In an anonymous New York Times op-ed, a senior White House official writes that the president of the United States has “anti-democratic impulses,” is bereft of “any discernible first principles,” behaves in an “erratic” manner that is “detrimental to the health of our republic,” and is so psychologically unstable, “there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment” (which allows for a president to be removed for physical or mental incapacity).
But none of this should trouble you, the official explains. In fact, reasonable people can accept all of these facts and still, like the author himself, “want the administration to succeed.”
Sure, the president is a would-be autocrat with severe emotional problems (who, technically, has unilateral command of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal). But that isn’t a dealbreaker once one realizes that the White House is full of “unsung heroes” (like our fearless author) who “have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing.” And while these patriots “are clearly not always successful,” Americans still shouldn’t feel any obligation to vote for Democrats this fall. No additional oversight is required — the “steady state” (get it? It’s like “deep state!”) has got this whole thing covered.
What Americans should really worry about, the anonymous official explains, “is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us.” The answer to a crisis in which one of America’s two major political parties has installed an authoritarian ignoramus in the Oval Office — and refuses to check his power in any formal way — is not to fight back, politically, but rather, to rise above partisan politics:
We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility … 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 problem with this argument is clear enough to capture in Twitter memes.
There is a reasonable, ethical case to be made for remaining in the Trump administration for the purpose of checking an authoritarian’s impulses. But it is impossible to reconcile that case with writing a self-congratulatory New York Times op-ed that radically increases the chances that you — and other officials like you — will be summarily fired (“don’t worry, the president has no idea that his advisers are committed to undermining him, and we will all be safe so long as he remains ignorant of this fact, which I am writing in the paper of record”).
There is, separately, an ethical case for writing a whistle-blowing newspaper column that damages the dangerous president politically. But there is no such case for discouraging Americans from organizing politically to check the dangerous president’s power — nor is there one for wanting an administration led by this president “to succeed.”
Or, at least, there is no such case unless one believes — as this senior official apparently does — that making it easier for payday lenders to scam the working poor, lowering the corporate tax rate, and increasing America’s military budget (which was already larger than every other major power’s combined) are such morally urgent goals, it is worthwhile to risk autocratic rule for the sake of advancing them:
To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous … There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.
There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put the Koch Network’s agenda first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens engaging in politics, reaching across the aisle — and (figuratively) beating the Republican Party over the head until it is bloodied and broken enough to admit that it has a problem.