There’s a whole lot of news absorbing Washington these days. Normally, the confirmation hearings for a cagey Supreme Court nominee would be the end-all and be-all, while the spectacle of a foaming-at-the-mouth conspiracy theorist in the halls of the Senate would make for a robust sideshow. But the anonymous September 5 op-ed run in The New York Times, written by a person described by the Times as a senior administration official, has the chattering classes rapt.
In the op-ed, the senior official strikes a pose as one of the “adults” he says are “in the room,” and casts her or himself as a member of an internal “resistance” to President Donald J. Trump that exists within the administration. The person frames the essay as an effort to assure readers that inside Trump’s government, there are people bent on saving the republic from a morally unmoored president ruled by contradictory impulses. In the official’s telling, he or she is one of a handful of secret heroes.
Yet a closer read of the essay shows the official is primarily concerned that the president has strayed far from the tenets of Republican Party orthodoxy on matters such as trade and foreign policy, rather than any subversion of the Constitution by a president who fired an FBI chief because an investigation into foreign meddling in U.S. elections may have called into question the president’s own legitimacy. The official writes, “In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the ‘enemy of the people,’ President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic.” Note that “anti-trade” precedes “anti-democratic,” in order, presumably, of importance.
As evidence of the president’s amorality, the official points to the fact that Trump ran for office as a Republican, but doesn’t govern like one. Others might first point to his bragging about grabbing women’s genitals, or his obvious racism, or his spouting of unfounded and dangerous conspiracy theories as evidence of moral deficiency a bit more chilling than Trump’s deviation from the party line.
The official does, however, applaud the president for the very Republican things he has done: the deficit-ballooning tax cut, environmentally dangerous deregulation, and, of course, “a robust military.” (Those first two items are, notably, close to the hearts of the Koch brothers, whose network of donors and organizations now supply the GOP’s lifeblood.)
Add to all that the official’s titillating tidbit about buzz among cabinet members regarding possible invocation of the 25th Amendment—a constitutional provision for removing an incapacitated president—and you have an argument being made for the replacement of the president with a real Republican, presumably the next in line. (Vice President Mike Pence, who owes his political career to the Koch brothers, was quick to condemn the author of the anonymous piece.)
When Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election for Trump’s benefit, issues his final report, it’s likely to look very bad for the administration. Already, members of the Trump campaign have pled guilty to lying to the FBI about their contacts with agents of the Russian government, and longtime Trump associate Roger Stone, who served both formally and informally as a consultant to the campaign, is now under Mueller’s microscope.
In service to the base that Trump built through his race-baiting rallies and racist policies, the GOP has become captive to a chief executive whose amorality—or, rather, immorality—may soon be exposed in its full scope. Meanwhile, Democrats are finding a burst of energy in the Trump backlash as the 2018 midterm elections approach. With Trump at the top of a 2020 ticket, a second term, while not impossible, may be looking to party elders like less of a sure thing.
The writer of the anonymous essay would have you believe that she or he is speaking to all who love the constitutional republic we call America. But the writer is really talking to people who love power and seek to maintain it via the Republican Party. Were that not the case, the official would come out of the shadows and blow the whistle on the boss, torpedoes be damned.
Today, Trump called on the Justice Department to investigate the identity of the anonymous writer. Any refusal to do so on the part of the department could provide a pretext for the president to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and replace him with someone willing to shut down the Mueller investigation, from which Sessions had to recuse himself.
Any such use of the Justice Department, of course, would be a travesty. The writer of the anonymous essay has every right to have written it, with or without a byline. But such a “senior official” who feared more for the fate of the republic than that of his or her party would step forward into the light, and tell the whole story.