An anonymous op-ed published in The New York Times, penned by “a senior Trump administration official,” contends that a cabal of senior staffers have secretly schemed to undermine Donald Trump in an effort to protect the American people. “I work for the president,” claims the purported senior official, “but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”
The problem with the much-discussed op-ed isn’t only that it fails to offer a single example of officials actually “thwarting” the Trump agenda or saving the republic from his capriciousness. It’s that it celebrates the idea of nullifying an election.
While I’m sure much of the op-ed is thematically accurate, it’s difficult to believe the author is a selfless public servant letting us know that our democratic institutions are safe in their nameless hands. Any member of the administration legitimately concerned about reigning in the president’s outbursts—and doubtlessly there are a number of them—would never have sent an article guaranteed to generate more White House chaos and paranoia.
It would make no sense. Trump, after all, is already dealing with interminable leaks. The piece will only further confirm his suspicions that a Fifth Column is undercutting the presidency, which will make him less likely to listen to advisors.
To be fair, if you were informed that a faction of “senior” staffers was actively subverting your “agenda”—not merely your tweeting or hyperbole about the media, but the policy items that you promised the electorate you would pursue—you might have some valid reasons to be suspicious, as well.
Worse, Anonymous contends that a clique of political appointees have some kind of ethical obligation to ignore the president’s agenda items, not because they’re unconstitutional or corrupt, but simply because it chafes them ideologically. Hey, I don’t like many of Trump’s positions on immigration and trade, either. Like the author, I support “free minds, free markets and free people.” But the notion that the bureaucratic class in Washington should dictate which policies presidents are allowed to advocate simply by ignoring their wishes sounds a lot more like a soft coup than a constitutionally principled resistance.
Now, is it really happening? It’s doubtful.
The New York Times defended the op-ed, which is larded up with familiar grievances and clichéd rhetoric, by contending that it “adds significant value to the public’s understanding of what is going on in the Trump administration from someone who is in a position to know.”
Really, though, what did we learn from it? The president’s temperament is already well known to anyone who’s paid any attention to politics. The only concrete example of Trump engaging in actions “detrimental to the health of our republic” offered in the piece revolves around an incident in which the president was purportedly reluctant to expel a large number of Russians spies.
“But his national security team knew better,” writes Anonymous, “such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable. This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.” (By the way, you didn’t need an anonymous op-ed to tell you about this interaction, since it was reported in the March 29 edition of The Washington Post.)
So the president’s national security team convinced Trump to take a course of action that he was initially disinclined to adopt? Isn’t that staffers’ job? Doesn’t that happen all the time? And the fact that the president is willing to heed staff’s advice—recommendations that are just long-established GOP positions—isn’t exactly bolstering the case for the 25th Amendment solution.
Anonymous also tells us the administration’s victories on deregulation, tax reform, and a stronger military “come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.” It’s certainly convenient for this person to take the credit for all the good things and none of the blame for the bad ones.
Whatever the case, the fact is that the president, however anti-democratic his instincts might be or whatever crazy things he tweets, signed off on all of these reforms. All of them constitutional. It’s not a “normal” presidency, but judging from the evidence it is far less abnormal policy-wise than the hysterics suggest.
I mean, I understand why the New York Times broke its standards and published the op-ed. I’m also sure the paper’s editorial page isn’t lying about the writer’s title. But, as they know, the designation of “senior official” is wide-ranging and includes hundreds of people, some of them close to the president and others just functionaries who have little contact with him.
There are lots of theories about the author’s identity. Maybe it’s an official leaving the administration and interested in preemptively gaining acceptance of the media and the resistance, all the perks that will come with taking credit for the op-ed. Or maybe a Steve Bannon-type hardliner is pushing false flags to try to create chaos and steer the president away from restrictionist trade and immigration policies. Or maybe it’s someone who felt like emoting or feeling important.
Whoever it is, if he really wanted the administration to “succeed,” as Anonymous claims, there was no conceivable upside to writing this op-ed. It’s just sabotage. If Anonymous really believes the president is a threat to the republic, he should quit. No one is forcing him to work for the government. But if he wants to make policy, or thinks Trump should be impeached over his temperament, Anonymous should reveal himself and run for office.