential candidate as far back as Eisenhower, an interview Eastwood gave along with son Scott to Esquire not two weeks ago showed Clint had no intention of backing away from the party now — not even in its season of madness. Here was one of the greats of the American cinema, a goddamn cultural icon, sounding off like a regular Trumpeteer, labeling millennials the “pussy generation,” decrying a culture of “political correctness” and, to top it all off, admitting he’s likely to vote Donald J in the fall. Those of us hoping Eastwood would see sense on this occasion, as longtime Republican Dennis Hopper did when leaving the GOP behind to vote Obama in 2008, were left sadly disappointed.
Many have been quick to criticize. Last week Meryl Streep vowed to stage an intervention and “correct” her Bridges of Madison County director and co-star, while the thinkpieces have yet to cease. The severity of admonition has varied, but most op-eds can be summed up by Christina Cauterucci at Slate attempting to draw a line under the affair by declaring Eastwood a mere “grizzled bigot” out of step with the times. Many critics have decided Eastwood is just another racist Trump supporter and left it at that. Case closed.
As much as Eastwood’s Esquire comments were deplorable, however, they don’t tell the whole story. The assumption is that Eastwood, in suggesting people “get over” Trump’s routinely outrageous comments, has endorsed everything Trump and the toxic modern GOP stand for wholesale. But a one-hour interview does not make a man, especially not one who’s been around for 86 years. Last week The Inverse argued we should have guessed Eastwood was a Trump supporter all along, simply based on the fact he starred in Dirty Harry in 1971. But what’s perhaps most surprising about Eastwood — beyond the fact that he’s actually a registered Libertarian, having said in 2009 he thought the GOP had lost its way — is that historically he has been exactly the kind of person that ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan would loathe.
Pro-choice, pro-gun control, anti-war — all things Trump (and today’s GOP) aren’t, all things that Eastwood has inflexibly been throughout his career. And when it comes to equal rights, Eastwood’s views can be summed up by a comment he made back in 2004: “You have to believe in total equality. People should be able to be what they want to be and do what they want — as long as they’re not harming people.” Perhaps even more surprising, the non-religious Eastwood doesn’t believe in a god but does believe in meditation, because “I’ve always liked the Buddhist religion.” Like any good Buddhist, Eastwood’s also strongly for environmental conservation and animal rights, even apparently once admonishing his daughter for almost stepping on a cockroach. If Dirty Harry and Eastwood were to ever meet, Detective Callahan would probably be calling this guy the pussy.
It’s difficult to believe the Eastwood that has opposed every American war since Korea and thinks assault weapons should be banned is the same person now voting for the gung-ho, Second Amendment-fetishizing Trump. No one can make the claim Eastwood is supporting Trump and the present-day GOP because he’s suddenly drastically changed his views in later life, either (as did fellow screen hard man Charlton Heston, who began his career a civil rights-supporting, gun control-advocating Democrat and ended it a red meat Republican and head of the NRA). In 2013 Eastwood added his name to a legal brief calling for the legalization of gay marriage, following an interview in 2011 in which he strongly criticized the Republican party’s stance on the matter, and he was only two years ago reiterating his anti-war position after the release of his controversial film American Sniper, lamenting “I just wonder…does this ever stop?”
As Lewis Beale wrote for CNN, it also becomes a lot harder to dismiss Eastwood as a racist when his wife as recently as 2014 was the mixed race Dina Ruiz and when he’s so often in his career made movies about and starring people of colour. In particular, look at 2009’s Invictus, a biopic of Nelson Mandela starring Morgan Freeman, or 2006’s Letters From Iwo Jima, a Japanese-language film that looks at the Pacific Theatre in WWII entirely from the Japanese side. (Compare Eastwood to Woody “I don’t hire black actors unless the role calls for it” Allen, as Beale does, or even contemporary American greats like David Fincher or the Coen brothers, whose casts and subject matter are almost always overwhelmingly white.)
Eastwood quite simply doesn’t sound like someone who would vote for a party that increasingly looks like a fringe movement, ever more racist and authoritarian, determined to relax gun laws, roll back on civil rights and adopt a strictly Christian way of thinking. It doesn’t sit right that someone with the views of Eastwood would be voting for a candidate who thinks women that get abortions should be “punished,” claims global warming is a Chinese myth and has not-so-subtly suggested his supporters shoot his opponent to death.
The truth about Eastwood — that we might not be able to simply dismiss him as some “grizzled bigot” — is uncomfortable. Firstly, because many of Eastwood’s views probably align with those of the typical Democrat; and secondly, because it might mean we have to entirely rethink our image of the average Trump supporter.
What we have in Eastwood is an example of how worryingly far Donald Trump’s appeal stretches. Historically Eastwood sounds like he should be a Clinton guy, but instead he’s voting for someone comfortably at the dark edges of the political spectrum. Eastwood gave his main reason not to vote Clinton (beyond his troubling admission that he can’t stand to listen to her voice for four years) as a simple desire not to see a continuation of the status quo. It helps explain one of Trump’s biggest selling points: even the smart, sensitive ones are willing to overlook Trump’s worst habits for the vague promise that there might finally be some radical changes around here.
Eastwood’s support of Trump also highlights a big problem with party politics in 2016. Eastwood’s views clash with the current Republican norm (and certainly with the Trump platform), but like most American voters he recognizes there are only two viable choices come November, knowing a vote for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson would only be a wasted one. Faced with two options that many voters on both sides think unappealing, we’re finding even the more intelligent, artful and thoughtful among us feel desperate enough to compromise their own beliefs and vote for a complete stab in the dark come November 8th.
It’s sad and not a little bit scary that an artist as brilliant as Eastwood, a filmmaker whom Orson Welles once called “one of America’s finest,” has been swayed by the most dangerous man in America. Dismissing Eastwood as another “poorly educated,” “bigoted” Trump supporter might make us progressives feel better, but ultimately that’s nonsense. Really, Eastwood is just one of millions of Trump supporters, most of whom probably don’t conform to our cozy stereotype of one.