“Americans should know that there are adults in the room.”
The one thing that hasn’t really been put into question about The New York Times’ Wednesday op-ed by an anonymous “senior administration official” is the veracity of its substance.
That the Trump White House is the locus of a comical contest between an impetuous president and a cabal of staffers trying to defuse their boss’ worst impulses should surprise no-one.
You need not even rely on the deluge of leaks and off-the-record comments that have been coming from within the White House (most recently captured in an upcoming book by Bob Woodward) for weeks.
The internal disarray of the court of President Donald Trump has been put on display by its public activity: Policies produced and immediately rescinded; top staffers blindsided by the president’s statements; colleagues contradicting each other constantly.
In this regard, the anonymous op-ed adds little to an unignorably clear picture.
But two questions do arise:
Who wrote it? And why?
Regarding the first question, enough hairs have been split on the ambiguous title “senior,” which could theoretically include anyone from a cabinet member to an unknown and officious functionary of the executive branch whose job title happens to satisfy The Time’s guideline for seniority.
However senior or well-known the writer is, their account rings true to most readers. This means that the only thing at stake in this regard is The Times’ credibility, which would tank if the writer does turn out to be a piddling bureaucrat. Make what you may of it, but it’s unlikely that The Times’ editorial board was unaware of this when it made the decision to publish the essay.
As for the question of the specific identity of the writer: It seems, while deliciously discussable, even less pertinent.
So the real question is: Why?
The piece is written as if to soothe the public:
“It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.”
What Anonymous means by “trying to do what’s right” isn’t an adherence to some above-politics ethical imperative. Despite dispensing some language about “crossing the aisle,” the piece reads like it’s aimed at a specific audience: a conservative establishment worried as much about Trump’s mental instability as about his flouting of the Republican agenda.
It could therefore be, as some have speculated, that the writer’s gaze was set on the midterms, offering demoralized conservatives an assurance that their party is not as spineless as it may appear.
But if this is the case, isn’t the elaborate dance of guarding GOP agenda while keeping the president at bay undermined by the op-ed’s publication?
Perhaps the writer thought that the American people needed to know how bad things really are. But then again, the essay only reaffirms already-widespread perceptions.
Nor is the op-ed likely to change minds: Ardent Trump supporters are absolutely not about to view the endeavors of GOP-loyalists to thwart the president as heroic. They’ll view it as the Deep State showing its face, or even as treason.
Then there are the more selfish possibilities. As many have theorized, the writer may merely preparing the ground for the day after. Morally, the writer will have exculpated themselves from what they view as the errors of the administration and from any accusation of complicity. Perhaps they’ll even score a book deal or a contract with MSNBC.
But the motivation can also be something neither Machiavellian nor opportunistic. It could be real desperation, the public cry of a disgruntled and drained true-believer who just needed to be heard.
Though the urge is sympathizable, it isn’t laudable, considering the damage the op-ed is likely to cause to the very “quiet resistance” to which the writer claims to belong.
Given all that, and all the fuss the essay has already inspired, we have no choice but to reward its author the title of this week’s grandest Grandstander.