In Steven Spielberg’s iconic 1975 horror film “Jaws,” a drama teacher named Lee Fierro plays the mother whose son was killed by the shark. In a memorable scene, she walks up to the local police chief and slaps him after learning he knew that a girl was killed in a shark attack. “You knew it was dangerous, but you let people go swimming anyway,” she told him while crying. “You knew all those things and still my boy is dead now, and there’s nothing you can do about it. My boy is dead. I wanted you to know that.”
It’s a powerful, even unforgettable scene, payback for the failure of leadership that led directly to death.
I live in Edgartown, which represents Amity in “Jaws,” and reminders of the film are everywhere: The Chappy Ferry, the “Amity Hardware” sign in the local hardware store are just two examples.
When I’m lucky, I also hear stories about the production that took place 46 years ago. Here’s one particularly relevant anecdote: That memorable slapping scene required 19 takes. That’s right, she slapped Amity Police Chief Brody, played by Roy Scheider, NINETEEN times before director Steven Spielberg was satisfied.
But that was just one fictionalized death, and one slap across the face. How many people who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 would line up to slap the face of Donald Trump, who knew in January that the virus was airborne and far more dangerous than the flu? How many would like to say, to his face, “You knew all those things and still my (parent, spouse, child) is dead now, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Make no mistake about it: Trump knowingly lied to us, time and again, about the coronavirus. In April, he said the virus would be gone by Easter, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Washington Post compiled a helpful list of 34 different occasions when Trump said the virus would go away. He never told the truth, and more than 215,000 Americans have died.
And Trump wasn’t the only one who knew but failed to speak out. His national security team told him early on. Should they have resigned when he lied to the American people? They didn’t, and Americans died.
Bob Woodward knew that Trump knew because he admitted as much in a series of interviews, but Woodward said nothing until his book “Rage” was ready to be sold. If he had spoken out — released the transcripts — in May or June or July, he might have saved 100,000 American lives.
When Lee Fierro died in April at age 91, Los Angeles Times columnist Mary McNamara wrote the following powerful words: “Fierro’s turn as Mrs. Kintner remains one of the most powerful scenes in ‘Jaws.’ She is there to remind the audience that each person who is lost leaves grief and desolation in his or her wake. And, more important, that this loss, grief, and desolation must be laid at the feet of those officials who chose to ignore the facts, the experts, and the obvious. Those mayors and safety inspectors and presidents who, because it was easier for them, chose to simply hope for the best.
“We are all Mrs. Kintner now.”
You knew, Mr. President. You knew there was a shark out there, you knew it was dangerous, you knew we were not prepared — and now our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, friends and neighbors are dead.
Let’s go back to that scene and the 19 takes. Suppose, just suppose, that 215,000 grieving survivors got to slap Donald Trump in the face. And suppose it took each of them NINETEEN takes to get their slap right.
That’s about FOUR MILLION slaps across the face of Donald J. Trump!
While it may make your day to imagine a massive “slap-athon,” it’s not going to happen. Instead, we can figuratively slap Trump on Nov. 3. Vote him out, along with all his enablers who are on a ballot, like Senators McConnell, Graham, Collins, McSally, Tillis, and Ernst. Urge others to register and vote, particularly if they live in swing states. Donate to candidates up and down the ballot.
Let’s do everything we possibly can to hold Trump accountable — and to reclaim our country.
Retired journalist John Merrow, author of “Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education,” lives in Edgartown. Donald Devet, who created the photo mashup, is a retired puppeteer living in South Carolina.