A 71-year-old Fantasist
If you haven’t read --- or heard about --- Andrew Sullivan’s essay, entitled “Trump’s Mindless Nihilism” in the current New York magazine, I highly recommend it. The most quoted sound bite about Trump’s “policies” in the piece is this:
They are the unhinged fantasies of a 71-year-old Fox News viewer imagining he can reconstruct the late 1950s.
Discussing Trump’s interview with Sean Hannity at the end of last week, Sullivan says:
Trump is careening ever more manically into a force of irrational fury. I watched his infomercial with Hannity Wednesday night (Oct. 11th) and see a sharp decline even from his previously unhinged and malevolent incoherence.
Harsh criticism, for sure, but even more so because Sullivan is a Conservative writer/blogger/pundit (though not a big supporter of current Republican Party “conservativism”). We pretty clearly see the “force of irrational fury” as we watch Trump fan the flames of the NFL controversy, a signature (irrational)“distraction” move by the Reality-Show-Host–turned–“President.” Sensing he may be losing momentum on that front and suffering defeat-after-defeat to his “agenda” (Where’s that Wall? How’s Obamacare doing? What was the latest ruling on the “travel ban?” etc.) Trump has shifted to another hallowed icon: Christmas.
When Trump told the Values Voter Summit that “we” would be “saying Merry Christmas again” he was clearly seeking to resurrect the ghost of Bill O’Reilly Past and his phony “War on Christmas” bullshit. (BTW: Did he consult with Jared and Ivanka about this?) Personally, I believe Michael Che’s response to this on Saturday Night Live’s Weekly Update (October 14th) sums it up beautifully:
Dude, people say “Merry Christmas" all the time. My Deli Guy is Muslim, and he says “Merry Christmas” every time he makes me a ham sandwich. You know what? I don’t want to say “Merry Christmas” any more ‘cause I don’t like that Trump supporters always want us to be specific when it’s about stuff that’s important to them. You know, it can’t “Happy Holidays,” it’s got to be “Merry Christmas.” It can’t be “Save the Planet,” it’s got to be “America First.” But then, when somebody wants to stand up for Black people, gays, or women, they’re like: “Hey, what about everybody else?” So, you know what? Don’t think of it as me saying “Happy Holidays.” Think of it as me saying “All Holidays Matter.”
But I want to get back to that notion of “the unhinged fantasies of a 71-year-old Fox News viewer imagining he can reconstruct the late 1950s.” When I reflected on it, about “fantasies” from the 1950’s, I thought of movies from that era and three sprung to mind because they made me think of what we’re watching in the White House these days. Knowing our Chief Executive doesn’t read --- but does “watch” --- it’s easy to imagine he may well have been influenced by movies in the 1950’s. The Caine Mutiny (1954), Mister Roberts (1955) and Moby Dick (1956) are three Academy Award nominated, “classic” films from the mid-1950’s and what all three have in common are leaders (“Captains”) who are also “unhinged” and, I believe, may well have imbedded themselves in that bizarre subconscious that is Donald Trump’s mind.
For those who remember the movies, let’s take a look at each and see how they relate to our current “Captain” in the White House. In the Caine Mutiny (adapted from a Pulitzer Prize novel by Herman Wouk), Humphrey Bogart played Captain Queeg. who is described as follows in the novel’s SparkNotes:
He acts stubbornly, rashly, and harshly in many circumstances, but whether the symptoms actually add up to a clinical case of paranoia, as his men claim, is not clear.
In the movie, Queeg’s obsession with strawberries missing from the mess hall, and his ensuing investigation, leads to a memorable scene in which Queeg (Bogart), when testifying in his own defense in the mutiny trial, says:
Ah, but the strawberries, that's, that's where I had them, they laughed at me and made jokes, but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, with geometric logic, that a duplicate key to the ward room icebox did exist, and I've had produced that key if they hadn't pulled the Caine out of action. I, I know now they were only trying to protect some fellow officer. [He pauses - looked at all the questioning faces that stared back at him, and realizes that he has been ranting and raving] Naturally, I can only cover these things from memory. If I left anything out, why, just ask me specific questions and I'll be glad to answer them.
Clearly "unhinged," Captain Queeg is not unlike Captain Morton (James Cagney) in Mr. Roberts. Morton is an officious authoritarian who mistreats his crew and whose cruelty is only mitigated by the intervening efforts of Lt. Junior Grade Doug "Mr." Roberts. Just as the strawberries are symbolic of Queeg’s insanity in The Caine Mutiny, Captain Morton has a “prized palm tree” (wiki) that he treats better than he does his crew. When Roberts can no longer tolerate Morton’s authoritarianism, he throws the palm tree overboard, defying the Captain. Roberts is then transferred to another ship (one more engaged in the Pacific conflict, which Morton had been preventing throughout the film) and is killed, at which point Ensign Pulver (Jack Lemmon), throws Morton’s new palm tree overboard, striking a blow for the crew against Morton’s continued mistreatment.
Moby Dick should need little discussion regarding the “unhinged” Captain Ahab. We all know his obsession with the White Whale (Ultimate, unquestioned “Fame” for Trump?) leads to the destruction of the Pequod and its crew --- a cautionary tale, indeed. So, could it be that these 1950’s “Captains” are embedded in the Trump subconscious and are the “role models” for what he believes a "leader" should be?
Given that Trump seems to live in an alternate universe at times, who knows? Our concern might be another 1950’s film: Forbidden Planet (1956). If you remember that movie, aside from recalling Robby the Robot (the awkward mechanical servant) you may also remember that the native Krell civilization created a machine that could turn thoughts into reality --- but had not considered “The Monsters of the ID,” which, ultimately, destroyed their civilization.
We may wonder if our 71-year-old Fantasist is going to unleash the Monsters of his ID --- if he hasn’t begun to already.