Some may remember the 1962 Film, The Manchurian Candidate based on Richard Condon's novel.

It's the story of an American soldier captured by the Soviets in the Korean War and brainwashed to become a sleeper agent and assassin by his Chinese and Russian minders. Viewing it today, critics on Rotten Tomatoes give it an approval rating of 98 per cent, calling it "uncomfortably prescient".

There's an implicit accusation here, one that seems outrageous on its face. Yet we are living in extraordinary times when, despite our celebration of the ending of a disastrous and unnecessary world war, the notion of an even more foolish, more destructive one is not beyond the range of possibility.

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Without a pledge of No First Use of nuclear weapons and the reality that the authority to launch and thereby destroy the planet rests with one man — the President — even the most remote possibility of this president as a Manchurian Candidate deserves consideration.

Let's look at the evidence. The president swears an oath to preserve and defend the Constitution of the United States.

While no genuine constitutional crisis has been created by Trump thus far, his disrespect for the terms of the constitution is clear in his attack on the press as "the enemy of the people".

The drafters of the Constitution were adamant in support of press freedom, enshrined in the first amendment.

Jefferson wrote that newspapers, in keeping the electorate informed, were a bulwark against despotism. "Better the newspapers without government, than government without newspapers."

That principle forms the basis of the warning by former Special Forces Chief Admiral McRaven, the hunter of Bin Laden, that Trump's demonising the press is "the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime."

From the beginning of the republic, the president has had ceremonial duties as well as executive functions.

Some ceremonies are routine — the annual Christmas tree lighting, for example. But some have national significance in lending the person and authority of the presidency to a particular occasion.


This president has expended great energy in addressing crowds of his followers at political rallies, often leading the multitudes shouting out the name of his perceived enemy."Lock her up!" is a recurrent favourite shout-out on Hillary Clinton.

That energy was flagging when it came to visiting the graves of Americans killed at Belleau-Wood in WWI during the 100th anniversary of the ending of that war. Similarly, Mr Trump found his duties so overwhelming that he did not attend the annual Veterans' Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.

He has yet to travel to places where American troops are fighting and dying — Iraq and Afghanistan.

When it comes to national tragedies, the hurricanes that ravaged Puerto Rico and the Carolinas, Trump has shown a striking absence of compassion, offering instead criticism of local government for some fabricated dereliction of duty.

The more recent fires in California brought out a thoroughly debunked Trump criticism of forest management and false comparisons with Finland's fire management.

Experienced chief firefighters respectfully but forcefully countered Trump's false claims with facts.

The mass shootings which might bring out a consoling side of a president have instead brought out in Mr Trump his general tone-deafness and immediate impulse to blame the victims.

In short, Trump's policies ignoring real perils that face the nation serve to undermine its preparedness. His transactional ethos weakens the country's ties to its European allies, while favouring autocrats of every stripe.

His current contribution is to provide cover for Saudi Prince bin Salman, whom the CIA has implicated in the grizzly murder of Jamal Kashoggi.

America, under Trump, looks away from moral requirements where money is involved.
Personality is one thing but policies reflective of that personality have potentially serious consequence.

The President's attack on fact and his fostering of division go far to undermine the democratic experiment. Particularly, Trump's political use of divisiveness. Divisiveness, especially racialised divisiveness, has short-term value for electoral purpose but Lincoln's words are a warning for the long term: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.