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Civil War is a terrifying film, but Trump: The Sequel will be a real-life horror show

Director, cast and critics all agree: Civil War, the movie depicting America tearing itself to bloody bits while a cowardly, authoritarian president skulks in the White House, . But it is, really.

Likewise, the first ever , now playing to huge audiences in New York, is ostensibly about claims that Trump fraudulently bought the silence of a former porn star called Stormy after a tacky Lake Tahoe tryst. But it isn’t, really.

Both movie and trial are about a Trump second term. They’re about sex, lies and videotape, about trust and betrayal, truth and division. They’re about democracy in America, where political feuds and vendettas swirl, guns proliferate and debates over civil rights are neither civil nor right.

Alex Garland’s smash-hit “post-ideological” and the Manhattan courthouse peak-time showdown are both ultimately about the same things: the uses and abuses of power, about a nation’s journey to extremes where, as in Moby’s song, it falls apart.

Talking of disintegration, what a diminished figure Trump now cuts in court. Slouched, round-shouldered and silenced alongside his lawyers, he acts up, sulky, aggrieved, childishly petulant. The room is cold, he whinges. Potential jurors rudely insult him to his face! It’s all so unfair.

Trump never did dignified, not even in the Oval Office. Yet even by his tawdry standards, this daily demeaning before an unbending judge is irretrievably, . The loss of face and sustaining swagger begin to look terminal. For Trump the alleged criminal conspirator, as opposed to Trump the presidential comeback king, the familiar campaign cry of “Four More Years!” has a disturbing ring. Four years in chokey is what he faces if found guilty on .

It’s no coincidence, so Trump camp followers believe, that Civil War premiered in election year. No surprise, either, that a Democratic district attorney pushed for the trial. Or that by the “liberal media” suggests Trump is losing ground to Joe Biden.

Despite all that, the screenplay is unchanging. Trump’s blockbuster second march on Washington is merely on pause, Maga-men say. He’s making an epic sequel and he’ll be back in November with all guns blazing – which is the problem, in a nutshell.

If you doubt it, just look at Pennsylvania. Even as the defendant, dozy and defiant by turns, snoozed in court and , this same presumed 2024 Republican champion was effortlessly sweeping last week’s party primary with .

Donald Trump in Manhattan criminal court on 26 April.

There’s no real-world contradiction here. A grumpy Trump scowling at the bench and a Civil War-like wannabe dictator hot for White House power and glory are united in one unlovely, vicious personage. Two sides of the same bent cent. The list of Trump’s crimes for which he has yet to be tried extends far beyond the New York indictment and the charge sheets in three other pending cases. Like Tom Ripley, the sociopathic narcissist anti-hero of Netflix’s popular , Trump is violently dangerous beyond all knowing.

The lethal 6 January insurrection he incited and applauded was stark treason against the republic. No argument. The racist relativism of in 2017 foreshadowed recent, unrepentant talk of “”. His corrosive words burn like acid through the social fabric. No could wish for more than Trump’s eager feeding of America’s gun addiction, support for domestic execution and assassination overseas, collaboration with murderous dictators, debasement of the supreme court and hostility to open government, free speech and impartial reporting.

No Ripley-style conman or fraudster could hope to emulate the master criminal’s arm-twisting of Ukraine to dig up dirt on , Hunter, his political protection rackets and shameless nepotism, his suborning of his party, Congress and the legal system or his rich man’s contempt for the ordinary Joe who actually pays taxes.

A prospective second Trump term presages obsessive score-settling at home and abject appeasement abroad. Judges, law officers, witnesses, female accusers, military men, diplomats, academics and critical media may be among the early victims of a national revenge tragedy – a personalised purge of the institutions of state that could prove .

Trump’s fawning obsequiousness towards Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and , spell disaster for Ukraine. Nor can there be much confidence, for all his bluster, that he would stand up to China should it .

Prepare, too, for a likely European rupture and trade war, a Nato split and an unravelling of 75 years of transatlantic collaboration. Prepare for an out-of-control global arms race, unchecked nuclear weapons proliferation on Earth and in space and the wholesale abandonment of climate crisis goals. A Trump success in November, with all the ensuing chaos, schism and constitutional outrages, would bring closer both an end to peaceful, rational debate within America and the demise of US global leadership.

So truly, is Civil War so very far off the mark? Is it really not about Trump and Trumpism? It’s certainly more comforting to frame the movie as an entertainment, to interpret its studied avoidance of direct references to present-day politics as reassurance that, at heart, it’s essentially make-believe. But that denialist view is itself a type of escapism or wishful thinking. It won’t .

In one untypical, symbolic scene, the war-weary photojournalist played by Kirsten Dunst, all body armour and pursed lips, tries on a pretty dress in a downtown store insulated from the fighting. It is as if she, like America, is trying, fleetingly, to recover her humanity.

It’s unclear whether she succeeds. More hopeful moments like that, and a good deal less trumpery, are badly needed now.