In a previous column, I drew comparisons between the paranoia and chaos occurring in Washington, D.C., and the film “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.”
But given recent events, the more appropriate analogy would be the 1954 classic “The Caine Mutiny.” With his eccentric performance at the East Wing news conference on Thursday, the president appeared to be channeling Humphrey Bogart as Lt. Cmdr. Philip Francis Queeg in the witness chair justifying his manic search for whoever ate his strawberries: “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.”
The result was a chilling silence in the room as observers came to the same conclusion: Something is not right here.
Many of us had a similar reaction on Thursday. Consider this Trump quote: “Tomorrow, they will say, ‘Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.’ I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people. But — but I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I’m having a good time doing it. But tomorrow, the headlines are going to be, ‘Donald Trump rants and raves.’ I’m not ranting and raving.”
And then came his equally unhinged tweet the following day: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”
As the Caine’s communications officer (played by Sonoma County rancher Fred MacMurray) said of Queeg, “He’s a Freudian delight.”
But mutiny is also an operative term these days. Dissent is clearly growing in the ranks. The White House has sprung more leaks than California’s water system. And it’s not just members of the intelligence community who are airing dirty laundry.
A new Twitter account popped up last month — Rogue POTUS Staff (@RoguePOTUSStaff) — purportedly run by unidentified disgruntled individuals within the Trump administration offering tips on what’s happening inside.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that scientists, lawyers and policy experts within the Environmental Protection Agency were calling senators in a desperate attempt to urge them to not confirm Scott Pruitt, a sworn enemy of environmental protections with close ties to fossil fuel companies, as head of the EPA. The Senate confirmed him on Friday anyway.
Ten members of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders resigned Wednesday saying, in a letter to the president, that they opposed his “portrayal of immigrants, refugees, people of color and people of various faiths as untrustworthy, threatening, and a drain on our nation.”
Noted the Time magazine cover story this week by Philip Elliott, “Little takes place in the White House these days without a complication or contradiction. Take the dismissal of national security adviser Michael Flynn. As senior aides prepared to announce his departure as a resignation, counselor Kellyanne Conway, who often boasts of her direct access to Trump, went on TV to declare that Flynn had ‘the full confidence of the president.’ … The result of all the melodrama is a sense of constant chaos for a watchful nation and a crippling anxiety for White House officials.”
Some of the leaks are clearly acts of resistance. Some also are related to the competitive, “Apprentice”-like environment Trump likes to create within his power structure. As Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist told the Hill, “It’s clear that a few individuals believe that if they knee-cap a few of their colleagues, they will benefit — whereas, in fact, they are weakening the president.”