Like most political satire, Bob Roberts is a time capsule of its era. Set during the fictional 1990 senatorial run of its titular character, writer-director Tim Robbins’s 1992 mockumentary is in part a critique of President Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs and the C.I.A. overreach of the ‘80s and a takedown of the moral crusades that came to a head in the mid-to-late ‘90s. But while its targets are tied rather tightly to a specific time in America’s political past, this shrewdly drawn portrait of the unsettling intersection of entertainment, business, and politics now feels surprisingly prescient.
Viewed through the funhouse mirror of America’s current political climate, there’s an intriguing and frightening through line from the conservative folk-singing politician Bob Roberts (played by Robbins) to Donald Trump. Both men have an uncanny ability to use the media for their own gains, painting themselves as the antagonized victim of fact-based reportage while crafting the image of the wealthy conservative rebel who will cut government excesses as a way to restore power to the common man. But where Trump is brash and boorish, Roberts is slick and mannered—a wolf in sheep’s clothing in an age before Americans simply welcomed in the wolf at their door.