The only thing more frightening than the New York Times’ anonymous op-ed itself is the fact that it is apparently meant to be reassuring.
The letter, written by a “senior official in the Trump administration,” assures readers that there are “adults in the room” who are aware that Trump is an unhinged tyrant and are doing their best to steer the White House in a saner, more benevolent direction. To bolster this claim, the Author of this Letter(herein known as AL) boasts that they are operating alongside a group of “senior officials” who are “working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”
Beyond the fact that this ridiculous situation makes the United States of America look like a foolish, untrustworthy carnival of ineptitude, and barring the possibility that the essay is itself a piece of propaganda, the gall of AL’s admission is terrifying in its implications. The state of our country’s democracy has devolved to the point that unelected officials are reassuring the public that they are running the government instead of its president.
This claim comes with a whole platter of problems.
1. Unelected Officials Are Running The Government
The anonymous op-ed acknowledges, with no apparent qualms, that our government is currently being run by an anonymous, unelected group of people. While the elected president is running around tweeting and foaming at the mouth, an invisible “second track” government is apparently running the country, cutting taxes and making foreign policy decisions.
The idea—which I have heard more than one person express, in varying degrees of jest—that “anyone is better than Trump” is a bad take and a slippery slope. It should, under no circumstances, be comforting that an anonymous, unelected individual or group has taken our country’s reins into their own hands.
This is not how our democracy is supposed to work, and the fact that an official is so comfortable bypassing the constitution and the chain of command that they are bragging to the national news and the general public about it is a bitter symbol of how far we’ve strayed.
2. The 25th Amendment
The 25th Amendment was written for a reason. There is a process that has existed since 1965 to remove an unfit president from office. AL mentioned “early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment,” all of which were apparently dismissed in order to “precipitate a constitutional crisis.” Acknowledging that the ship is being captained by an unfit president, AL and AL’s mateys are just going to “steer the administration in the right direction” instead of invoking the system that exists for the express purpose of keeping a fit captain aboard.
Invoking the 25th Amendment is unprecedented, and the process would be fraught with enough discord to admittedly justify the doubts of AL and AL’s peers. The amendment dictates that members of the cabinet can notify congress that they believe the president is unable to fulfill his duties. With a two-thirds vote, congress can make the vice president the acting president of the United States. But the president can counter this decision, giving Congress three weeks to decide. At that point, Congress can reinstate the president, unless the vice president and majority of principal executive department officers collectively decide that the president is unable to fulfill his duties. Congress may also appoint a “body,” such as a board of psychologists or doctors, to give an opinion about this decision.
Acknowledging the potential need for invoking the 25th amendment, and then dismissing the possibility in favor of running a two-track government, could very well be considered an administrative coup– a constitutional crisis if I’ve ever heard one.
3. Rebranding The Oppressors as the Liberators
The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around the White House. Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.
It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.
By calling themselves the “resistance,” AL and friends get to facilitate Trump’s atrocities while painting themselves into “unsung heroes.” Aside from holding Russia and other countries accountable for meddling, AL specifies no specific policies that they are apparently resisting. This allows the GOP to divorce itself from the worst of Trump’s politics and pretend that they aren’t directly at fault here, as though Trump was born of thin air and not the direct result of decades of racist and tribalist Republican politics.
The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making….“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.
Neither the lies, the flip-floppping, nor the amorality is news to anyone who was paying an iota of attention during his campaign. We all knew he was a maniac, and the more discerning or ethical among us did everything in our power to stop him from being elected in the first place. The GOP backed Trump, and then AL took a job with him. None of these crocodile tears about the president’s unmoored amorality are appropriate here.
4. GOP Gets What It Wants, At Our Expense
To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous….There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.
The heart of my issue with this anonymous op-ed is embedded in this passage. At the end of the day, AL wants the administration to succeed, and cites disastrous GOP policies as evidence that it has succeeded in some capacity. These policies include environmental deregulation that disproportionately affects communities of color and indigenous groups, tax cuts that slingshot wealth back up towards the 1%, and siphoning money away from education and infrastructure towards an imperialist military and a militarized police.
Unlike the “popular ‘resistance’ of the left,” AL’s America apparently is “safer and more prosperous” when it is allowing thousands of people to die in Puerto Rico, separating and caging Latinx families, investing in an archaic fossil fuel industry at the expense of the environment and indigenous Americans, and militarizing a police force that kills unarmed Americans. And as long as those ends are being met, AL is happy to ride in the wake of Trump’s chaos.
5. No Snitches
I can tell you right now: if I had some kind of secret plot to organize an insider coup to undermine the president of the United States’ every nefarious move, you can better believe I would never tell the New York Times about it. Especially if I was already aware that said president, who “engages in repetitive rants, and … half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions,” was also of the opinion that “the press is the ‘enemy of the people.”
It is difficult for me to believe that AL did not predict major consequences to this drastic action. Aside from the outright witch hunt to catch the “treasonous” culprit, it will now be even more difficult for AL to carry out their so-called resistance. The already paranoid Trump will now be angrier and further convinced that the country, including his inner circle, is out to get him. It will be impossible to object to any of his decisions without rousing suspicious, as any opposition to one of his worst ideas will now look like a smoking gun.
6. De-Incentivizing Democratic Voters From Midterms
The timing of this anonymous op-ed is suspicious.
The midterms are coming up, which is the time for dissatisfied voters to rush to the polls and secure a majority for their party. Historically, the party with White House control loses seats to the opposition party during midterm elections. For Democrats, the midterms represent a critical opportunity to regain control of congress and push back against Trump’s policies.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be that easy this year. To win the Senate, Democrats need to gain three more seats, in addition to defending the 25 seats that will be up for grabs. Republicans, by contrast, are only defending 9 seats. And to make matters worse, nearly half of the 25 currently-Democratic seats are in states that already voted Trump. The House of Representatives doesn’t look much better: Democrats will need to win 24 new seats for a majority, with 12 of their own seats in Trump districts.
Widespread dissatisfaction with the party in power typically provides enough of an incentive to midterm voters (which is why the opposition party tends to do so well), but there are a few obstacles in that department, too. With Trump obsessed with “voter fraud” and the GOP doubling down on voter suppression policies, it will likely be even harder for Democrats—especially poor, black, or latinx voters—to even get to the polls.
All of this is why the “reach across the aisle” rhetoric at the end of AL’s op-ed is so insidious:
“The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.
Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation…
There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one: Americans.”
Beneath all that flowery eloquence is an implicit suggestion to set party politics aside and “unite,” along with the assurance that in-the-know Republicans have the situation under control. This is suspicious timing two months before midterm elections, when dissatisfied citizens really doneed to focus on party politics and vote Democrat in the midterms.
A More Honest Anonymous Op-Ed
I’ve taken the liberty of rewriting AL’s anonymous op-ed a bit more candidly:
Trump is a maniac unfit for the presidency, but instead of invoking the constitutional amendment that exists for this express purpose, we’ve decided to take it into our own, anonymous hands and run a “two track” shadow government as a group of unelected officials that know better than the constitution.
In the mean time, we’re going to use the chaos to pass our own agenda, and let you know that you don’t actually have to vote democrat during the midterms. After all, it’s not a crisis anymore: inside republicans totally have this under control.
I’m using the language of the resistance – without actually taking any resistant actions – to let you know that me and my republican peers are the real heroes of this story. This letter should pretty conclusively absolve us all of any responsibility for this administration’s actions—past, present, and future, so when the ship sinks, I can tell you all we weren’t really complicit.
God bless America!