The New York Times’ decision to publish an anonymous op-ed from a resistance official inside the Trump administration has had its intended effect: total takeover of the conversation. Sorry, Bob Woodward. Senior White House officials are scrambling to deny authoring the piece. White House officials like Sarah Huckabee Sanders are calling for the author to fess up and resign. And surprisingly enough, people like David Frum agree – maintaining that holding this view while continuing to work for the president is a Constitutional Crisis.
I have a more restrained view, because this whole thing strikes me as an exercise in fart-sniffing that is patently ridiculous. This op-ed is designed to set up a post-November “I AM IRON MAN” moment where the individual – whose importance within the government is probably significant, but whose name ID is probably next to nil (otherwise a public resignation would, you know, send a message) – unveils themselves before the eyes of the people and reaps the media tour benefits of the Sally Yates who have prepared the way.
It is not a new thing that senior officials within administrations have worked to hem in and guide the decisions of the principal – this happens in every administration. To pick just one example: there is a reason that George W. Bush never sought to defund Planned Parenthood, even when he had both houses of Congress. That reason was individuals within the White House who kept such proposals away from the president and off the agenda, for intentionally political reasons. This is the way it works. If you don’t have someone on the president’s inner circle to champion an idea, it often never reaches his desk.
This is even more true when the presidency is occupied by a Republican, whose arrival puts the Administrative State in a naturally defensive position, opposed to anything that could shake their standard of living. Of course, this is a stance at odds with the Constitutional order. The American people, after all, rendered their verdict about who ought to occupy that office, and to deny this is to disrespect their wishes – just as the op-ed author does – and to look down on them as rubes who must be protected from themselves.
It is not the attitude that responsible anti-populists should have. Anti-populists should want the voters to reap the benefits of their bad (from their perspective) decisions: oh, so you want a trade war? Let’s do that then, and you’ll pay the price. You want a wall and a restrictive immigration policy? How do you like paying $10 for strawberries? The only way people learn in a representative democracy is if they get what they want and don’t like it, instead of entertaining hypotheticals all the way down. John Boehner knew this. I don’t understand why he was so much smarter than the rest of the political class – it must be all the antioxidants.
But no, this NYT author wants to forstall all this – and wants to call attention to it, in a way certain to provoke the president. True servants of the people need not boast. This one does, so we know he is not. An op-ed like this is not the confession of an honorable whistleblower. It does not tell us something new. Rather, it is designed to create a sense of paranoia and to make the White House less effective at advancing policy – and it plays directly into the hands of foreign governments at a time when many of our trade and military policies hang in the balance. And when the author is inevitably revealed, The New York Times will have to answer for its decision – particularly if it turns out to be some rando at the State Department or USTR.