Well, I love that the anonymous NYT op-ed came out. I love how it corroborates Woodward’s account. I love that even people like Pence are having to deny that they wrote it. I love how some of the most effective resistance to Trump comes through the newspapers—the writers—those who wield wordswordswords.
But I wonder what all has happened here. It sounds to me that the op-ed author acted from a few motivations. The first is that he put a savage stop to Trump’s claims that the Woodward’s book is BS. “No, really,” says the author. “That’s what he’s really like.”
The second motivation is that this author was so moved by the recent passing of a certain public servant that the author chose both to evoke and emulate McCain’s stance. Ex. 1: I choose to love government over governors. Ex. 2: I will take up McCain’s renunciation of Trump, even—as with McCain—it imperils my position.
The third motivation is that the author wants to save the Republican party. The funeral for McCain was essentially a public mourning over the passing of political statesmanship, especially as it has presented itself on the right. When Biden paraphrased Hamlet about how we shall never see McCain’s likes again, he was talking about the death of that nobility and its shameful replacement with the Trump era’s reality-show, Russian-fed corruptibility. (Seeing that Biden is speaking Hamlet’s line where Hamlet discusses his assassinated father-king, we can also pick up on a call for political retribution over the political destruction of political statesmanship. But that’s another post.) The op-ed author, maybe feeling a little Hamlet of his own, might be speaking for what’s left of level-headed Republicanism: We’re still here. We’re going to come back. We’re resisting in ways the Left could never dream of.
And that’s fine. That’s good. The op-ed’s proclamation serves the Republicans, sure. But we need sane Republicans. We need them because we need two strong parties. And if the op-ed shows how some corners of Republicanism are still healthy, while also disclosing how the current White House is outright diseased, that’s a win for us all. Because I think ousting Trumpers will take us all. That’s what the op-ed said. That’s what McCain said. That’s what any hope of lasting, post-Trump bipartisanship has been saying all term. We can fight about foreign policy and de-regulation another day. (And lordy, we must.) But in the meantime, we have to address the fact that we have suffered a foreign-aided coup that continues to use divisiveness, lies, and civil-rights suppression to tear down the very core of the country we have so long built and defended. The op-ed’s Republican knows that. And I suspect that as much as they’re telling the nation that the old Republican tribe still exists, they’re also begging Congressional Republicans to come back to it.
These are all the reasons why the op-ed should have appeared in the NYT. But now I have to discuss my worries about what might happen as a result. When WH staff talks about Trump’s reaction to the op-ed, the word they use is “volcanic.” In terms of the op-ed, Trump himself has used one of his favorite words, which is “treason.” What do despots do when they sense treason but can’t find it? They kill everybody. Blooey. Meltdown. Orange lava all over the place. If nothing else, Trump needs to become the punisher, just to save face. I don’t know if Trump will terminate his whole staff*, but I’m guessing he will fire someone. And chances are very good that he’ll seek to replace that someone with a staffer who has less expertise and more willingness to do what they’re told. Being the bully that he is, Trump will also likely make life very difficult for his remaining staffers. He might remove more security clearances, or prevent work-a-day cooperation, or I don’t know. Imagine ways a paranoid ruler can impede his staff. Trumpy’s probably doing the same. What’s also strange is that, through the op-ed, Trump now has incontrovertible evidence that his staff frequently—if not routinely—works against him. Now, you’d think he’d have realized this beforehand. He says to assassinate Assad, for example, and that order never goes through. I suppose that he could be unhinged enough not to keep track of his day-to-day impulses. The staff says, “Don’t listen to him. He’ll move onto something else.” And then he does. That sort of chaos is a horrible possibility. But an alternative one is that Trump has only suspected that his closest people are out to oppose him—that is, until now. “Trumpers!” he’ll say tomorrow. “Look! The enmity I’ve talked about has been here all along.” I mean, what do Trumpers like to say? “You never gave the president a chance.” Well, now everyone can see how, for reasons that might well be heroic, members of his own executive circle did not. At least not for long.
So James and I texted about all this yesterday. For the White House’s coming climate, James used the term “hellscape.” Autocorrect changed that to “hell’s ape,” and we laughed at the new moniker for our tyrant-in-chief. James and I like to consider ourselves a couple of above-average thinkers, but we would both admit that if we can consider this stuff, the op-ed author probably did too. The op-ed author knew there would be fallout. Depending on who the author is, they may have known that every person has a written voice as well as a spoken one. In the face of a little research, their identity might disclose itself as easily as we do when we speak to a friend over the telephone. Still, they published. This writer, who knows Trump’s paranoia better than most anyone, likely realized that they could be taking down the rest of the WH staff with them. Still, they published. For all we know, with some of the staff’s permission, they published. The NYT, almost certainly realized that Trump and his goons would use this op-ed as Exhibit A in their case for strengthening libel laws. And still, they published. So, by the way, did every news outlet that repeated it. Last night, ABC News read the thing almost verbatim, as the top story in its 6:30 time slot.
The so-called leader of the Free World—the one who once tried to throw his high-school roommate out a window—is now “volcanic.” And according to some of Trump’s closest staffers and observers, the consequences of publication are worth it. Mentioning the 25th Amendment is worth it. Evoking McCain is worth it. Last week, commentators called that man’s funeral a “war council.” I see that now. Because yesterday, dearies, brought war’s declaration.
*It’s interesting to note that the only member of the executive branch whom Trump can’t outright fire is the VP. Now we see why Pence was so quick to deny any association with the op-ed.