September 6, 2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Anonymous Is Trump’s Fortuneteller
The center of power is moving away from the president. He's too weak to stop it.
I disagree with those claiming there’s a “soft coup” unfolding in the White House. I know. Yes, I know. That’s what it looks like when a “senior official in the Trump administration” writes an anonymous op-ed for the Times, revealing this:
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.
But as Noah Feldman, Jonathan Bernstein and Jamelle Bouie point out, senior administration officials resist presidential impulses all the time. That’s probably healthy. The problem isn’t so much snatching documents off the president’s desk for fear of him signing them, thus sparking crises that can’t be later contained.
The problem is that President Donald Trump is a fundamentally weak.
If this were a coup, it’s one long in the making. The Cabinet has stopped paying attention to Trump. They discovered he does not care about what government does, why it does it, how it does it, or the limits in which government functions. The result has been the heads of whole departments of the government pursuing their own agendas, whether or not the president approves, whether or not they are legal.
Calling this a coup lends credence and moral righteousness to anonymous, who preposterously claims that he or she is part of a “quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first.” That’s hard to square with the fact that anonymous works for a president who does great damage to the country. The writer wants to take credit for horrible policies that never come to light while blaming the president for the ones that do—like, confiscating babies at the border.
Calling it a coup applies a romantic veneer—Yeah, that’s it! I’m doing this for my country!—when what we’re really seeing is a spineless sycophant fearing that polite society won’t make room for a spineless sycophant tainted by Donald Trump.
I also disagree with cynics responding to the op-ed as if it were only, as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said, “an insurance policy for the GOP and conservatism if and when things get much much worse. It’s a very public hedge meant to preserve the reputation of the GOP’s entire political and governing class.” It is that, to be sure, but it’s more.
What in effect we’re having in this op-ed is an explanation for why so many people would talk to authors like Bob Woodward and why people – why we would see the machinations inside the Oval Office that normally we don’t hear about for years afterwards coming out in real time. It’s because there are people who work for the president who believe he is incapable of being president (my italics.)
The other is John McCain’s funeral, in which polite society—i.e., the political elites—did to Trump what the op-ed writer fears may waiting for him or her. It was, in a very real sense, the ceremonial marginalization of the president of the United States.
The writer was clearly affected by McCain’s “farewell letter” but more affected—it seems to me—by Susan Glasser’s nostalgic dispatch in The New Yorker over the weekend titled “John McCain’s Funeral Was the Biggest Resistance Meeting Yet.”
It wasn’t a resistance meeting. Glasser was lamenting the loss of a centrism that has always been more fiction than reality. But the fact that she characterized it that way clearly struck a chord. This is a person working at the center of American political power who appears to feel the center of American political power moving away from the president, because the president is too weak to make the center hold.
Trump probably feels the urge to purge, but no serious person remains willing to work for him (no one save has-beens, frauds, and incompetents, that is.) At some point, perhaps sooner than we think, he is going to be isolated, alone, in deep legal jeopardy, and scrambling for what’s left of his party’s support. Falling in popularity, the GOP is the only thing propping him up. When his party abandons him, it’s over.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.