The New York Times reported over the weekend that Donald Trump Jr., the president’s oldest son and one of his most vocal proxies, met with a Russian lawyer on June 9, 2016 — shortly after his father became the apparent Republican nominee for president — allegedly because he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse: damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
And then, in an apparent effort to downplay the story, Trump Jr. instead confirmed it, in a story that keeps snowballing.
The sequence of events immediately renewed interest in a pop cultural comparison we’ve seen before: between Trump Jr. and Fredo Corleone, second son of mob don Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic Godfather films. Twitter, being Twitter, was merciless:
Donald Trump Jr. finally proves he's the Fredo of the family in one NY Times article.— Matt Lipton (@mattliptoncomic) July 10, 2017
"I can handle things! I'm shmaaart!" pic.twitter.com/Dwss3b5Llk
TFW you're suddenly the most talked-about Corleone and they're comparing you to Don Jr. pic.twitter.com/vuTzzWX8vF— Fredo Corleone (@real_fredo) July 11, 2017
Fredo has decided he needs a wartime consigliere https://t.co/hohFUN0soD— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) July 11, 2017
Admittedly, the comparisons kind of make themselves. Vito (played by Marlon Brando) has three sons: Sonny (James Caan), Fredo (John Cazale), and Michael (Al Pacino). Sonny is the brash and bloody one; Michael is the calculating war hero who tries to stay out of the family business but ends up running the operation. Fredo, the middle son, is the weak link, an insecure womanizer who tries to help out but keeps sticking his foot in his mouth.
In 1972’s The Godfather, Sonny takes over the family operation after an assassination attempt on his father, but he is eventually assassinated himself, after which Vito chooses Michael — not Fredo — to run the family. Given that Michael is the youngest, and given Fredo’s insecurity, this creates a rift between the two brothers.
In The Godfather: Part II, a frustrated Fredo tries to make a power play by colluding with Johnny Ola — a rival gangster — and winds up inadvertently giving him information that helps Ola's plot to off Michael. He later tells Michael he’s never met Ola — and then royally self-owns when he blurts out to someone else that he did meet Ola.
It probably goes without saying that Fredo doesn’t last long after that. Michael sees to it.
Don Jr.’s attempt to salvage his reputation by sabotaging it instead certainly prompts the Fredo comparison — and, the Daily Beast reports, it turns out this isn’t a new nickname. Some staffers had reportedly been calling Donald Jr. Fredo (and Ivanka Michael) behind his back since the days of the campaign, when it became obvious that he lived in terror of displeasing his father but couldn’t seem to help doing so anyway:
People who worked and interacted with “Junior” during his father’s political rise in the Republican Party aren’t entirely surprised that the oldest Trump son would find himself in this mess. Current White House officials and former Trump campaign staffers recall Trump Jr. as a recurring liability and a chronic headache for the presidential campaign, prone to unforced errors and ill-advised activity on social media and elsewhere, and the precise “opposite of political savvy,” as one official put it.
Officials highlighted Trump Jr.’s failings as a campaign surrogate by pointing specifically to his news-cycle-hijacking tweet about poisoned Skittles and Syrian refugees and his friendly radio interview with Trump-boosting, white-supremacist host James Edwards in March of last year, among other incidents.
Of course, the comparison is somewhat flawed in the fact that Don Jr. is the oldest of Donald and Ivana Trump’s children, followed by Ivanka, then Eric (who seems to have receded from the spotlight after a recent scandal of his own). But the birth order may not matter all that much: The president’s fondness for his daughter and trust in her judgment is well known; she, along with her husband, Jared Kushner, is the only Trump child with an official post in the White House, while her brothers took over the family business. Donald Jr. tweeted about his sister recently too:
Nonetheless, it’s not a perfect comparison — no comparison between fictional pop culture and real life ever is. And some tweeters weren’t quite convinced:
The Don Jr. is Fredo comparisons are funny, but inaccurate. Accurate wold be that Don Jr. is Fredo and the Godfather is also Fredo.— Michael Ian Black (@michaelianblack) July 11, 2017
The theory that Don Jr is Fredo must and cannot grapple with the existence of Eric. This is true. I'm an expert.— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) July 11, 2017
Ive long wondered who the Fredo of the Trump family is and I've come to the conclusion that it's just a family of Fredos.— Erin Gloria Ryan (@morninggloria) July 9, 2017
Everything keeps calling Don Jr "Fredo" when Don Don from Cannonball 2 is a far more accurate comparison. pic.twitter.com/VHSUpDKk4S— Cher (@thecherness) July 11, 2017
After the events of the past 24 hours or so, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Donald Jr. take a step back from the family business for a bit. But who knows? After all:
Note: This piece has been edited to more accurately reflect the plot of Godfather II.