Was Trump Our Captain Queeg?

Was Trump Our Captain Queeg?

Victor Davis Hanson
American Greatness

The Left, the NeverTrump Right, and many independents are tiring of Donald Trump’s recitations of prior, however justified, grievances at the hands of the media, the Democratic Party, the administrative state, and hard-core Left.

The conventional wisdom runs that Trump’s whines and victimization recitations reveal deep paranoias, and increasingly to an obsessive degree. We are told that his near neurotic obsessions with the unfairness of his critics are alienating the independent voter, who finds Trump’s strolls down 2020-21 memory lane the same-old, same-old ad nauseam.

True, Trump’s occasional recklessness contributed to many of his misadventures. At least at some point, friendly critics suggest, he might have realized that his nationalist/populist agenda, his orphaned outsider status, his lack of prior political experience, and his estrangement from the Republican political hierarchy, bipartisan Washington, D.C. media and government fixtures gave him no margin of error—despite what prior presidents and our current commander-in-chief have been accorded.

The haters would have hated Trump regardless, But his tweets and ad hominem retorts served to disguise their peremptory venom while instead highlighting his own retaliatory crudity.

“Fact-checkers” doted on every Trump statement, nitpicking them to find some exaggeration, or untruth. Fine. But then these same hypercritics simply went comatose during the Biden Administration, with little care that Biden spins fantasies daily, from a son lost in the Iraq War to insulting claims that he passed his student loan amnesty in the Congress by a close vote, and on and on. With Trump, voters got real achievement with coarseness, with Biden utter failure with near senility.

The media lied about supposed felonious behavior of the two Trump sons during the Russian collusion mania. The same reporters snoozed when Hunter Biden all but served up a guilty writ of felonious behavior on his laptop. Yet Hunter and the Biden accomplices were given de facto exemption by the Department of Justice and “50 former intelligence officials” who were willing to lie about the laptop’s authenticity rather than risk the chance of seeing Trump reelected.

What, then, are we to make of Trump’s endless tales of maltreatment? Is he a genuine victim or a “victimized” near-neurotic, or neither, or both? The question again is apart from what he accomplished and what now is in Trump’s self-interest. Clearly it would be more advantageous for him to move on, speak of his plans for a second term, contrast his own past record with the Biden catastrophe, and refer to balloting only in terms of reform to increase greater scrutiny and audit—but not replay the injustices done to him in 2020.

Target Trump

Yet the truth is that Trump was a victim, no matter how much or how tiresome it is that he recites the endless script of injustices. And his victimizers have far more to answer for than their victimized target.

The record is clear: no president in U.S. history has ever been impeached twice. None has ever been impeached and then tried as a private citizen out of office.

Remember, in both rush-to-judgment politicized efforts, there was no special counsel’s report, and no lengthy cross-examination of witnesses. The first impeachment writ was based on a clumsy phone call in which Trump suspended aid to an often compromised Ukrainian government until it investigated the Biden family’s corruption and collusion with members of the Kyiv apparat and state-related corporations.

Trump did not cancel the approved aid in quid pro quo fashion, but eventually greenlighted a package that included offensive weapons, ironically vetoed by the prior Biden Administration.

His allegations of Biden family illegality were not just part of partisan pressure, but prescient given what we know of the Biden family syndicate from Hunter’s former associates and his own self-incriminating laptop.

Trump’s Justice Department certainly did not go after candidate Joe Biden, much less raid his home, or otherwise harass a potential rival to his reelection. By such impeachment standards, Joe Biden would be in the danger zone by railing at American ally Saudi Arabia, and radically altering long-standing U.S. foreign policy, because he was angry the kingdom would not flood the world with cheap oil before the midterm election. Ditto his pre-midterm selfish efforts to beg enemies like Venezuela and Iran to help assuage his unpopular and self-created energy crisis.

Trump was certainly reckless in cheering on volatile demonstrations on January 6, 2021. But he did not plan or condone the violence. The act of unarmed but often violent buffoons trashing the Capitol building was sordid, but they were clowns, not insurrectionists. There has been so much misinformation and disinformation about that riot that we will have to await a disinterested investigation. In the meantime, recall that Officer Brian Sicknick did not die by the hands of violent protestors as is still alleged by Joe Biden and many members of the media.

The name and identity of the officer who shot and killed an unarmed Ashli Babbitt were suppressed for months. Reporters and leakers alike attest that numerous FBI informants were ubiquitous among the protestors. And the January 6 committee deliberately banned questions about lax security. Ditto communications between Capitol security and Nancy Pelosi’s office.

In any case, the day’s violence did not compare with the still uninvestigated 120 days of largely non-stop looting, arson, assault, and death, all orchestrated by BLM and Antifa that were often contextualized and excused by Democratic mayors, governors, and congressional officials. And there were plenty of iconic targets such as the torching of a federal courthouse, a police precinct, and an historic church across from the White House.

Storming the Capitol is a mortal sin, but so is attempting to rush the White House grounds to injure a president and his family. That failed leftwing mob effort was cheered on by the New York Times, with its snarky headline “Trump Shrinks Back.”

For 22 months the media cheered on leaks from Robert Mueller’s special counsel dream team. House Intelligence prevaricator, Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) habitually offered outright lies concerning the culpability of the president, without a single retraction or apology when they were exposed as utterly untrue.

Collusion was better defined as either the Obama-Clinton disastrous reset policy that appeased a thuggish Putin, or Hillary Clinton’s efforts to destroy the Trump campaign, transition, and presidency with the false charge of Putin partnership.

No one in retrospect can seriously argue that Trump colluded with the Russian government to corrupt an election. In fact, the truth was far worse than that false allegation. His projectionist accuser Clinton most certainly did collude through Christopher Steele’s use of Russians, or Russian-based sources that fed him a litany of lies he then turned around and built upon with his own concoctions. In a just world, Clinton would be indicted for hiring foreign nationals to work for her campaign, by using stealth DNC funds to hire opposition contractors to frame the innocent, and for lying about her own role in forging such a conspiracy.

In this entire sordid process, the obsessed FBI disgraced itself through doctoring writs, losing subpoenaed records, and leaking to a toady press. Its dream team included the amorous members Peter Strzok and Lisa Page who were either fired or resigned from the team in disgrace. Mueller himself proved either non compos mentis or untruthful in his final testimony before Congress. His lieutenant Andrew Weissmann confirmed right-wing allegations that he was a rank partisan out to get Trump.

No Speaker of the House has ever torn up a president’s State-of-the Union Address on national television as did Nancy Pelosi in an act of historical disgrace. CNN ruined its reputation and was rendered inert by its fixations with Trump that were nightly manifested through exaggeration, hearsay, smears, rumors, and lies.

Do we remember not just “Anonymous,” but the deification of this unnamed and self-described member of the “resistance” who bragged on the pages of the New York Times that he was deliberately trying to undermine the Trump Administration’s duties to execute the laws? He was hardly a “senior official” as reported, but one Miles Taylor, a minor bit player at the Department of Homeland Security, who after his media role as useful pawn, faded back into deserved obscurity.

Before Trump took office, there was an organized effort to destroy his designated administration, by calls for his impending impeachment in Congress, by an influential essay calling for a possible military coup to remove him from office, by FBI efforts to ambush his national security advisor designate, and by the continuance of campaign lies of Russian collusion.

Before he even had established a record to oppose, leftist iconic denialists like Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Jimmy Carter had pronounced the elected president illegitimate.

A Confederacy of Connivers

We forget that far before 2020, the original election deniers were led by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic hierarchy. The former urged Joe Biden never to concede in 2022 should he lose the popular vote. Leftist journalists have outlined how the voting process was warped by changing voting laws, vast infusions of dark money to absorb state responsibilities in key precincts, and modulating the street protests of Antifa and BLM to wax or wane depending on Joe Biden’s electoral fortunes.

Major U.S. institutions were corrupted by their obsessive loathing. James Comey and Andrew McCabe, FBI directors, disgraced themselves by either lying under oath or feigning amnesia. Their bookends, Robert Mueller and Christopher Wray, reminded the nation that Comey and McCabe were emblematic of deeper FBI pathologies. Retired four-star military officers systematically violated codes of military conduct in comparing their commander-in-chief to Nazis and fascists.

Trump’s lieutenants such as Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General Bill Barr, or former National Security Advisor John Bolton, along with a host of others have sometimes leveled legitimate worries and grievances about Donald Trump. Some rightly point out that his personal excesses often weakened implementation of and support for his otherwise cogent and necessary policies.

But sometimes lost in their frequent book tours and media appearances is that Trump not only had a singular record of accomplishment, but that he brought them either out of retirement or career stagnation and gave them opportunities that ultimately explain their current ubiquitous profiles.

That fact does not mean their criticisms, warnings, and worries are necessarily inaccurate or even should be ignored. But their current prominence does demand some perspective. A president of supposedly such dubious character nevertheless resurrected former officials like themselves to re-enter government service at the highest levels and achieve successful records working with Trump, when it was most likely that their trajectories were over, and they would not or could not serve under subsequent Republican presidents.

The point is not that Trump was not a wounded fawn, obsessed with his own hurt and wallowing in his victimization. But he was also a genuine victim of a despicable effort of permanent government officials, the media, and the Left to destroy a presidency before it had even begun. Again, much of Trump’s crudity was retaliatory rather than preemptory.

Trump’s political future now hinges on his ability to forget all that, to move ahead, to unite his party, to win back independents, to get out the vote and to advance a concrete agenda for America. But if he often cannot do that, it may well be because he is understandably all too human.

Trump Was What?

All sort of fictional characters come to mind in understanding the enigma of Donald Trump, from Rodney Dangerfield’s role as the boisterous, uncouth but talented and underappreciated Al Czervik in “Caddyshack” or the archetypical ostracized Western gunslinger whose one-dimensional methods eventually alienate the vulnerable homesteader community that called upon and benefited from his unorthodoxy. I’ve noted in the past that Trump is a combination of John Ford’s tragic hero and a stubborn, flawed, but unyielding and competent character on the Sophoclean stage.

Yet perhaps another referent is found in Herman Wouk’s 1951 prize-winning novel The Caine Mutiny (far more complex than even its superb film treatment). The book charts the wartime neurotic, flawed career of an old Navy captain (with less talent than, and without the record of achievement, of Trump) serving mostly in the backwaters of World War II. The martinet Captain Queeg’s self-assured subordinate officers focus solely on his character shortcomings and insecurities, rather than either ignoring them or helping him address them for the good of the ship and crew—if for no other reason than to unite to defeat the enemy.

Instead, the NeverQueegers grow consumed by their hatred of the erratic Queeg. And they finally succeed in extremis in relieving the paranoid and often lapsing Queeg—but at what cost and for what in exchange?

Wouk offers the dilemma of whether the blemished Queeg, who once dutifully served in the underfunded and forgotten peacetime Navy when most others would not, might not have been so phobic had his officers only navigated Queeg’s shortcomings, rather than been consumed by them.

Later in court, the conspirators find ostensible justification, as their astute lawyer Barney Greenwald (played brilliantly in the film version by José Ferrer) mercilessly dissects Queeg’s neuroses to the point that the shattered captain implodes on the stand into catatonia.

Queeg ends up as a disgraced captain as the mutineers go free. Case closed?

Not quite. Wouk offers the warning that such self-righteous denigrators may be the true nihilists. In their clubby, black-and-white fixations on their commander’s obvious frailties, they miss the totality of a man and the importance of seeking to aid their captain rather than destroy him in a time of war.

As the novel closes, the promoted and chief NeverQueeger proves no better in battle and on rough seas, but perhaps even worse. And in a final twist while Queeg’s career is destroyed, he is eventually exonerated by the Navy. Most of the mutineers fare badly in their circular firing squad. Wouk reminds us that for all their self-righteous rhetoric about patriotism, legality, and duty, they nevertheless did a great disservice to themselves—and to their country.


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32 thoughts on “Was Trump Our Captain Queeg?”

  1. Beware of Victor Davis Hanson’s subscription service: I unsubscribed from VDH last month, but this month, after losing access to the Blade of Perseus, I was charged $50 for a new one-year subscription that I did not want. The money was deducted from my bank account through PayPal.
    Mark Wellhausen

  2. Maybe people are tired of the spiel and 45 has jumped the shark.
    Has the left’s propaganda also jumped the shark?
    The midterm results would seem to say no.

    I wonder why because even the most naïve estimate of left / 45 propaganda is 20:1. And it’s not as if team blue propagandists are the Swedish Bikini Team or some other naturally attractive messengers.

    Which leads me to conclude either –
    1) The left’s victims are so strung out they can’t quit the fake news cold turkey;
    2) The left’s victims are in fact accomplices who WANT to believe the lies, so they will have license to commit acts normally unthinkable without destroying their self-image as a “good person.”

    We thought the reality of the grocery aisle and the gas pump would snap the voters out of their fever dream but at best the outcome is mixed, meaning –
    1) The voters in play decided orange boogeyman was a bigger problem than their weakening finances; and/or
    2) They accepted the scapegoats offered by team blue propaganda – Putin, “greedy” corporations and billionaires.

    What the new criticism of 45 hasn’t explained is whether any of the alternatives could take what 45 has taken, because that’s what’s coming. I doubt they can.

    Let no one operate under the illusion that team blue will let up on anyone who is not 45. Even the quack Psychic Friends Network could predict the FBI is already running games on every likely GOP candidate for 2024.

    1. VDH another great article: replying to Dude:
      Absolutely right on: Let no one operate under the illusion that team blue will let up on anyone who is not 45. &
      What the new criticism of 45 hasn’t explained is whether any of the alternatives could take what 45 has taken, because that’s what’s coming. I doubt they can.

      So I ask, WHAT human could undergo what Trump has undergone and not be wanting justice and complaining about the lack thereof? hint; NO a man or woman alive. The man has done more for this country and been crapped on so much by everyone..even the likes of Barr, Pence and Bolton. No human can come out unscathed like that and not be touting the injustice.
      I’m for one like VDH has mentioned before, a Trumper to the end. If he is NOT on the ballot in 2024…I’ll not vote and to hell with all these haters of trump in the Republican party that always want someone better and divide the party. Writing on the wall for you guys: you are playing right into the dems hands. They stick together even for the likes of Fetterman….let that be a lesson for you!

      1. I can sympathize with you as I feel the same way about the NeverTrumpers and fussiness Republicans longing for a return to puristically independent and moderate alternatives. These popinjays never were able to get the job they so longed for done once elected. Where I differ with you is in not voting at all, a surefire way of guaranteeing the election of the far worse Democrat candidates who will win because of it.

    2. Regardless, the left’s puppet was installed by those with not a whisp of critical thinking, unless, that is, the string pullers were George Soros and those he runs with and finances. They have momentum. Xi would love to get his hands on GS. Too bad it will likely never happen, nevertheless, it should.

    3. Dude – your last two sentences in your comment should be capitalized in bold print. As Trump said, he was just in the say!

  3. I had a different reading of the Caine Mutiny, which was certainly a long time ago when I was much younger. I interpreted Wouk’s final lesson as being rank and hierarchy are important and shouldn’t be challenged no matter how buffoonish the holder of the higher rank. Queeg was a fool who made life on the ship miserable for everyone. Anyone who’s had a bad boss might know the feeling. So, I don’t agree. Tyrannical but incompetent little martinets should be knocked out of the way, and that’s what usually happens, eventually. No major corporation would have tolerated Queeg as an executive.

    I would like to think that the Trump era has passed and the Republicans will recognize that they probably can’t win with him, but there is that core group of keen Trump supporters (I’ve got them in my family). There will likely be at least a dozen candidates running for the Republican nomination and Trump may already have a quarter of the votes, knocking others out early. Who knows how DeSantis will hold up under the glare? If the primaries were a game of seven card stud, Trump is starting with a pair in the hole. Right now I think a lot of Republicans could beat Biden, except Trump. But I suppose there are worse prospective alternatives than a dottering old octogenarian hamstrung by a Republican Congress and hopefully Senate.

    1. “No major corporation would have tolerated Queeg as an executive.”

      Oh, I don’t know. Big tech, e.g., seems to have plenty near Queegs facilitated by like-minded, willing compliants. And then there is the government: Klain, Mayorkas, Garland, Granholm, not to mention the ‘big guy’, etc., et al. Queeg was a fictional composite intended solely to teach; our gov is reality bringing actual harm and distrust here and now.

  4. Dear Dr. Hanson:
    The republicans (intentionally not capitalized) can run Mr. Pence and Mr. Sessions as President and VP to totally purge themselves of the Trump voter! Insert any of those mentioned in your essay for about the same result! Listening to the conversations over Thanksgiving (anecdotally) made the point to me that things are going to have to get much worse before they can start to get better. We have so many that simply do not believe bad times can come. They truly believe, if they do come, we deserve it! We have people in power who can and will gladly make those bad times happen. I really hope and pray that I am wrong! If able, I will vote. My vote will be anything but predictable by mainstream standards. God bless you for what you do!

    1. Read The Case for Trump. Professor Hanson has been quite consistent in his assessment of Donald Trump.
      I felt VDH had interviewed me in writing it. As one who voted for Trump in 2016 as he captured so many of my thoughts going into the primary and then the general election back then.

  5. Robert W. Geist MD

    Dear Professo Hanson, your analogy is poor. because Trump is and was no Captain Queeg in any respect. Trump is a political colossus—like him or not. His critics are more like political pigmies in comparison. You duly note Trump’s flaws and recount his policy effectiveness despite the massive efforts to kill his presidency.

    Your better Trump analogies have been to history’s generals, who rescued their nations in battle, but were tossed aside once done, e.g., Gen. Ridgway in Korea, Gen. Belisarius, who repeatedly saved Constantinople and in the 20th century, Churchill, who was tossed out once WWII was won. You likened If I rmember correctly) such generals and Churchill to the heroes of the movies “Shane” and “Gunsmoke”. Heroes too successful in violence or as rivals or “too controversial” to live alongside the more docile people or hierarchies they rescued.

    Thanks for a wonderful essay–I do see why you used the Queeg analogy neatly written by the books author. Bob Geist

  6. Re: (Was Trump Our Captain Queeg?, 28 Nov 22). Regarding your description of Mike Pence, Bill Barr and others by inference (like Gen Mattis for example), that they were “… brought out of retirement or career stagnation…”, you tar the good and the bad with the ‘bad’ brush. Mike Pence, Bill Barr – really? You must not think much of their service.
    Its folks like that who acted as an equilibrating mechanism to the more extreme Trump actions. If you never served with senior officers or decision-makers who don’t accept responsibility for their actions, as Trump doesn’t, you might not appreciate the need for that.

    1. I think the above and TD have it right. Trump is much more of a Captain Ahab (novel, not film), and Melville’s novel is a tour de force on Democratic Man’s inability to resist the aggrieved, megalomaniac Leader. Ahab’s ability to bind better men to his cause and rely on their skills to run his ship while enlisting the masses on his crazed crusade by linking their individual grievances with his own make a solid fit with Trump. How many barrels of oil will Trump’s revenge bring? What price shall they fetch at market and for the people of the United States who financed his voyage?

  7. VDH,
    Your Eminence, as Jack would say….
    Please come on for the one hour show or call (856-696-0092) in to my Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m. show on WVLT, 92.1, Vineland, N.J. We cover the entirety of S. Jersey and westward, to the top half of Delaware and SE Pennsylvania. JR Carman and his NJ Constitutional Republicans are kindred souls. Semper fi.
    My last show’s Facebook Live post, for bona fides:

  8. I recall your comment “undisciplined” as a descriptor for President Trump suddenly helped both I and my wife find a way to capture what frustrated us both about him. We do not want him to run but as William Buckley cautioned conservatives to do if President Trump does succeed in the primaries, we will support him as the conservative candidate in the general election against any Democrat.

    We both have been so outraged at Republicans for not actively stopping attacks on Trump and saw the cowards run away for fear they might suffer a similar fate. You make an excellent point of pointing this out in your essay. Thank you.

  9. A judicious summary of Trump and his current status as candidate for president. Although I voted for him twice, I fear he is now too damaged in too many people’s minds to win back the White House, and unlikely to overcome that mentality by running the type of campaign you astutely prescribe (if only he had stayed off Twitter the last few weeks of the 2020 election, I think he would have won). Our hopes are now better laid in Ron DeSantis, I think, although Trump has my vote again if he’s the Republican candidate.

  10. Not so sure Queeg makes much of a useful example in this case, though the point is made.

    Queeg was a paranoid without any assistance of his ‘clubby’ crew. And we will recall in the invasion escort scene, and during the typhoon, his cowardice was his and his alone. Trump hardly comes across as either a clinical paranoid or anywhere near a fearful coward, the two defining characteristics of Queeg.

    I will say this. If ANY of Trump’s team find the key to the locker that had the strawberries that were surreptitiously consumed, then I’ll eat my words!

    From Helsinki

  11. Just a passing thought, but isn’t the left more like Queeg? Paranoia? Remember the cries of “Nuclear War!” in 2016 if Trump were elected? Trump is a leader, not a legislator. Trump prepared for the presidency by being very, very observant over the decades watching the political foolhardiness, meanness, dirtiness and corruption manifold within our political system. Alongside this, he developed a psychological, non-academic sense of American history by distinguishing a truer American character then the “suit and a haircut” pretenders who too often ran things. As President, Jimmie Carter “had lust on his mind.” Bill Clinton was a sex addict. George Bush was a recovered alcoholic. Barack Obama was a pathological liar. In comparison, if one were to be intellectually honest, Trump is a savior saint. So is it paranoia that defines the Left? Or is it fear? Fear of being found out that their souls are essentially corrupt and define the often-used name of The Ugly American? Either one, President Donald J. Trump exorcised the devil from the lot of them. And still does.

    1. Um, I miss how recovering from alcoholism is a moral failure… With all his porn stars and divorces, Trump certainly used to have sex on his mind. Perhaps he is a recovered sex fiend -or would that be a moral disqualification?

  12. I must have missed Trump’s comments after the Jan6 speech on the Eliptical as I never heard him recklessly cheering on volatile demonstrations on January 6, 2021. We heard and it has been documented Trump stated go “peacefully and patriotically” to the Capitol, which was prior to any indication there was violence.

    Trump may have missed an opportunity to quell the protesters; are we sure all would have listened; by not coming out sooner with his message to “go home” ‘this is not who we are’, but I certainly never saw any evidence that Trump cheered on the rioters.

    Other than that single point, Dr. Hanson again nailed it.
    Those who criticize Trump have much more to answer for regarding the deterioration of this country than Trump has with his outlandish tweets and namecalling.

  13. I have read the previous comments, and appreciate the different perspectives. In podcasts you have compared Trump to the classic tragic hero and sited examples from western films portraying the gunslinger who has overstayed his welcome (after saving the day). The comparison to Queeg is also extremely interesting. I may have to buy and read Wouk’s book. I am grateful you pointed out that the novel ended without the simplistic judgement (that I vaguely recall from the movie). Many of my friends suggest that Trump’s weakness is his “personality.” If only he was “nicer.” However the last Republican president who was not demonized in some way was Eisenhower – Nixon was evil; Reagan was reckless; Bush 41 was aloof; Bush 43 was stupid, but they had Cheney for evil.

  14. Ok I will say it one last time. I will vote for Trump 100%.
    See you at the ballot box. May the oldest, wisest, bravest, hardest working politician win.

  15. BZ, VDH, you’re the best! I’ve enjoyed your knowledge and talent for years! And as a dedicated patriot, I know this nation needs great change. The Democrats are a disgrace to this nation. So are many federal agencies, the MSM, the educational system and many others, and most certainly the inept, incompetent power grabbers in the Republican Party. So who can best serve the interests and needs of our nation by making gargantuan changes that are needed? For now I give a slight edge to Trump because his history shows he can get things done when everyone is against him – even some of his own troops! DeSantis is so close the difference is hardly discernible. I will heartily support whichever emerges from the morass.

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