“What would happen if the President of the USA went stark-raving mad?” asks the cover blurb on Fletcher Knebel’s 1965 novel “Night of Camp David.” The book is fiction, but many citizens across America and around the world are worrying it could become fact. When President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey Tuesday, it seemed to be yet another symptom of an unhinged presidency.
When lawyers and politicians were concerned about the mental health and acumen of a fictional president in “Night of Camp David,” they consulted a psychology textbook’s definition of paranoia. “Many paranoids develop delusions of grandeur in which they endow themselves with superior or unique ability,” the textbook said. Today, Trump and his whole administration are showing delusions of grandeur as they combine ignorance, arrogance, incompetence and authoritarianism in foreign and domestic policy.
Comey was praised by Trump on the campaign trail last year when Comey’s investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails was used as political ammunition at Trump rallies where crowds chanted “Lock her up.”
Now Trump comes to bury Comey. Comey was leading an investigation into Trump’s ties with Russian interests. The timing of his firing raised skepticism among politicians, journalists and ordinary citizens concerned a president who can’t be comfy with Comey has no problem being “bromantic” with Russia’s ruler, Vladimir Putin.
Trump gets to choose the next FBI director and it’s doubtful he would choose anyone who would continue even a half-hearted probe into Trump’s Russian ties. The New York Times underlined the seriousness of the situation in a Wednesday editorial that said, “This is a tense and uncertain time in the nation’s history. The president of the United States, who is no more above the law than any other citizen, has now decisively crippled the FBI’s ability to carry out an investigation of him and his associates.”
Calls are rising for the appointment of a special prosecutor or an independent commission to investigate the Trump empire’s business and political connections with Russia and whether Putin’s regime manipulated the U.S. election to favor Trump. Such an investigation could bring down Trump’s presidency just as the revelations of the Watergate scandal ended Richard Nixon’s presidency in 1974. It’s past time for politicians and citizens to echo the cogent question Republican Sen. Howard Baker asked during the Watergate hearings more than 40 years ago: “What did the president know and when did he know it?”
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the election of Emmanuel Macron as president of France came as a relief to those who saw his right-wing opponent, Marine Le Pen, as Donald Trump in drag. The political centrist Macron easily defeated Le Pen by a margin of nearly 2-to-1. France, a nation of about 65 million people, has an unemployment rate double the jobless rate in America. Legions of refugees have poured into France in recent years. Paris is a frequent target of terrorist attacks. For all that, France has not succumbed to the blandishments of right-wing politics. French citizens voted for hope, not fear.
A Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville wrote words in the 19th century that apply to the polarization and xenophobia foisted by Trump today: “A despot easily forgives his subjects for not loving him, provided they do not love each other.”
Athens columnist Ed Tant’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Progressive, Astronomy Magazine and many other publications. Visit his website at www.edtant.com.