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Patrick Walsh

Never Mind the Strawberries, Our President is Mad

The other night, against my better judgment, I watched the evening news.

Donald Trump sat opposite ABC News correspondent David Muir for what was billed as the President’s first interview in the White House. [see video link below]

Now keep in mind: Donald Trump is sitting in the White House, a full week into his Presidency. The election is over. He won by a comfortable margin of Electoral College votes. And yet, our President remains fixated on the fact that he lost the popular vote, insisting that three to five million fraudulent votes were cast–every single one of which went to his opponent, Hillary Clinton. With paranoiac conviction he claimed: “What’s going on with voter fraud is horrible, that’s number one. Number two: I would have won the popular vote if I was campaigning for the popular vote and I would’ve won that much easier than the Electoral College.”

To his credit, Muir pushed back, challenging Trump with those stubborn things, facts. I quote the exchange here because the truth is worth repeating, though mere transcription doesn’t do justice to our President’s crazed delivery:

    Trump: You have people that are registered who are dead, who are illegals, who are in two states–you have people registered in two states. They’re registered in New York and in New Jersey, they vote twice. There are millions of votes, in my opinion.

    Muir: You’re now President of the United States. When you say “in your opinion millions of illegal votes”–that is something that is extremely fundamental to our functioning democracy, a fair and free election. You say you’re going to launch an investigation into this. What you have presented so far has been debunked. It has been called false.”

    Trump: Take a look at the Pew Reports.

    Muir: I called the author of the Pew Report last night and he told me that they found no evidence of voter fraud.

    Trump: Really? Then why did he write the report?

    Muir: He said, “no evidence of voter fraud.”

    Trump: Excuse me? Then why did he write the report? Then he’s groveling again. You know, I always talk about the reporters that grovel when they want to write something that you want to hear but not necessarily millions of people want to hear, or have to hear.

    Muir: So you’ve launched an investigation?

    Trump: We’re going to launch an investigation to find out. And then the next time and, and I will say this: of those votes cast, none of them come to me, none of them come to me, they would all be for the other side, none of them come to me. But when you look at the people that are registered–dead, illegal, and two states, and some cases maybe three states, ah, we have a lot to look into.

That wasn’t a skit on Saturday Night Live and it wasn’t a conversation overheard in a psychiatric ward, that was the so-called Leader of the Free World and the same man who claimed during his campaign that the election was rigged against him.

Trump moved to another delusional peeve, the size of the crowd at his inauguration. “You and other networks covered it very inaccurately–we had the biggest audience in the history of inaugural speeches,” said Trump, repeating a much-refuted whopper. Then Trump actually took Muir around the White House to show him newly-installed framed photographs of the inauguration audience, all the while pleading with Muir to see what he insisted was the superior size of his audience.

Turning to serious issues, the President vigorously defended two repugnant lies: the efficacy of torture and the notion that members at the highest levels of the intelligence community support its use.

Our President reiterated his fantasy about Mexico paying for a wall to keep itself out of America, a chimera he peddled as if it was no more difficult than tying one’s shoes: “We will be, in a form, reimbursed by Mexico.” Muir interjected, “so they’ll pay us back?” to which Trump replied: “Yeah, absolutely, 100%.”

As I watched this man forcefully defend one absurd accusation after another despite facts to the contrary, I began to have the eerie sense that I’d seen this performance before–the paranoia on the witness stand, the delusional mindset that finds conspiracy omnipresent and explains away every failure by the treachery or incompetence of subordinates: Humphrey Bogart as Captain Queeg in the 1954 film adaptation of Herman Wouk’s novel The Caine Mutiny.

In a career filled with legendary performances, Bogart added another Oscar-nominated bravura as captain of the USS Caine, a fictional Navy destroyer minesweeper in the Pacific during World War II. Over a series of incidents pitting Captain Queeg against his subordinate officers, Queeg shows signs of mental breakdown. A typhoon brings the crisis, forcing Queeg’s executive officer (second-in-command), Lieutenant Steve Maryk, to relieve the captain in order to save the ship.

At the heart of Bogie’s portrayal is a court-martial scene in which Lieutenant Maryk (Van Johnson) and another officer stand trial for mutiny. José Ferrer plays Lieutenant Barney Greenwald, a Marine Corps Judge Advocate General lawyer who defends the court-martialed officers. Ferrer’s cross-examination of Bogart is one of the most riveting exchanges in American cinema. And now it takes on chilling new life:

    Greenwald: Captain, did you ever turn your ship upside down in a vain search for a key that did not exist?

    Queeg: Ah, I don’t know what lies have been sworn to in this court, but I’d like to set you straight on this matter right here and now: a key definitely did exist!

    Lt. Cmdr Challee [the prosecutor]: May it please the court? The witness is understandably agitated by this ordeal and I request a recess to give him a breathing space . . .

    Queeg: I don’t want a recess! I’ll answer all questions right here and now.

    Greenwald: Did you conduct such a search?

    Queeg: Yes I did. As usual, my . . . disloyal officers failed me and the key couldn’t be found.

    Lt. Greenwald: As a matter of actual fact, wasn’t this whole fuss over a quart of strawberries?

    Queeg: The pilfering of food in large amounts or small is one of the most serious occurrences on board ship!

    Greenwald: Yes, but didn’t you learn the mess boys had eaten the strawberries and that you were conducting a search for an imaginary key?

    Queeg: I repeat: the key was not imaginary! And I don’t know anything about mess boys eating strawberries.

    Greenwald: Captain, have you no recollection of a conversation with an Ensign Harding just prior to his leaving the Caine?

    Queeg: What about it?

    Greenwald: Well didn’t Ensign Harding tell you that the mess boys ate the strawberries?

    Queeg: All that I remember is that he was very grateful for his transfer. His wife was ill in the States.

    Greenwald: Captain, do you know where Ensign Harding is now?

    Queeg: I’d have no way of knowing.

    Greenwald: Ensign Harding is in San Diego. His wife is fully recovered. He has already been summoned and can be flown up here in three hours if necessary. Would it serve any useful purpose to have him testify?

    Queeg: No, I, [reaching into his coat pocket for a pair of ball bearings] don’t see any need of that . . . now that I recall, he might’ve said something about mess boys and then again he might not–I question so many men and, uh, Harding was not the most reliable officer.

    Greenwald: I’m afraid the defense has no other recourse than to produce Ensign Harding.

    Queeg: Now there’s no need for that! I know exactly what he’ll tell you: lies! He was no different from any other officer in the ward room, they were all disloyal. I tried to run the ship properly, by the book, but they fought me at every turn. If the crew wanted to walk around with their shirttails hanging out that’s alright, let them. Take the tow line: defective equipment, no more no less. But they encouraged the crew to go around scoffing at me and spreading wild rumors about steaming in circles and then “Old Yellow Stain”–I was to blame for Lieutenant Maryk’s incompetence and poor seamanship–Lieutenant Maryk was the perfect officer but not Captain Queeg. 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–and with geometric logic–that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox did exist and I’d have produced that key if they hadn’t pulled the Caine out of action. I know now they were only trying to protect some fellow officer, uh….

As Queeg’s rambling monologue dissipates into a fog of confusion, everyone in the courtroom–even the prosecutor, so forcefully portrayed by E. G. Marshall–realizes that Queeg may have his ball bearings in hand but he’s lost his marbles.

Our situation is real, not fiction, and far more than a warship hangs in the balance. Our situation transcends left or right, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. Regardless of where any of us stand on the political spectrum, we have to acknowledge the fact that our President is a madman. I’m not using the term figuratively: I mean Donald Trump is mentally unstable. Every day brings new, terrifyingly ample proof. And we have to do something about it.

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association added a passage to their code of ethics, Section 7.3, which came to be called the Goldwater rule after presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. Goldwater had sued Fact magazine over a poll it conducted in which psychiatrists were asked whether he was psychologically fit to serve as President. Essentially, the Goldwater rule states that it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion about a public figure whom the psychiatrist has not examined in person and from whom a consent form to discuss their condition was not obtained.

On February 13, 2017, a letter appeared in The New York Times opinion pages signed by Dr. Lance Dodes, a retired assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Harvard Medical School; Dr. Joseph Schachter, former chairman of the committee on research proposals for the International Psychoanalytic Association; and 33 other psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. It reads:

    Charles M. Blow [a New York Times columnist] describes Donald Trump’s constant need “to grind the opposition underfoot.” As mental health professionals, we share Mr. Blow’s concern.

    Silence from the country’s mental health organizations has been due to a self-imposed dictum about evaluating public figures (the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 Goldwater Rule). But this silence has resulted in a failure to lend our expertise to worried journalists and members of Congress at this critical time. We fear that too much is at stake to be silent any longer.

    Mr. Trump’s speech and actions demonstrate an inability to tolerate views different from his own, leading to rage reactions. His words and behavior suggest a profound inability to empathize. Individuals with these traits distort reality to suit their psychological state, attacking facts and those who convey them (journalists, scientists).

    In a powerful leader, these attacks are likely to increase, as his personal myth of greatness appears to be confirmed. We believe that the grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump’s speech and actions makes him incapable of serving safely as president.


ABC News Muir Interview

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Patrick Walsh served four years as an infantry officer in the 25th Infantry Division. His articles and poetry have appeared in numerous journals and newspapers both here and abroad.
More at his Website:
He is a columnist and Senior Writer for Scene4.
For more of his columns and other writings, check the Archives.

©2017 Patrick Walsh
©2017 Publication Scene4 Magazine




March 2017

Volume 17 Issue 10

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