By now I’m sure you’ve heard that a person claiming to be a high-ranking member of President Donald Trump’s administration has penned an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times. The op-ed claims, essentially, that various so-called adults in the Trump administration are working overtime to check Trump’s worst impulses and thereby are saving the country from disaster. The op-ed’s anonymous author purports to be one of these adults, and no doubt will expect adulation (and a lucrative GoFundMe campaign) whenever his or her identity is eventually revealed.
As someone who’s been a frequent public critic of the president’s impulsive temperament, color me unimpressed with this entire sad charade — including the person who wrote the op-ed and the newspaper that published it.
There are basically two scenarios that are plausible when it comes to this op-ed. The first is that it reflects the true feelings and observations of someone who is genuinely highly placed in the administration. The second is that it is either a fabrication or gross exaggeration; which could mean either that the person has simply made up events that never happened, or that they are really a minor official who doesn’t actually have regular interaction with the president.
If the allegations in the op-ed are true, then the only responsible course of action for the author would have been to resign and put their name to the column.
If it’s true that Trump has no idea what the hell he’s doing as president and that only a firm hand applied by harried advisers keeps this country from careening toward nuclear war, then I could certainly excuse one of those advisers for what they consider to be their patriotic duty, which would be to help keep the country on track. Every adviser to every president has done this to some degree: after all, no president has ever agreed with any of his advisers all the time. Eventually, every president will make a decision that one of his principal advisers will think is wrong, or reckless, or dangerous.
The job of such an adviser, after such a decision is made, is very clear: Get on board with the president’s program anyway, even if you don’t agree with it. Or, if you feel that the decision is so wrong that it endangers the country or your own reputation by virtue of being associated with it, then quit. There is no responsible third option that involves staying on board and anonymously calling the president a nut to the media. That is harmful to both the president and the country as a whole.
Moreover, if the president is really so erratic and trustworthy as to require the constant handling of advisers just to avert total disaster, then the American people deserve to know it. And they deserve to know who is the person making such a claim, and what the supposed basis for their knowledge is. If the person making the claim is someone like chief of staff Gen. John Kelly or Secretary of Defense James Mattis, that would be one thing. If it instead is an assistant undersecretary in the Department of Energy, that is something else. And if it is someone with known axes to grind or post-administration career they are trying to establish, that should be evaluated, too.
In the absence of that vital information, the op-ed does nothing but confirm what everyone already believed. For people who have always assumed that Trump requires constant babysitting, this op-ed just bolsters that belief. For people who believe instead that this narrative about Trump is driven by a media makes up fake stories based on anonymous sources that don’t really exist, they likewise have ammunition to support that claim.
In the end, thanks to the author (and paper’s) cowardly decision to remain anonymous, everyone walks away believing exactly what they already believed before, except that the republic is weaker as a result, because it has eroded the trust the president has in his advisers, and continues to erode the trust the people have in an objective media.
The American people deserve the truth. Elections are around the corner. If the president of the United States is really as erratic and unfit as he is described in the op-ed, then the person who wrote it should put their name to it, immediately. Let the public judge whether they really even are in a position to know the things they say. Let the public judge their motivations and their loyalty to the country. Let them judge whether the president needs additional hostile oversight from Congress as well as a strong hand from advisers.
These factors are far more important to the country than the continued government employment of the person who wrote this op-ed. They should have the courage to face the music and tell the truth to the nation, with their name and reputation attached, if this is what they really believe.
Otherwise, they should have just kept their mouth shut and continued doing whatever it was they thought they were doing to save the country. Because releasing this anonymous op-ed has done nothing for anyone.