Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Emperor's New Mutiny

This is extraordinary. Just a few days ago, I posted a piece mentioning that Trump was "trying to out-crazy Onion stories" and comparing him to "an imbecilic Captain Ahab – obsessive and prone to reckless decisions that endanger those he is supposed to lead, but without any redeeming qualities like, oh, basic knowledge of his chosen profession." Now he is choosing to compare himself to Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty, which he claims "was one of my all-time favorite movies." But apparently Trump has never seen it, or completely misunderstood it, because Bligh is the villain, and does not fare well. (Or maybe Trump identifies with the villain and is so delusional he thinks others share his worldview… or can be bullied into accepting it.) Trump also brings to mind the obsessive, unstable Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny. (Pick your favorite unfit captain, or combine them all!) This episode is reminiscent of Trump retweeting a meme of him playing the violin that was originally posted by his social media director Dan Scavino. It instantly drew comparisons to the tale of Nero fiddling while Rome burned, and apparently neither Scavino nor Trump got the reference.

To recap, Trump has said "I don't take responsibility at all" about a key pandemic response failure and also claimed, We're a backup. We're not an ordering clerk," meaning he has no responsibility to all the states lacking critical supplies.

Meanwhile, Trump keeps insisting he can command governors to reopen their states, when that pesky Constitution and case law say otherwise. The Washington Post covered one of these incidents in "Trump's propaganda-laden, off-the-rails coronavirus briefing":

Trump also used the briefing to repeatedly suggest he had absolute power to deal with the situation, despite the Constitution and centuries of Supreme Court precedent. He said he had "ultimate authority," adding: "The president of the United States has the authority to do what the president has the authority to do, which is very powerful. The president of the United States calls the shots." He said later that "when somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total, and that's the way it's going to be."

In other words, in his usual angry, incoherent style, Trump is simultaneously refusing any responsibility but insisting he has absolute power. It's characteristically lazy, clueless and dickish.

Speaking of which, Trump is especially vicious to women (and people of color, and particularly women of color) and here's a news segment on Trump's propaganda that also shows him being petulant and remarkably nasty to CBS' Paula Reid:

Needless to say, governors, many constitutional lawyers and everyone who remembers basic civics disagreed with Trump's tantrum assertions. As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pointed out:

"We don't have a king," Cuomo said on NBC's Today. "We have a president. That was a big decision. We ran away from having a king, and George Washington was president, not King Washington. So the president doesn't have total authority."

(Dick Cheney and David Addington, with their batshit, authoritarian, unitary executive theory might agree with Trump if they were still in power, but even the loathsome Liz Cheney chimed in to criticize Trump at least this once, and Trump has backpedaled somewhat.)

Trump likes to pretend he's an absolute monarch, attacking career officials doing their jobs and serving their country instead of Trump as "the deep state"; he stands exposed as a buffoon like the emperor in Hans Christian Anderson's tale; he is railing against a nonexistent mutiny because on this and many matters he doesn't actually possesses authority to overthrow; he's an oversized brat throwing a tantrum for not getting his own way.

It bears mentioning, though, that as much as Trump deserves mockery, he deserves scorn much more. His staggering incompetence and corruption have made the pandemic crisis shockingly worse, and many people will die or suffer because of it.


That's the political part of this post. I did want to spend a little time on the films.

The historical Captain William Bligh was a complex figure and not a straightforward villain; some accounts have painted him much more favorably. The general consensus seems to be that Bligh was a superb navigator (and the Bounty tale includes a striking example of this), but not a natural leader or good manager of his crew.

The 1935 Mutiny on the Bounty is the most famous film version of the story, directed by Frank Lloyd, starring Charles Laughton in a great performance as Bligh, and Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian. It was nominated for eight Oscars and won Best Picture. It's well worth a look; I find Laughton a particularly interesting actor. (Incidentally, he played Nero in Cecil B. DeMille's film The Sign of the Cross.) The one part that feels odd is the moment of Fletcher Christian's rebellion – several incidents occur that stir him but don't clinch the decision to mutiny, which comes rather suddenly after a lull. It's a great film of the era, though, and clips along despite being a bit over two hours.

The 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty, directed by Lewis Milestone, stars Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian and Trevor Howard as Captain Bligh, and clocks in just under three hours. Richard Harris and Hugh Griffith have supporting roles. This version is handsomely filmed, but it feels slower and lower energy to me and I've never really gotten into it. I also prefer Brando in many other films. But it certainly has its fans, and you may be one of them.

I do like the somewhat underrated 1984 film The Bounty directed by Roger Donaldson, starring Anthony Hopkins as Bligh (doing a proper Cornish accent) and Mel Gibson as Fletcher Christian. Bligh comes off as harsh but not entirely without cause, and is sympathetic and even admirable at points. Fletcher Christian comes off as popular and charismatic, but also an immature dilettante. The film also has Laurence Olivier, Daniel Day-Lewis, Liam Neeson, Bernard Hill and Edward Fox in supporting roles, plus a screenplay by Robert Bolt, some pretty scenery and a score by Vangelis.

Finally, The Caine Mutiny is a very good film set during WWII directed by editor-turned-director Edward Dmytryk. It boasts a superb performance by Humphrey Bogart as the prickly, paranoid, slowly unraveling Captain Queeg. Even when Queeg is outwardly calm, he fidgets with some metal balls in his hand, one of the great character-prop choices in acting and directing. The supporting cast includes José Ferrer, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray, E.G. Marshall and Lee Marvin.

(Naturally, film buff Digby posted on this story as well and includes a key scene from The Caine Mutiny.)


M. Bouffant said...

Continuing the naval theme, Buttermilk Sky notes Mr. Roberts.

Batocchio said...

Good call! I thought of mentioning Mr. Roberts, which doesn't have a true mutiny but does have an awful captain and rebelling against him. Buttermilk Sky makes a good connection. Fauci and Mr. Roberts are cut from the same cloth.