September 8, 2018
On September 6, The New York Times opinion page carried a column by an anonymous “senior official in the Trump administration,” which denounces the President as an individual, and bewails his negative effect. “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.” His “leadership style . . . is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.”
However, the author and others are ever vigilant: “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.”
Reactions have included speculation as to the identity of the author; a rush by members of the Trump administration to deny being that person and to denounce such disloyal tactics; discussion of whether the Times editorial page staff should have published the column without demanding that the author identify himself; and speculation as to what the Times news department will do if it discovers his identity.
The content of the column has received less attention, partly because its comments on Trump’s limited ability and erratic behavior are old news. The one item attracting comment is its claim that insiders, including the author, have conspired to prevent Trump from making egregious mistakes.
Many have commented that the author, rather than hiding behind anonymity, should have signed the article and then resigned, either as an admission of guilt or as a protest. However, that would not serve the author’s aims. The column inadvertently reveals that the senior official is sticking with Trump, despite his incompetence and the danger of disastrous acts, because he can be used.
The most important aspect of the article is the agenda the author wishes to protect and advance. He wraps it in a few clichés: “We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.” He concedes that “the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: “free minds, free markets and free people,” and Trump is “anti-trade.” However, 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.” To further such policies, the author will rely on his and others’ skill — and luck —to restrain the idiot.
If Trump is as much a menace as the author states, and that seems clear, then the proper move is to initiate action under the Twenty-fifth Amendment. He has rejected that because it would cause a constitutional crisis, as if having as President an unstable adolescent with autocratic tendencies, whose election was supported clandestinely by a foreign power, were not. Very well, resign in protest and go public. No; tax cuts for the rich, freedom to pollute and throwing more money at the fiscally irresponsible military are too important.
That’s what is wrong about the column and the author’s program: risking disaster to protect a reactionary agenda. The Times shouldn’t have given that an implied endorsement.