Bob Roberts: A 1992 movie that predicted Donald Trump

Bob RobertsThe 1992 movie “Bob Roberts” offers an uncannily prescient, satirical look at a candidacy much like Donald Trump’s.

Written, directed by and starring Tim Robbins, “Bob Roberts” is a mock-umentary about an ultra-conservative millionaire businessman—who’s also a folksinger—who  runs for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. He is supported by fanatic followers. He spouts a xenophobic, America-first, me-first, all-about-the-money philosophy. His followers exhibit some very weird, cult-like behaviors, and are routinely violent against people protesting his candidacy. He even hosts a a beauty pageant–and sings the theme song “She’s a Beautiful Girl.”

I had seen this film before, but I couldn’t have known at the time that it would be the script for the Trump campaign. This time around, I was floored by the jaw-dropping parallels. The one big difference is that, in “Bob Roberts,” the media is openly disgusted by his campaign. They do chase around after him in a Trump-like frenzy, but they’re not fawning–more like ogling.

This is a really good movie—its production values, acting and dialogue hold up very well 26 years later. As you watch it, you’ll recognize members of the supporting cast as younger versions of actors who are better known today. You’ll be name-checking all the way through the movie. [Teaser: One of the out-of-control Roberts fanboys is played by a very young Jack Black.]

Also, the folk songs that Roberts uses to promote his philosophy are hilarious. [Tim Robbins wrote them and performs them—straight-faced– as well.] As Roberts, Tim Robbins does a right-wing version of Bob Dylan’s famous “Subterranean Homesick Blues” video, in which key words are hand-written on cue cards that he drops as the soundtrack plays. In another perverse homage to Dylan, he leads swaying, adoring fans and a church choir in an anthem called “ Times Are Changin’…Back.”  He even steals from Woody Guthrie in a song called “This Land Was Made for ME.”  It’s worth your while to listen closely to the lyrics of the Bob Roberts songs, and not simply dismiss them as soundtrack, background music.

“Bob Roberts” didn’t get the attention it deserved when it was first released–probably because it seemed too wacky and improbable. Unfortunately, reality has now caught up with it.

Here’s the trailer:

Gloria Shur Bilchik Gloria Shur Bilchik (624 Posts)

Gloria Shur Bilchik is a freelance writer and community volunteer in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the editor of Occasional Planet. She views the preservation of democratic values and progressive programs as vital to making the US a humane, livable place for her children and grandchildren.

  • Stacy Mergenthal

    I watched this (for free on Amazon, if anyone cares) and it is downright spooky how insightfully absurd it is. It makes me wonder if political operatives get their ideas from Hollywood or vice versa. The tactics used by the Roberts campaign are easily recognizable manipulations common today. (And the songs Bob Roberts sings? Hilarious but jarringly honest rightwing positions.) I was in middle school when this move came out and wasn’t politically involved at the time but I remember enough that Tim Robbins’s character also reminded me of Ronald Reagan. Just me?