I started this post last night and I’m finishing it the next day. So, keep that in mind with references to time. Also, I’ve had more time to stew on this.
I had a really busy day at work today with a lot of running around and meeting with people and generally not being on the internet like I usually am. While I was stressing and trying to squeeze in some tasks into a little block of time, I posted this to Facebook:
I was not, at that moment, aware that the New York Times had decided to publish an op-ed by someone alleged to be “a senior official in the Trump administration.”
The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.
I would know. I am one of them.
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.https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/05/opinion/trump-white-house-anonymous-resistance.html
It’s a quick read especially with all the ad blocks the NYT puts on their site. Check it out.
So, then the Washington Post — also of “crooked media,” “fake news,” and “struggling” fame like the NYT — published this piece:
The extraordinary column, published anonymously in the New York Times, surfaced one day after the first excerpts emerged from Bob Woodward’s new book, in which Trump’s top advisers painted a devastating portrait of the president and described a “crazytown” atmosphere inside the White House.
Taken together, they landed like a thunder clap, portraying Trump as a danger to the country that elected him and feeding the president’s paranoia about whom around him he can trust.
Trump reacted to the column with “volcanic” anger and was “absolutely livid” over what he considered a treasonous act of disloyalty and told confidants he suspects the official works on national security issues or in the Justice Department, according to two people familiar with his private discussions.https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-sleeper-cells-have-awoken-trump-and-aides-shaken-by-resistance-op-ed/2018/09/05/ecdf423c-b14b-11e8-a20b-5f4f84429666_story.html
This story also cites officials who wish to remain anonymous. What they say is happening behind closed doors in the White House in the wake of the Woodward book — a contemporary political book that I think I will actually read — and the NYT op-ed is consonant with President Trump’s recent tweets.
That second tweet contains in it a reaction that echoes something I predicted before I’d even read the op-ed:
David Frum’s reaction in The Atlantic was a bit more… uhhhmmm… energetic than my own.
Impeachment is a constitutional mechanism. The Twenty-Fifth Amendment is a constitutional mechanism. Mass resignations followed by voluntary testimony to congressional committees are a constitutional mechanism. Overt defiance of presidential authority by the president’s own appointees—now that’s a constitutional crisis.https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/09/this-is-a-constitutional-crisis/569443/
But there’s a lot I agree with in there. So, read that one, too.
I went and looked up “constitutional crisis,” though, because one of my Facebook friends used the same phrase and I’ve heard it so frequently with regard to the Trump administration that it has lost its meaning.
In political science, a constitutional crisis is a problem or conflict in the function of a government that the political constitution or other fundamental governing law is perceived to be unable to resolve.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitutional_crisis
Five Thirty-Eight also has this fascinating piece on four types of constitutional crises.
So what exactly is a constitutional crisis? We should be clear about what does — and, more importantly, does not — merit this description. It’s possible to have a major political crisis even if the Constitution is crystal clear on the remedy, or to have a constitutional crisis that doesn’t ruffle many feathers.https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/constitutional-crisis/
Emphasis added because that’s about where I am every time someone says Trump is a constitutional crisis. I’m just finding it harder and harder to care about these sorts of “crises.”
But, OK. I agree that we have some constitutional crises here.
I just want to be clear: I don’t think the fact that Trump is unpopular and Congress isn’t impeaching him constitutes a constitutional crisis by itself.
Unfortunately, there are strong arguments to be made that the president is a felon. Putting those aside, the president is also giving us strong evidence that he intends to use his office to prevent the criminal prosecution of several of his associates or even himself in what would be called “obstruction of justice.”
And now we have people admitting in the press to refusing to carry out the legal orders of a duly elected president and fulfilling their constitutional duties.
The Constitution does not cover any of this. So, yes. Definitely a crisis or two here. But is this op-ed a big deal? After stewing on this overnight, I am even more thinking it is a big deal. A very annoying and stupid big deal. (This is where I picked up writing again since yesterday evening.)
David Frum is right: these “anonymous senior White House officials” need to resign. Or do something. But holding their position while actively undermining the president even if the president is wrong is dangerous, stupid, and unethical.
I was hesitant last night to buy into the characterization of this op-ed as a “coup,” but that’s really kind of what’s happening here. It’s a sort of, slow-moving, bureaucratic coup. And as an American, I deeply vexed to hear about unelected officials undermining the officials we did elect. This isn’t some insane theory about the “deep state.” This is — as they say on NPR — the “shallow state.” And it’s an insane mess.
I expect people who support this anonymous White House official’s behavior will say that the ends justify the means and that it’s Trump’s fault in the first place because he’s the one who thinks F-35s are “literally invisible” and doesn’t seem to understand how the government works. First of all, no. That’s why we live in a constitutional republic with democratically elected officials and not the Mob State of Batman Pretenders. Whether you agree with the president on anything at all, it is still a fact that he is the duly elected President of the United States of America and this “anonymous senior white house official” is actively undermining the will of the people described by the Constitution. I wouldn’t call this treason, but it’s wrong. Very, very wrong.
Among other, less critical problems it creates, speaking anonymously makes it too easy for their target to accuse them of being entirely fictional. Perhaps the NYT editorial board considered that and felt that their credibility is beyond criticism and that America would trust them. Although those supporting the president are in the minority, they are a huge chunk of the population and providing a soap box for the morally vapid is not going to convince them of the NYT’s journalistic integrity.
I am not a fan of Donald Trump by any stretch of the imagination. I lost real life friends over my opposition to him before he was elected. And he’s only surprised me by his creativity in finding new ways to sink beneath my lowest expectations. At this point, I don’t think I’d be surprised if he really did try to shoot someone on Fifth Ave. But this ain’t right.
I’m happy to report that a number of my Democratic and progressive friends as well as some of the actual liberal media to which I subscribe have also expressed deep concern and frustration with this foolishness.
The conservative outlets I subscribe to were quicker to decry this cowardly official and express concern about what they’re doing, but I am also happy that both sides agree that this is bad and stupid.
The NYT podcast, The Daily, this morning (the day after I started writing this post) was an interview with James Dao, op-ed editor at the NYT, explaining the decision. I wasn’t impressed, but I was particular disturbed by the fact that Mr. Dao wouldn’t even give us the definition of what it means to be a “senior white house official.”
I haven’t looked into it, but on a conservative discussion thread on Facebook, someone linked to this Town Hall article that claims that the New York Times once passed off an intern as a “senior” official. It’s an opinion piece and didn’t link to any corroborating evidence for the claims. And I’m too eager to finish this blog post and too lazy to dig further, so take that claim with a massive chunk of salt, but still.
I’m not sure how much stock I put in the NYT op ed. On one hand, we’ve heard a LOT of reporting to the effect that there are people betraying Trump in the White House, so that seems likely. But, on the other hand, my naive confidence in my fellow humans finds it implausible that these “steady state” operatives could really be doing all that much and not anything very overt or else they would be caught.
Of all the issues the Trump administration is facing, the most damaging in my eyes — perhaps not that of the rest of the American public, Congress, or the courts — is Trump’s flirtation with obstruction of justice. That’s the one that bugs me the MOST anyway because it’s the one that brings me to the point of saying Congress should impeach him.
I am wary of impeachment. It’s a political process, not a criminal one. And that will make the president’s supporters argue — no matter what evidence is presented — that it isn’t fair or honest or right. Which means they’ll try to do the same thing if given half a chance and an internet rumor about a sex trafficking ring operating out of a pizza shop. I’m wary of impeachment because I’m doubtful about how productive such an effort would be.
But obstruction of justice pushes me over the edge. Shooting someone would also do it.
I want to end this post right there, but I feel like it would be irresponsible of me to write about the problems with the Trump administration without pointing out that if Congress had been doing its job for the last half century or more instead of giving power to the Executive, we wouldn’t have half these problems.
EDIT: Corrected some typos. I had some trouble with WordPress while writing this and I’d like to re-order some of the paragraphs, but, meh.