The Trump Presidency And “The Caine Mutiny”—A Reminder

Turner Movie Classics ran “The Caine Mutiny” again last night. It reminded me of what I wrote two years ago, when I really didn’t think that the “resistance” and the Democrats would continue on the destructive path they have for this long. I even wrote, foolishly, “This is the last time I’m going to try to explain why the fair, patriotic, ethical and rational approach to the impending Presidency of Donald Trump is to be supportive of the office and the individual until his actual performance in the job earns just criticism. Attempting to undermine a Presidency at its outset is a self-destructive act, for nobody benefits if a Presidency fails.” Of course, it was far from the last time I returned to the topic. In my defense, how could I know, at a point where the term “the resistance” hadn’t even surfaced yet, that the unparalleled assault on a President would not only continue, but escalate to the point where a newly minted Congresswoman would announce to a cheering mob, “We’re going to impeach the motherfucker!”?

Watching the movie, however, was striking. I know it well; I can recite many of the dialogues from memory. Yet the parallel with the Trump Presidency struck me stronger than ever before, and sent me back to that previous post, in which I wrote,

In The Caine Mutiny, a film version of the stage drama and novel “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial,” Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart), a man whose war-shattered nerves and self-esteem problems have rendered him an erratic and an unpopular officer, falters in his command during a storm. His officers, frightened and already convinced that their captain is unfit for command, mutiny. At their military trial, their defense attorney causes Queeg to have a breakdown on the witness stand, winning the case for the accused mutineers. Later, however, at the post trial victory party, the lawyer, Barney Greenwald (Jose Ferrer),  shames his clients. He represented them zealously, but he tells them that they were, in fact, at fault for what occurred on the Caine:

Ensign  Keith: Queeg endangered the lives of the men.

Greenwald: He didn’t endanger any lives.You did. A fine bunch of officers.

Lt. Paynter: You said yourself he cracked.

Greenwald: I’m glad you brought that up, Mr. Paynter, because that’s a very pretty point. I left out one detail in court. It wouldn’t have helped our case. Tell me, Steve, after the yellow-stain business, Queeg came to you for help, and you turned him down, didn’t you.

Lt. Maryk: Yes, we did.

Greenwald: You didn’t approve of his conduct as an officer. He wasn’t worthy of your loyalty. So you turned on him. You ragged on him, you made up songs about him. If you’d given Queeg the loyalty he needed, do you think all this would have come up in the typhoon? You’re an honest man, Steve, I’m asking you. You think it would have been necessary to take over?

 Maryk: It probably wouldn’t have been necessary.

Keith:  If that’s true, we were guilty.

Greenwald: Ahhh, You’re learning, Willie!  You don’t work with the captain because of how he parts his hair…you work with him because  he’s got the job, or you’re no good.


      Or you’re no good.

Donald Trump is in over his head. He knows it, I think. Maybe, just maybe, with a lot of help, a lot of support and more than a lot of luck, he might be able to do a decent job for his country and the public. It’s a long-shot, but what’s the alternative? Making sure that he fails? Making him feel paranoid, and angry, and feeding his worst inclinations so he’s guaranteed to behave irrationally and irresponsibly? How is that in anyone’s best interest? That’s not how to get someone through a challenge, especially someone who you have to depend on.

My analysis is somewhat different after the events of the past two years. I think Donald Trump is in over his head, yes, but not as far in over his head as I thought he would be, and I am convinced that he doesn’t think he is in over his head at all. (I could also argue that with a few exceptions, every President in out history has been “in over his head.”) There is still no doubt in my mind that he would be a far better and less chaotic leader if he felt that he was receiving the respect, deference and support every other President has received as the automatic benefit of being elected.

It has become clear to me that “the resistance” and Democrats are materially different from the Caine mutineers in ways I naively failed to discern before Trump was sworn in. The Caine’s officers only realized after the crisis that their actions undermining Captain Queeg pushed him to the breaking point and endangered the vessel. President Trump’s foes have been deliberately pushing him to snap, hoping that he would snap, risking a national crisis in order to remove an elected leader they don’t like “because of the way he parts his hair.” They are deliberately endangering the “ship,” the United States of America, to justify their mutiny.

In conclusion, I wrote,

Either the Presidency will make Donald Trump a better man, or Trump will permanently harm the Presidency and weaken it, thus making the office less of an inspiration and source of strength for future occupants. (Nixon wounded the office; so did Carter, and Clinton.) It is absolutely in the nation’s best interests to seek the first result. That requires focusing on the office and its strengths, and uniting as a nation behind that office. The relentless, unprecedented assault on Trump since his election by Democrats and the news media may have already done irreparable damage.

I don’t think the Presidency has been harmed, and as long as Trump isn’t impeached and removed following what is increasingly appearing to be a long-standing plot to criminalize politics and poison public opinion that began even before the votes were in, I don’t see any lasting damage to the institution. I believe the two main groups of mutineers, the news media and the Democratic Party, will have been irreparably harmed because of their betrayal of the trust of the American public.

Post script: Perusing the comments to that post two years ago is illuminating. One anti-Trump commenter, soon to go around the bend and get himself banned, wrote, “I for one am looking to do what I can to strip President Trump of every scrap of power the title gives him.” That is the badge of a mutineer. Another, still active, was then in the throes of the then emergiung hysteria that Trump was a Hitler-like autocrat preparing to plunge the United States into totalitarianism responded to comment about how the treatment of Trump would mean that “a precedent will be set for harassing and showing disrespect to the President-Elect [and] Republicans will remember how Trump was treated and act accordingly the next time a Democrat is elected” by writing, “What makes you think a Democrat will be permitted to be elected in future?”


11 thoughts on “The Trump Presidency And “The Caine Mutiny”—A Reminder

  1. I’m sure Trump’s “dictator for life” executive order, which also allows him to name his successor, is coming any minute now, right after this nuclear war with North Korea wraps up, and once he’s done moving all of the gays into their concentration camps.

  2. Funny how I read “The Caine Mutiny” in high school and saw the movie around the same time, and it’s taken around fifty years for me to really understand what the book really meant. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

    Frankly, I suspect Bogie’s portrayal of Captain Queeg (what a name) had a lot to do with it. He so effectively and devastatingly portrayed Queeg, making him so unsympathetic, that the point of the book (and the movie) was (may have been?) obscured. Maybe not so great directing?

    By the way, Queeg was from Pheonix, Arizona. Probably in an attempt to make clear he was not born to the sea.

    Great post, Jack. Thanks.

  3. Just like the t-shirt says, “I haven’t seen the Democrats this mad since we took away their slaves”. It is a shame that so many people have willingly returned to that abolished servitude and continue in their ‘crab mentality’ to fight against any who seek to escape.

  4. Should there be be more clearly recognised obligations to citizenship, going together with our ‘rights’ as individuals? Striving to cope with conflict without killing each other would be high on my list. Due deference to properly constituted authority should feature somewhere. I’d also include some obligation to participate in governance, ie compulsory voting (as in Australia). Love, admiration and even respect for the ‘Leader’ should be quite optional.

    How about a ‘Bill of Obligations’ to sit with the ‘Bill of Rights’?

    • Bill of obligations? Hmmmmm, seems reasonable to me.

      What is interesting is that AOC wants government to provide guaranteed employment but is also against a work requirement for welfare

    • I’d also include some obligation to participate in governance, ie compulsory voting (as in Australia).

      I’ve mentioned before, I don’t think that’s worked out well here. That’s not a simple civil liberties thing, though at least one anarchist was jailed just for advocating not voting. It’s largely but not only because compulsory voting has allowed the parties to degenerate into being even more isolated from the people as they no longer need the grass roots to get the vote out and they can’t receive “a plague on both your houses” messages from mass abstentions (they idiotically always interpret “against A” as “for B”). The non-transparent kinds of voting they went for aggravate that poor signal to noise ratio, too.

      • In Australia the requirement is only to register at a voting station and pick up voting papers. You are quite welcome to then spoil your vote. So ‘a plague on both your houses’ spoiling vote is a far more powerful message than a US simple failure to vote. And there is far less scope for voter suppression. What I like is the very clear message that ‘you’ are expected to ‘get out of bed’ (or lodge a postal vote or whatever). Taking part in the democratic process is a ‘duty’ like paying your taxes.

        • On the other hand, if you cannot lift a finger to vote, you have self-disqualified yourself to participate. One must think enough to see why one should vote first.

          Making voting a duty to participate may work in Oz, but not so much here. Americans are an ornery bunch.

        • In Australia the requirement is only to register at a voting station and pick up voting papers. You are quite welcome to then spoil your vote.

          Not quite. Rather, you are then quite able to spoil your vote. You are not welcome to spoil your vote. In fact, you once risked jail under a now repealed law if you told people that they were welcome to do that, and possibly still could risk it if the powers that be decided to stitch you up by other means. See Albert Langer’s conviction.

          So ‘a plague on both your houses’ spoiling vote is a far more powerful message than a US simple failure to vote.

          From my own direct observations, and from discussions with members of that breed, no, it doesn’t work out like that. They react with “what a lot of donkey voters we’re seeing these days”, not with “how can we get ourselves over to them?”. There are none so blind as those that will not see…

  5. I wrote this just over a year ago (pulled it from a parallel post on facebook) – it’s pretty depressing how accurate it was, and I can take no credit for seeing the obvious.

    “It was a good, seamless transition of power today, with the actual players acting professionally. Sorry, Michael Moore, your fantasy of forcing the swearing in indoors and maybe forcing it not to happen at all was a fail. Frankly it was an irresponsible fantasy to float. A few idiots acted like idiots…And a lot of them got arrested, no surprise. The real issue is what ‘s going to follow, since the progressive and artistic communities and most of the media have made it clear they are going to be unremittingly hostile.

    This is just the final widening of the crack between right and left that started with the end of the Cold War into a full on Biblical great gulf like the one that separates Lazarus in Heaven from the rich man who ignored him in Hell. In the short term trading on division can bring political rewards, as all of these sectors came together on one thing: hatred of all things Republican and all things connected with GWB. In the long term it brought disaster as those hated united and turned on them. Now they are out of power, out of ideas, and out of luck…for the moment. Donald Trump’s victory did give these sectors ONE thing they need: a target to focus on. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell can disappear into their caucuses, and governors are usually no bigger than their states. However, NOW they can agree to focus on one goal and one goal alone – destroy President Trump. It’s easier than you think, especially when you still control Hollywood and all but one of the major networks.

    Every mistake he makes, make sure it leads the evening news and stays longer than it should. Everything he says that could be made to make him look bad, edit a clip to show only that soundbite and run it again and again, including getting it out there to share and retweet. Every questionable thing that emerges, no matter how long ago or how benign, turn it into a major scandal. Even if it’s a non-issue, like the Valerie Plame affair, turn it into the stubborn boil that never heals or the obnoxious party guest who just won’t leave. Even if it turns out to be unfounded, imply that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, it just means that someone lied, or someone got to someone, or someone covered his tracks too well.

    In the meantime minimize his successes as they come. The economy starts to get off the ground again? It was already on its way there and he just rode the wave. ISIS is finally defeated? They were a house of cards that was ready to come down anyway. Better yet, attack his successes. Securing the border? Stopping the rising violence against the police? Raaaaacist! Make sure you keep that mantra going too – he’s a racist, he’s a hater, he’s a xenophobe, he’s a proto-fascist, he’s a sexist pig. Say it loud enough, confidently enough, and often enough, and people will start to believe it. Keep up the unfavorable comparisons with Obama too, how he was more popular, more loved, etc etc.

    That’s just the role of the media. In the meantime, Hollywood needs to load up the theaters with endless movies about scrappy reporters, boy scout-like middle management guys and noble community activists who shout truth to power and bring down dangerous demagogues by whistleblowing or uncovering nefarious doings, then staying just one step ahead of the corrupt cops or military-intelligence-industrial axis. Throw in a few pseudohistorical productions about escapes from oppression, minority achievements, etc., and a few empowering princess cartoons for the girls. Those in the music end of things, put some clever anti-Trump insults or slogans to catchy tunes and make sure they get a lot of play.

    The role of those not in the media or the entertainment industry – clog both the streets and the internet with endless protests and blogs, so that Joe Average can’t ignore you. Every address or public hearing, be there in force. Every public speech by anyone from the GOP, be there in force. Try to have enough of you to split into two groups, one to create a diversion and tie up security, and a second one to make your point after the first has done their job. Every parade, airshow, fleet week, anything that showcases the military or high officials, be there too, with legal observers (try the National Lawyers’ Guild) to wave signs, chant, and generally make a nuisance of yourself. Nothing sells like peaceful people getting pushed around.”

    How pathetic is this?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.