Trump Drama as Sherlock Mystery

Illus. of “Five Orange Pips”


As I watch Donald Trump eliminate one law enforcement official after another, I feel that I’m in the Sherlock Holmes story “The Five OrangePips.” A secret society (the Ku Klux Klan) is systematically eliminating people who pose a threat to them, and even the great detective fails to thwart them. In the story, however, the bad guys only kill three people, whereas DonalTrump has taken care of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, US Attorney Preet Bharara, FBI Director James Comey, and at least two of the FBI officials with whom Comey shared details of the meeting where Trump pushed him to drop the Flynn investigation (James Baker and Andrew McCabe). Furthermore, reports are that he would like to fire Special Counsel Bob Mueller, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and anyone else in the Justice Department who refuses to swear loyalty.

It could well be that Rep. Devon Nunes’s “memo,” which implies but fails to prove improper use of FISA warrants to surveille Carter Page, was supposed to provide Trump an excuse to fire Rosenstein (who signed off on the warrant). Trump would then hire a friendly attorney, who would rein in the Mueller investigation.

The lesson from the firings: absolve Trump of all wrongdoing or you’re out.

In the “Five Orange Pips,” the KKK targets a former member who has absconded with some compromising documents. After killing this individual and his brother, the society sets its sights on the nephew. In each case, five orange pips are sent as a warning.

John Openshaw first goes to the police, just as Rosenstein went to Speaker Paul Ryan. Like the House Republicans, however, the police do nothing:

“I have seen the police.”
“But they listened to my story with a smile. I am convinced that the inspector has formed the opinion that the letters are all practical jokes, and that the deaths of my relations were really accidents, as the jury stated, and were not to be connected with the warnings.”
Holmes shook his clenched hands in the air. “Incredible imbecility!” he cried.

Unfortunately Openshaw is killed, one of the few instances where Holmes fails to save a client. Nor does Holmes successfully avenge his death. Instead, divine justice intervenes, sinking the ship.

“Five Orange Pips” was one of Doyle’s favorite stories, which is puzzling given its various loose ends. For instance, we never learn why the first victim broke with the KKK and fled to England, nor why the KKK sends orange pips to people (the brother and nephew) who don’t know the meaning of them. Perhaps Doyle was proud of the sense of impending doom that he creates, complete with a raging rainstorm.

Does Rosenstein see himself as doomed? Has he been slipped the equivalent of five orange pips by our white-supremacist-in-chief? Trump watchers are experiencing the same suspense as Doyle’s readers.

“Five Orange Pips” provides another parallel, which may be even more apt: Openshaw’s uncle resembles our increasingly anxious president. As the silent forces close in on the old man, he goes into full-blown panic. He nephew reports on his last days:

Yet I could not shake off the vague feeling of dread which it left behind, though the sensation grew less keen as the weeks passed and nothing happened to disturb the usual routine of our lives. I could see a change in my uncle, however. He drank more than ever, and he was less inclined for any sort of society. Most of his time he would spend in his room, with the door locked upon the inside, but sometimes he would emerge in a sort of drunken frenzy and would burst out of the house and tear about the garden with a revolver in his hand, screaming out that he was afraid of no man, and that he was not to be cooped up, like a sheep in a pen, by man or devil. When these hot fits were over, however, he would rush tumultuously in at the door and lock and bar it behind him, like a man who can brazen it out no longer against the terror which lies at the roots of his soul. At such times I have seen his face, even on a cold day, glisten with moisture, as though it were new raised from a basin.

I have compared Trump’s concerns about the Mueller investigation to the Mary Oliver poem “In the Pinewoods, Crows and Owl,” where the crows obsess about the owl that is waiting to eat them. In this scenario, Mueller is “the bone-crushing prince of the dark days.”

 Or maybe Trump is the fox in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” “Sir Renard” does everything he can to shake off the hunters, only to fall prey to the inexorable Lord Bertilak. The Lord of Death, as I see the figure, always gets his prey.

But to return to the Sherlock Holmes stories, Mueller resembles the detective chasing his most famous antagonist. To be sure, Trump is no Moriarty, but many of us are praying that Mueller proves to be a Holmes:

But the Professor [Moriarty] was fenced round with safeguards so cunningly devised that, do what I would, it seemed impossible to get evidence which would convict in a court of law. You know my powers, my dear Watson, and yet at the end of three months I was forced to confess that I had at last met an antagonist who was my intellectual equal. My horror at his crimes was lost in my admiration at his skill. But at last he made a trip—only a little, little trip—but it was more than he could afford when I was so close upon him. I had my chance, and, starting from that point, I have woven my net round him until now it is all ready to close. In three days—that is to say, on Monday next—matters will be ripe, and the Professor, with all the principal members of his gang, will be in the hands of the police. Then will come the greatest criminal trial of the century, the clearing up of over forty mysteries, and the rope for all of them; but if we move at all prematurely, you understand, they may slip out of our hands even at the last moment.

We have more than three days ahead of us, but like Holmes we are terrified that Trump will “slip out of our hands.” Over half the country is rooting for a classic detective story ending.

And as for the prospect of the GOP reining in the president? “Incredible imbecility!”

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