The Caine Mutiny Presidency
Full steam ahead
We’re past the Flight 93 Election. This is now The Caine Mutiny presidency.
The United States is the USS Caine, sailing into stormy seas. President Trump is Humphrey Bogart’s Captain Queeg, the erratic, touchy leader who might be insane. Ross Douthat is Fred MacMurray’s Communications Officer and sea lawyer Thomas Keefer, a man determined to prove Queeg is paranoid.
The only question is whether Mike Pence will step into Van Johnson’s role of Executive Officer Stephen Maryk and remove Trump from his office. Douthat (as Keefer) is calling for Pence and Congress to do just that, on the grounds that President Trump is mentally unfit for office.
If you haven’t seen the movie, there are spoilers galore coming, so if you want to have full enjoyment, stop reading now, or switch to the New York Times for a real-time reenactment.
In Caine, new skipper Queeg arrives and begins to instill some much-needed discipline on a ship grown soft. The crew, and notably Keefer, chafe at the by-the-book orders. The exceptions are XO Maryk and newly arrived Ensign Willie Keith (played by Robert Francis), men who know the best ship only has one captain.
But here is Douthat — or rather Keefer — who interprets everything Queeg does through the lens of abnormal psychology. Keith and Maryk blow off Keefer’s insistent insinuations at first, but Keefer is relentless. He argues Queeg is paranoid, mentally unfit for duty. Under Keefer’s barrage of evidence, even young Keith becomes convinced Queeg has lost his mind. Queeg even has more scoops of strawberries and ice cream than the officers! Notified of Navy regulation “Article 184” by Keefer, XO Maryk relieves a seemingly incapacitated Queeg of duty during the height of a typhoon.
Maryk is then court martialed under the (automatic) charge of mutiny. This is the most dramatic part of the movie.
Many recall the brilliant scene in which defense lawyer Lt. Barney Greenwald (Jose Ferrer) “torpedoes” Queeg, who is left in shambles, an incoherent mess rolling marbles in his hands. Maryk is acquitted.
The movie would seem to be over. The trial proved beyond doubt Keefer’s fears were justified. Maryk is a hero for saving the ship! Yet the camera lingers.
There are the officers celebrating the acquittal when in walks a drunk Greenwald and we come to the real denouement.
Greenwald reveals he had to destroy Queeg, a flawed and now broken man who had done his best to serve the country, because “the wrong man was on trial.” He brings us back through Keefer’s evidence of Queeg’s “paranoia.” This shows Keefer to be the real villain, the true “author of the mutiny.” Keefer’s bumbling psychological diagnosis and his incessant badgering caused the men to turn on Queeg. If Keefer and the other officers had showed the loyalty due to their captain, the tragedy never would have occurred.
Greenwald throws his champagne in Keefer’s face and gives the manliest line of the film, “If you want to do anything about it, I’ll be outside. I’m a lot drunker than you are, so it’ll be a fair fight.” Keefer is left standing alone.
The Story Being Replayed
Douthat, as I say, is Communications Officer Keefer. Douthat did not get his way in the election. Still upset, Douthat wants to use the lunacy clause of the Constitution, more soberly known as the 25th Amendment, to declare our President unfit to perform his duties for reason of, well, lunacy. The text authorizes removal when the President is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” This means incapacity, mental or physical. And since there is nothing physically wrong with our Commander in Chief, Douthat means mental.
He says, “I do not believe that our president sufficiently understands the nature of the office that he holds.” He compares, unfavorably, Trump’s intelligence and demeanor to that of a child. Sounding like a pre-court martial Keefer, he tells Pence (via his column), “Now is a day for redemption. Now is an acceptable time.” You can almost hear his chest swelling.
People like Douthat are pleased that Trump’s (Executive) Orders are not followed or implemented (as our previous President’s unfailingly were). They like that their words cause people to withdraw their “constructive loyalty” (a line from the movie) and support this new President deserves from his own crew (never mind the enemy).
There exists a minor army of Keefer’s interpreting everything Trump does through a psychological lens. Their analyses are just as amateurish and driven by disgust as Keefer’s were in the movie.
Yet there’s one thing the movie Keefer has over the Douthat’s of the press. At the end, Keefer knew what he had done and had acknowledged (silently) his complicity. That realization doesn’t seem to be the case with our great punditocracy.