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?”