Published in ’65, Fletcher Knebel‘s “Night of Camp David” was a chilling, half-gripping “what if?” thriller about a first-term Senator who comes to believe that President Mark Hollenbach has become a mentally unstable paranoid nutbag and needs to somehow be relieved of his duties.
51 years later Donald Trump was elected president, and right away people were saying that Hollywood should adapt Knebel’s book before reality overtakes fiction.
And then reality did overtake fiction, and Trump…I don’t think I need to re-summarize his presidency but his calamitous four-year-term ended with (a) the needless deaths of tens of thousands due to Covid, (b) the storming of the U.S. Capitol based on the Big Lie about the 2020 election having been rigged, and finally (c) Trump’s second impeachment trial.
If someone had suggested such a scenario to Knebel while he was outlining “The Night of Camp David” in ’63 or ’64, he would have rejected it for being too extreme. Critics and readers would regard such a tale as a deranged farce, he probably would’ve thought — Dr. Strangelove meets psychotic delusion.
It goes without saying that in the world of 2021, a film based on “The Night of Camp David” would be a so-whatter. It would have been a bracing thriller in the mid ’60s and possibly a dark unhinged farce if adapted at the start of the Trump administration, but now? Seriously?
Yes, seriously — THR‘s Borys Kit is reporting that Paul Greengrass (News of the World, Captain Phillips) has cut a deal with Universal to develop and direct Knebel’s novel.
“The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui,” posted on 11.28.16:
In Stanley Kubrick‘s Dr. Strangelove (’64), it is made 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 Hollenbach in “Night of Camp David“?
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.”