President Queeg

Every Wednesday, I look for a timely subject to talk about. Then I try to look at it from an angle that hasn’t already been hashed over by the media. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But in these Trump times it’s really becoming difficult to come up with any kind of fresh perspective on our national leader and his approach to important events.

Week after week it feels like we’re being hit by some new crises, then we start wondering, “what will Trump do this time?” For the millions of Americans paying attention, this is becoming exhausting. In fact, soon after Trump’s inauguration, Time Magazine reported on an American Psychological Association Stress in America study that, among other things, revealed two-thirds of the people surveyed said they were stressed about the future of the country, including nearly 60% of Republicans and 76% of Democrats. (Who knows where those numbers are now after 7 months of Trump?)

To paraphrase an old radio D.J. line, “The crises just keep on comin’!” Political standoffs, foreign threats, hate group violence, natural disasters. Yet through it all, President Trump has been remarkably, some would say frighteningly, consistent in his behavior.

No matter how critical the situation might be, Donald Trump somehow manages to turn it into an opportunity to in some way talk about himself. He’ll comment on the crowd he’s drawn, or take a shot at a reporter from the “fake news” or make a pointed comment meant to slap down all Americans not aligned with his voter base. He continues to act like he’s still the adored hero on the campaign trail and not the person elected to lead all of the country as President. It is bizarre. Unnerving. It’s the behavior of a man with some serious psychological defects.

In saying this about Trump’s mind, I admit that I’m biased because the man disgusts me. But I’m not alone in my concern for his mental state. I haven’t seen such an open discussion of a president’s sanity since Richard Nixon had access to the nuclear codes. With Trump, no matter how grave the situation or how much suffering is right in front of him, he reveals he possesses no empathy. When it comes to that critically important personal quality, it is like Donald Trump was born blind.

If the stakes weren’t so high and Mr. Trump didn’t hold his present job, I could almost feel sorry for him. The fact is, when I watched his unscripted second attempt to explain his initial comments on Charlottesville – when he appeared in the Trump Tower lobby while his Chief of Staff, John Kelly, stood nearby looking very unhappy – I did feel a twinge of sympathy. He was flailing away trying to explain why his “many sides” quote was justified. He seemed to have no idea why so many people were critical of him.

Watching Trump’s desperate behavior reminded me of someone I’d seen somewhere in the past but I couldn’t put my finger on who. Then I read a column by someone (I apologize I can’t remember the name) and he mentioned Captain Queeg of the “Caine Mutiny.” Exactly! Captain Queeg testifying at his court-martial, desperately explaining the imagined plots against him.

Of course there is a difference between the fictional Queeg character and the real President Trump. Before his breakdown, Queeg had a past that included commendable wartime service to his country. Our President missed his opportunity to serve due to five draft deferrals for heel bone spurs.

As I thought about Queeg on the bridge of his ship I realized that President Trump, in his Oval Office, is also surrounded by military men. His Chief of Staff John Kelly and his Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, are both retired Marine generals. His National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster is a retired Army general. This is unusual. But from what I’ve read, Trump seems more inclined to listen to these advisors with their high-ranking military backgrounds.

Is this good? If we had a President who was less capricious, then having a more conventional lineup of key advisors would seem safer. However in the President’s case, there is a lot to be said for having advisors that Trump actually listens to – especially if they are more informed and rational than he is. (A good bet.)

I can only hope these retired generals appreciate the costly errors that kept us in Vietnam and led us into a full-scale and unnecessary Iraq Invasion. If that is the case, perhaps Trump’s deferral to their advice will mean that, at least on international issues, they will guard against the President going off in some crazy direction.

And Domestically? Trump may still be prone to saying and doing many outrageous things. We can also hope the advisors he listens will have the instincts to steer him away from the most destructive domestic actions.

What Captain Queeg needed and, at a critical time, didn’t have on his minesweeper Caine was a cadre of officers ready to help him make rational decisions. It caused Queeg to lose his mind. — Let’s keep our fingers crossed Trump’s advisors are better than that because the President can’t afford to lose any more of his.

Nels Howard
NTDO member since 1973