We have been informed, twice now this week, that there are alleged “adults” in Donald Trump’s White House who are supposedly acting as a hedge against the 45th president’s worst impulses.And this, in some weird way, is both weirdly comforting and profoundly depressing.
Comforting because it means that there are apparently some hardworking souls trying to preserve a semblance of order in a White House dedicated to knocking down the norms of a liberal democracy and undermining the very institutions that make government function.
Depressing because, well, no one elected this college of cardinals that is now apparently functioning as a shadow government. As The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin sagely remarked, when this happens in other countries, it’s referred to a “coup d’etat.”
Let’s take these revelations in order.
Earlier this week, the blitz of coverage accompanying veteran Watergate reporter Bob Woodward’s new book “Fear: Trump in the White House,” confirmed things that most Americans either knew or long suspected about an unstable chief executive who is routinely derided by his most senior advisers. Woodward reveals a president who has zero intellectual curiosity and even less impulse control, and who boasts an obsession with his media image that scores a 12 out of 10 on the Kardashian Scale.
Woodward’s book is a tragicomic catalogue of life in a White House lorded over by an apparently unmoored president, even as top officials such as former economic adviser Gary Cohn snatched potentially destructive documents off the president’s desk so he wouldn’t sign them.
From former White House lawyer John Dowd, we learned – or rather had confirmed – that Trump is incapable of getting through a single blustery sentence without uttering some spectacular falsehood, making him a prime candidate for perjury in any potential sit-down with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Barely two days later, the New York York Times took the extraordinary step of publishing an anonymously penned op-ed by a “senior Trump administration official” who claimed to speak for an internal resistance movement that “[wants] the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.”
Through the Times’ anonymous correspondent, we also know that “many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.”
We also know, but shouldn’t be surprised to learn that “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,” the anonymous staffer observes.
And “given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until – one way or another – it’s over,” the anonymous op-Ed writer opined.
Predictably, Trump has lashed out at Woodward, calling his book “a con on the public.” Senior White House officials, including Chief of Staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis, have denied the words that were attributed to them in the meticulously researched and reported tome.
The White House can rage against Woodward’s book all it wants. Other White Houses, Democrat and Republican alike, have done the same in the half-century that the respected journalist has chronicled their triumphs and failures. It hasn’t worked. There is little reason to think Trump will be any more successful.
The Times’ op-ed, while well-intentioned, is more problematic on at least two levels.
While it’s true that the paper’s editors knew their correspondent’s identity, the op-ed’s anonymous allegations will only fuel Trump’s one-man war on the media and add fire to his ridiculous and damaging claim that journalists are the “enemy of the people.”
And if there are, indeed, adults in the White House working to short-circuit Trump’s authoritarian impulses, they should step up, speak out, and then resign, putting the good of the nation ahead of their future professional viability.
If not, it will only fuel and confirm the hard-right’s paranoid delusions that a non-existent “deep states” is actively working to thwart Trump’s agenda.
An overly compliant and supine Republican-controlled Congress has utterly abdicated its responsibilities as a co-equal branch of government.
Some Republicans, including the the conservative columnists Max Boot and George F. Will, have argued that the only way to restore sanity is vote out the GOP and install Democratic majorities in the U.S. House and Senate.