Donald Trump

Anonymous Tell-Alls in The New York Times Are More of a Threat to the Republic Than Trump

The president may well be unprincipled, ignorant, and awful, but he was elected fair and square.


Nick Gillespie

The New York Times has just taken what it calls the "rare step of publishing an anonymous Op-Ed essay" by a "a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us." Why the secrecy and urgency? "We believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers." The author, we're told, would lose his (her?) job if he/she went public.

Please. An identifiable, high-level person quitting on principle might actually command respect and change some minds. But venting that the president is an idiot and throwing a link to a Times piece on Bob Woodward's new anti-Trump book, Fear, is hardly a profile in courage. The anonymity of the author will only work to harden Trump loyalists and members of the so-called resistance. So much for transcending partisanship among the shrinking numbers of Americans who call themselves Democrats or Republicans (Gallup's latest numbers put self-identified independents at 43 percent of the electorate, compared to 28 percent for the GOP and 27 percent for the Democrats).

In a nutshell, the op-ed complains that Donald Trump is "amoral" and "not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making." Many in the White House, we're told, are actively working to subvert the president's agenda on certain issues, although the op-ed is weirdly filled with qualified praise, such as the claim that "many of [the administration's] policies have already made America safer and more prosperous." Still, the author argues, Trump is an idiot who is prevented from enacting all of his own policies by the unsung "adults in the room" who have created a "two-track presidency."

In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.

Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.

"There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first," writes the author, wrapping in treacly clichés of patriotism the bald fact that a duly elected president is being undermined by his own staff.

Exactly the same sort of thing, albeit in softer form, could be said about any White House. There are always factions and cross-currents. How many members of George W. Bush's administration, for instance, really gave a shit about their boss' desire after re-election to enact immigration and Social Security reform? Zero. The Obama White House was riven by differences over health-care plans and foreign-policy disputes as well. Read any history of the Reagan years, and you'll find that it was amazing that anything ever got done given all the in-fighting. Bill Clinton actually had officials resign over policy differences. It's patently absurd to elevate frictions within the Trump White House to an existential threat to the Republic. In fact, it's the sort of overstatement that is worthy of, well, Donald Trump, who just doesn't do nuance.

Which isn't to say that the author's reading of the Trump White House sounds wrong, especially in light of the revelations reportedly contained in Woodward's book. Among other things, Woodward, whose credibility is hardly above reproach, says that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis dismissed Trump's command to assassinate Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and instead prepared a "more measured" response involving bombing Syria. Woodward asserts that Mattis told colleagues that "the president acted like—and had the understanding of—a 'fifth or sixth grader.'" Mattis has denied using such language or whatevering the president, saying, "This is a uniquely Washington brand of literature, and [Woodward's] anonymous sources do not lend credibility."

Neither does the Times' decision to publish an anonymous White House official.

There is no question that Trump was a uniquely unqualified candidate to run for president, and he seems to have virtually no expertise in anything other than Twitter trolling. He clearly understands nothing about trade deficits, for instance, and his policies clearly don't add up to anything particularly coherent (then again, they didn't on the campaign trail, either). He is not a traditional Republican, but since when is that an impeachable offense? The author genuflects to John McCain, a well-respected public figure but also one whose incoherent and grandiose economic, social, and foreign policy positions were hardly worth emulating, and concludes:

Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation.

With all due respect: What the fuck does that even mean?

Few outlets have been more stridently #NeverTrump than The New York Times, a fair stand-in for the legacy media that have nothing but contempt for Donald Trump and sympathy for Hillary Clinton (it was her time!) and a broad Democratic agenda of more-active government. The anonymous op-ed can only be read in that light and thus discounted.

Despite the hand waving about breaking "free of the tribalism trap," this op-ed is clearly in the service of the anti-Trump resistance. The real liberation is to break free of both Trump loyalism and Trump Derangement Syndrome, which both put the president at the white-hot center of every goddamn minute of every goddamn day. As even the anonymous author of the op-ed will grant, good things have come out of the Trump White House. So have many bad things, especially on the immigration and trade fronts. That doesn't make Trump uniquely awful; it simply means he's the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

From a libertarian perspective, the best course of action is not to elevate Trump to Satan or Saturn but to acknowledge that he is a mixed bag. In this, he's perhaps more like Bill Clinton than anyone wants to admit. The major successes of the Clinton years—welfare reform, balanced budgets, capital-gains tax cuts, acknowledgment that the "era of Big Government was over"—came not out of one faction winning but out of the tension among various factions.

If there is a problem to be solved, it's not a president who, like his predecessors, refuses to cut the size, scope, and spending of government. It's Congress, which has abdicated its constitutional role of writing legislation. And it's government at all levels, which seeks to control and regulate the hell out of social and economic innovation in the name of some imaginary greater good. There are midterms afoot, so it's easy to understand why people in the dying Republican and Democratic parties are desperate to view everything through partisan lenses. But the rest of us, especially libertarians, are free of such blinders and would do well to remember that independence means, first and foremost, not making everything about politics.