Last November I pointed to parallels between Donald Trump‘s obvious mental instability (aka malignant narcissism) and the plot of Fletcher Knebel‘s “Night of Camp David.” The 1965 novel, which was judged a disappointment soon after release, is about a first-term Senator and soon-to-be vice president who comes to believe that the President has become mentally unhinged and needs to somehow be relieved of his duties.
If — I say “if” — someone were to adapt Knebel’s book into a film (for which the best destination would probably be HBO), it would have to rewritten into something far less rational and measured. Behavior that was understood 50-odd years ago to be that of a “stark raving” madman is regarded today as all too familiar.
Lying Donald is detached from reality on such a continuing, day-by-day basis that terms like “cuckoo President” or “Oval Office resident two or three cards shy of a full deck” aren’t shocking anymore. Executive branch insanity has become normalized.
It would be important to adapt Knebel’s novel within 18 months if not sooner because God knows what may happen. Reality is moving a lot faster these days, and everyone is constantly readjusting to new mind-bending behaviors.
From Andrew Sullivan‘s recent New York piece, “The Madness of King Donald”:
“[We have begun] to get a glimpse of what it must be like to live in an autocracy of some kind. Every day in countries unfortunate enough to be ruled by a lone dictator, people are constantly subjected to the Supreme Leader’s presence, in their homes, in their workplaces, as they walk down the street. Big Brother never leaves you alone. His face bears down on you on every flickering screen. He begins to permeate your psyche and soul; he dominates every news cycle and issues pronouncements — each one shocking and destabilizing — round the clock. He delights in constantly provoking and surprising you, so that his monstrous ego can be perennially fed.
“And because he is also mentally unstable, forever lashing out in manic spasms of pain and anger, you live each day with some measure of trepidation. What will he come out with next? Somehow, he is never in control of himself and yet he is always in control of you.
“In [this] sense, it seems to me, we already live in a country with markedly less freedom than we did a month ago. It’s less like living in a democracy than being a child trapped in a house where there is an abusive and unpredictable father, who will brook no reason, respect no counter-argument, admit no error, and always, always up the ante until catastrophe inevitably strikes. This is what I mean by the idea that we are living through an emergency.”
In Stanley Kubrick‘s Dr. Strangelove (’64), it is made abundantly clear early on that General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) is insane. The basic proof is Ripper’s adamant belief in what he calls a “monstrously conceived” Communist plot to inject fluoride into the U.S. water system. Those who insist on their own facts are, by any fair measure, detached from reality and therefore short of a 52-card deck. There are other signs of mental instability but surely the key factor must be a commitment to fantasy and imagination over anything else.
What’s the difference between Ripper’s delusion and the conclusions about the 11.8 election that were tweeted yesterday by President-elect Donald Trump?
Trump stated that in the popular vote he ended up over 2 million votes behind Hillary Clinton because “millions” had voted illegally — a totally fact-free assessment. “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump wrote.
The man is living on his own fake-news planet, and millions of followers have probably bought into this. Campaign-trail bullshit is one thing, but when has a U.S. President-elect ever announced this kind of straight-faced investment in alternative facts? This is what tyrants and dictators do — this is Nero time. Tell me how it’s inappropriate to apply the term “insane” to Trump as this stage. I’m serious.
What’s the difference between Trump and President Mark Hollenbach in Fletcher Knebel‘s “Night of Camp David,” a 1965 thriller about a first-term Senator, Jim MacVeagh, who comes to believe that Hollenbach has mentally gone around the bend and needs to somehow be relieved of his duties? They seem similar to me.
Six months ago The New Yorker‘s Adam Gopnik wrote that “the American Republic stands threatened by the first overtly anti-democratic leader of a large party in its modern history — an authoritarian with no grasp of history, no impulse control, and no apparent barriers on his will to power.”
“And he’s not wrong,” I wrote on 5.31. “And the bubbas don’t care. They feel they’ve been fucked so badly that all bets are off. They’re determined to shoot the place up before dying.”
Gopnik: “If Trump came to power, there is a decent chance that the American experiment would be over. This is not a hyperbolic prediction; it is not a hysterical prediction; it is simply a candid reading of what history tells us happens in countries with leaders like Trump. Countries don’t really recover from being taken over by unstable authoritarian nationalists of any political bent, left or right — not by Perons or Castros or Putins or Francos or Lenins or fill in the blanks. The nation may survive, but the wound to hope and order will never fully heal.
“Ask Argentinians or Chileans or Venezuelans or Russians or Italians — or Germans. The national psyche never gets over learning that its institutions are that fragile and their ability to resist a dictator that weak. If he can rout the Republican Party in a week by having effectively secured the nomination, ask yourself what Trump could do with the American government if he had a mandate.”