In Herman Wouk’s masterful novel “The Caine Mutiny” (also made into a powerful movie) the ineffective and insecure and paranoid Captain Queeg foolishly and recklessly and irrationally turns his ship upside down searching for a key that doesn’t exist.

He believes someone on board has duplicated a key to the ship’s freezer and swiped some leftover strawberries.

Even when confronted with the truth that the strawberries were not stolen but legitimately eaten by some of the crew, and thus that no theft occurred and no duplicate key would have been needed, Queeg persists in the search and continues to maintain that strawberries were indeed stolen and that a key does exist.

One of his officers recalls that Queeg, when younger and on a different ship, had uncovered a shipboard theft of some cheese (a duplicate key was involved) and was commended for his efforts. Queeg is recreating that earlier success, despite changed circumstances and facts, and trying to make history repeat itself.

So, apparently, is President Trump.

About a week before the 2016 presidential election FBI director James Comey announced that he was re-opening the supposedly closed investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Although no evidence was found of any wrongdoing, Comey’s announcement may have been a factor in swinging the election to Trump. It is extremely likely that Donald Trump thought so.

Announcement of an investigation into one’s political opponent became, in his shallow and shortsighted thinking, a predictor — perhaps even a guarantee — of one’s electoral success.

No wonder, then, that President Trump has abused the power of his office and committed an impeachable offense by illegally conditioning the release of aid to Ukraine on the Ukrainian president announcing an investigation by Ukraine of Trump’s presumed 2020 opponent Joe Biden.

If announcing an investigation worked in 2016, it will work in 2019.

History will repeat itself. So he hopes and believes — mistakenly and foolishly and — for our country — dangerously.

The fictional captain and the real-life president are not identical, are not literally the same person in the same situation, should not be confused with each other. But there are instructive similarities. Neither sees beyond his own personal interests and both construct a fantasy world of alternative facts.

Queeg tells his subordinates: “There are four ways of doing things — the right way, the wrong way, the Navy way and my way. As long as we do things my way, everything will be fine.”

Trump similarly tells the convention that nominated him: “I alone can fix it.”

Both refuse to accept responsibility for evils they cause and blame and denigrate others. Both are promoted to positions they are unfit and incompetent to fill.

One other similarity is possible but not yet actual.

Queeg’s incompetence and instability finally endanger the ship and he is legally, but controversially, relieved of command. The danger to our democracy at the very least requires an attempt at Trump’s legal but controversial removal.

Both Wouk’s novel and the impeachment hearing transcripts are now part of history. History is under no obligation to repeat itself but it might have something useful and truthful to say to us nevertheless. Read. Listen. Understand. Act.

Larry Ruark is a Sun Chronicle columnist. His essays are published here the first Tuesday of every month. Reach him at

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