The Caine Mutiny Presidency

Full steam ahead

By William M Briggs Published on May 20, 2017

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.

The Story

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.

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  • Gary

    Trump is sane. The insane are those who think Trump is insane. Or who wish he was. Or hope they can make some kind of a case for it. The FACT is, Trump has done nothing that would justify his removal. Maybe he will in the future, but so far, he has not.

    And another thing. Those who want Trump gone would be just as unhappy with Pence as President. Maybe they think they can get rid of him too and that somehow, magically, Hellary will be named President. Now that’s insanity.

    • Theresa Jane

      Maybe sane, but entirely unfit. Put in Pence, the 2nd or 3rd place candidate, any other Republican. Someone who wouldn’t invite Russians and their equipment into the Oval Office and discuss the FBI Director and the status of the investigation. Someone who doesn’t tweet “Obama tapped my wires”. Someone who doesn’t revere Vladimir Putin.

      • Gary

        You liberals used to adore communists. What changed that?

        • Theresa Jane

          He will find a way to resign before he’s impeached. That’s why you’re so angry.

          • Gary

            You didn’t answer my question. Why did you liberals stop loving communists.

            If Trump leaves office, Pence will be President. I’m fine with that.

          • Theresa Jane

            My original comment said “put in Pence…”. And you replied “you liberals used to adore communists”. I don’t have a clue what you meant.

          • Wayne Cook

            You don’t have a clue period.

      • Wayne Cook

        OH god. Find the frickin’ evidence JANE. 6 intel agencies have tried for 10 months!

        And then go make a brown bag and sit on a park bench until you mind is clear.

        • Theresa Jane

          Evidence for the 3 things I mentioned in my comment above? It’s on the record already. What are you talking about? By the way, make your replies to peoples comments far too personal.

  • Timothy Horton

    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 ultra-conservative RW talking heads still defending Man Baby Trump are the scum-eating barnacles clinging to the bottom of the ship’s hull.

    • Patmos

      “…Man Baby Trump…”

      It always amazes me how you can trace most everything from the left back to a nefarious source. It’s as though they don’t even even realize propaganda exists. The NYT has been pushing this narrative hard, and the lemmings on the left repeat it right on cue.

      At least it’s not a TV commercial this time around. I guess they deserve some points for reading. Well not really, because there is still much lack.

    • Christian Cowboy

      Name calling as usual.

    • Wait – I’m a scum-eating barnacle? I never thought of that! I hate Trump now!

  • Wayne Cook

    Laying in the radio room laughing! Good one!!

  • LYoung

    Mr. Briggs, The Caine Mutiny, one of the most brilliant novels by Herman Wouk ever!
    Film didn’t do it justice but was memorable! You left out the part where the crew members didn’t respond when Cpt. Queen reached out for their help and support early on, after his first mistakes, thus the crew insured the narrative would condemn his later disastrous actions.
    Indeed, the armchair Trump “psychiatrists” give no grace, no encouragement and put everyone on the defensive. It is shameful.
    Great analogy though! Love that film!

  • Ross who?

  • lee Phillips

    I think if Captain Queeg had given critical intelligence to the Nazis the movie would have had a different ending.

  • Djk2450

    Douthat is nothing, as he wishes to change things to suit himself.

  • ArthurMcGowan

    Plurals are not formed with an apostrophe-s.

  • MikeW

    To me, Trump’s rapprochement with Saudi Arabia and Israel is the sane approach to foreign policy in the Middle East, since these countries are the moderate adults in the region. The previous administration’s camaraderie with the Iranian lunatics is more of a sign of insanity.

  • Mad Anthony

    The author is Jewish, isn’t he?

    • Martin Johnson

      Yes. And your point is…?

  • Osmer Deming

    Here’s a quote from the movie (not the book) which seems appropriate: “Ah, you’re learning, Willie! You’re learning that you don’t work with a captain because you like the way he parts his hair. You work with him because he’s got the job or you’re no good!” The issue is this: Is the country willing to work with him or do factions in this country want to see him fail as Captain Queeg failed?

  • Martin Johnson

    You should read the book–the movie leaves the last quarter of the book out–Keefer becomes a ship captain and is incompetent at it because he is indecisive under pressure.

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