September 10, 2018

Thoughts on “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration”

Last Wednesday, The New York Times, published an op-ed essay anonymously written by “a senior official in the Trump administration.” The piece has elicited extensive commentary, addressing both its content and the decision of the Times to publish it. Fearing that I may have nothing original to say about “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” I nevertheless feel compelled to offer my own thoughts about the piece.

Four obvious questions come to mind:
  1. Who wrote the essay? This question has been given a lot of attention in the past few days.
  2. Why was it written? What was the author trying to accomplish?
  3. Why did The New York Times choose to publish it?
  4. What are we to make of the substance of the op-ed?
I am not a Washington insider and have no idea who might have written the essay. Many writers have speculated about the author, seemingly in the absence of actual evidence. We are unlikely to have our curiosity assuaged anytime soon; Deep Throat remained anonymous for decades. That many administration figures have denied authorship should hardly be taken at face value. The authorship question is entangled with the question of motivation, which I address below.

Saving America
Delcan & Company for The New York Times

Ironically, the president, who regularly calls the Mueller investigation a witch hunt, wants to initiate his own witch hunt —which my dictionary defines as “the act of unfairly looking for and punishing people who are accused of having opinions that are believed to be dangerous or evil”—for the writer. Trump claims the hunt for the author is a matter of national security, his motivation for everything from a border wall to outrageous tariffs. The op-ed is certainly not a threat to national security and is unquestionably not illegal, though one may quibble about its ethicality.

It is unclear why the op-ed was written, though speculation as to motive has more evidence to draw on. I think it unlikely, but some have suggested that the piece was written at the behest of the president. (The writing is too coherent to have been written by Trump himself, and the president surely could not have personally pitched it to the Times.) This theory posits that the essay is intended to appeal to the president’s base by casting him as their embattled champion. I doubt that Trump’s ego would allow him to conceive such a convoluted plot that relies on devastating criticism of himself.

In other words, I believe the op-ed was indeed written by a highly placed official in the Trump administration. I have no reason to think that The New York Times would mislead us in this regard. A cursory reading suggests that the writer intends to reassure citizens that, despite the president’s mercurial nature, there are adults in the White House intent upon preventing Trump from doing anything crazy. Indeed, we are told that “many Trump appointees” are engaged in this project. (It has even been suggested that the op-ed is the project of multiple authors, a notion that enhances the credibility of the assertion that patriots in the White House will be able to “preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.”)

The headline asserting that the writer is part of the “Resistance,” is somewhat misleading, The “Resistance” of the op-ed is not the Resistance of the left, which has claimed that name from the beginning of the Trump era. The author is explicit about the distinction and writes that “[w]e want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.” Democrats and other opponents of this administration most definitely do not believe that Trump has made America safer and prosperous. We believe that Trump has been a singular disaster for America and for the world, a disaster whose consequences have yet to be fully realized.

The op-ed is, I think, aimed at three audiences. The True Believers, particularly the president’s evangelical supporters who may be having doubts related to Trump’s character, are being reassured that his worst proclivities are being held in check. The traditional Republicans—surely there are some left somewhere—are being told that Trump really is implementing a conventional, conservative GOP agenda. Those who believe that Trump’s is a ruinous presidency are expected to take some comfort that there are surreptitious forces restraining the chief executive. The author(s) probably hopes that the latter group will overlook the fact that those anonymous forces are not really on their side.

“I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration” is, in the end, a defense of an administration that many of us believe is indefensible.

We actually have concrete information as to why the Times decided to publish the anonymous op-ed in the form of a “Bulletin Board” post titled “How the Anonymous Op-Ed Came to Be.” (I am inclined to take “the failing New York Times” at its word.) Apparently, the piece was unsolicited and was brought to the paper by a trusted third party. According to Jim Dao, writing for the Times,
[W]e concluded that the author’s principal motivation was to describe, as faithfully as possible, the internal workings of a chaotic and divided administration and to defend the choice to nevertheless work within it.
Of course, the op-ed was also a significant scoop for the paper, as evidenced by the amount of attention it commanded.

The essay mostly confirmed the chaos in the White House of which we were already aware, thanks in part to excerpts from Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, Fear: Trump in the White House. Of course, there is value in getting such information, even anonymously, directly from someone in the administration, unfiltered through a journalist. For most Americans, and particularly for Democrats, the op-ed offers little solace. Yes, there are adults in the room that may sometimes keep Trump from doing something stupid or reckless, but those “adults” still appear to be far-right conservatives intent on destroying as much of the government as possible.

The writer(s) expresses appreciation for “free minds, free markets[,] and free people,” but admits that Trump “has attacked [these ideals] outright.” His inclinations are “anti-trade and anti-democratic.”
He “shows a preference for autocrats and dictators … and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.” However well-meaning the administration’s “Resistance” may be, it has been, in the end, feckless. The essay raises the prospect of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump, but it is clear that such a move is not going to happen.

The fundamental problem with Trump is described this way:
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.
I agree that Trump is “not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.” The author(s) has made a significant mistake, however, in calling the president amoral. Admittedly, particularly in the American context, being amoral is a bad thing. But Trump is not amoral; he is immoral. He is hateful, vindictive, self-righteous, ignorant, mendacious, untrustworthy, callous, and boorish. He is very nearly evil personified. Consider the so-called seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Every one of these can be applied to our president. He believes himself to be best at everything, all evidence to the contrary. His life has been one of greed, pursued without scruples. I need hardly comment on lust! He envies other countries who have “cheated” the U.S., and one suspects that he envies those people whom, in his heart of hearts, he knows are in some way better than himself. As evidence of gluttony, I offer his weight, which he tries to minimize, and his love of junk food. His wrath is apparent every day; it seems a substitute for happiness. Finally, there is sloth. Trump has taken far more vacation days than other presidents, clearly enjoys golf more than governing, and appears to spend an inordinate amount of time sitting down in front of the television watching Fox News. Would that these were his only sins!

“I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration” offers insights into the workings of the current administration, but it offers no comfort. Whoever wrote the piece is engaging in self-serving self-righteousness in order to keep a job that is as much enabler as disruptor. He (or they) should resign, declare him- or herself, and admit to the American public that the emperor has no clothes. If indeed a cadre of Resistance folks resign at once, at least they will distract the president from his more evil enterprises for a time.

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