In an extraordinary op-ed published anonymously in the New York Times, a senior member of the Trump administration warns his or her fellow Americans that “the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.”
The president is amoral, without principle and misguided, the author tells us. His impulses “are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic;” his leadership style is “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.”
“Meetings with (Trump) veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.”
Not to worry, though: Secret resistance by “adults” within the White House — the writer calls them “heroes,” and identifies as one — have so far succeeded in heading off some of the worst Trump initiatives.
Naturally, publication of the column has led to frenzied attempts to identify its author. While I share that curiosity, the more pressing questions are whether the depiction is accurate, and what happens next.
All the evidence says yes, it is accurate.
In the words of U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, the op-ed was “troubling” but not a surprise, because “it’s just so similar to what so many of us hear from senior people around the White House, you know, three times a week.”
“This is what all of us have understood to be the situation from day one,” says U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee. “I understand this is the case and that’s why I think all of us encourage the good people around the president to stay.”
“I find the reaction to the New York Times op-ed fascinating — that people seem so shocked that there is a resistance from the inside,” another senior official told Axios. “A lot of us [were] wishing we’d been the writer, I suspect … I hope he [Trump] knows — maybe he does? — that there are dozens and dozens of us.”
The column also dovetails perfectly with how we’ve seen Trump behave on Twitter and in public, and also closely echoes accounts in Bob Woodward’s latest book, “Fear,” to be published next week. In one anecdote, Trump orders Defense Secretary James Mattis to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Mattis says yes sir, hangs up from Trump, then instructs his subordinates to ignore that order. In another, Gary Cohn, then the president’s top economic adviser, steals a document from Trump’s Oval Office desk so the president can’t sign it, and by doing so prevents him from severing trade relations with South Korea.
But as is often the case, what speaks most loudly is the silence. You do not hear top GOP congressional leaders rushing to defend Trump or take issue with the criticism; you don’t hear howls of anger that Trump’s orders are being defied whenever possible by a staff making decisions they are not empowered to make. At most, any protest is muted.
You don’t hear it because Republicans in Congress like it this way. They are content to let anonymous senior White House staff do the dirty work behind the scenes; they are happy to let them try to contain a rampaging president through underhanded, even unconstitutional means because they themselves are too cowardly to do it openly, through constitutional means. They lack the guts to do their duty to act as a check on an executive run amok.
And with Woodward’s book and publication of the anonymous column, whatever ability the self-described “adults” in the White House once had to corral Trump has probably eroded significantly.