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.”