On Wednesday, The New York Times took the unusual step of publishing an anonymous OpEd, from a senior Trump administration official, which both painted a horrifying portrait of an impulsive, amoral president who “continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic” and sought to reassure Americans that “adults in the room” were checking President Donald Trump’s worst impulses.
The column was a shocking revelation of how dysfunctional the White House has become. It echoed revelations made just days earlier by famed Watergate journalist Bob Woodward, who has written a new book about the Trump White House.
These revelations must jumpstart an overdue discussion of how to bring this sad saga to an end. The big question is what comes next. To be sure, there are no easy answers. The column, as its author wrote, it is a call to action, of some sort.
“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,” the author wrote.
There is much speculation about who wrote the piece. Some point to Vice President Mike Pence because of the column’s use of the uncommon word “ lodestar,” which Pence has used in several speeches. Although the vice president has the most to gain from Trump’s demise, it is highly unlikely that he is the anonymous author.
It is also worth noting that although the column starts with the use of the word “I,” it quickly switches to “we.” It also has the feeling of a group effort, with different people contributing different examples and highlighted different problematic interactions with the president. The most concrete examples of Trump’s imperious behavior involve foreign policy, suggesting it was written by someone with this focus and expertise.
Beyond who, the big question is why? Why an anonymous column, especially in The New York Times, which has, predictably, already further infuriated Trump?
It is completely self-serving for the author to portray himself or herself, along with fellow resistors, as heros. “It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room,” the column says. “We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.”
It is cold comfort. Don’t worry, the anonymous author says, we’re stopping Trump from doing really bad stuff. But if the president is as unfit for the country’s highest office, as the column portrays, being adults in the room isn’t enough. If the president is as reckless and amoral as the author says, the Trump presidency must end.
There are no simple ways to do this. Impeachment would turn into a political circus. Invoking the 25th Amendment, which allows for removal of the president if “the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” is also a difficult and uncertain path. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is ongoing and could provide additional fodder for Trump’s removal.
What is clear is that Republicans must take Trump’s failings much more seriously than they have. Saying he is crude and criticizing a handful of policy decisions does not match the urgency of the crisis that is unfolding before our eyes.
Even the OpEd author falls into the trap of saying many of Trump’s policies are positive, citing a healthy economy and tax reform. But is lowering taxes and shredding regulations really a good payoff for a White House that is dysfunctional and threatens the very core of our democratic values?
We understand that the column’s author and like-minded administration officials have limited options and none of them are simple or straightforward. This column, despite its many faults, must be a wake-up call to all Americans, but especially to Republicans in Congress who have refused to stand up to Trump’s worst impulses.
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