Every American should worry when unelected bureaucrats quietly decide to run the White House against the directives of an elected president.
Donald Trump is an unfit president. You will get no argument about that here. But the proper check on an unfit president in a democracy — if you want to keep that democracy — is not a “quiet resistance” by anonymous government officials who secretly work to “thwart” parts of the president’s agenda and “worst inclinations.”
As if they, answerable to nobody, should decide.
Imagine if senior federal officials — let’s say Pentagon generals — had quietly decided to do the same during the Obama administration. So many critics of Trump who are giddy now would have been outraged, and rightly so.
Let’s be clear: We believe the New York Times was within its rights, and even obligated, to publish an op-ed on Wednesday by an anonymous “senior official” who announced that there is a “resistance” within the White House among “like-minded colleagues” to the lunacy of the Trump presidency. We have no doubt that this senior official, whose name is known only to top Times editors, really exists, and we agree with his or her scathing assessment of Trump’s “amorality.”
The op-ed serves a worthy purpose. It further confirms, if that is even necessary anymore, that Trump is unmoored to “any discernible first principles” and impulsively makes “half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.”
But the op-ed reveals an arrogance and blindness as well. The writer wants to assure Americans that “there are adults in the room” who are going to “great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing,” but he or she shows no understanding that they are coming perilously close to disregarding the rules of our democracy in the process.
Who are they to decide, all on their lonesome, what those “bad decisions” are? On what authority have they created a “two-track presidency,” as the writer of the op-ed describes it, in which the president’s wishes are consciously subverted at times by those who believe they know better?
The writer of the op-ed appears more concerned with repairing foreign policy blunders, as he or she sees them, than in respecting the democratic process.
If working in the Trump White House is like living in “Crazytown,” as one top official is quoted as saying in Bob Woodward’s latest expose, “Fear,” there is a response more consistent with our values than writing an anonymous op-ed:
The most effective way to counter Trump’s worst impulses and decisions, without going AWOL on democracy, is for good men and women to call him out publicly.
Quit and then write the op-ed. And put your name on it.
If enough public servants of conscience and principle — not only in the West Wing of the White House, but also in the Senate and House — stood up so boldly, we would witness the powerful check on an unfit chief executive that is fully provided for in the Constitution.
We see the problem in that. We get it. Republicans in the Senate and House, so politically fearful or morally bankrupt themselves, have failed to impose that check on Trump. They have abdicated their responsibility to any value other than re-election. That can’t be used as an excuse now, though, to cheer on an undemocratic “resistance” within the White House — one that sets a dangerous precedent for future presidencies.
It is, rather, why we must, as Americans, embrace democracy even more, and vote the bums out in November.
Trump himself is no fan of democracy. He roots for dictators and trashes the rule of law when things don’t go his way. It would be a dangerous mistake, all the same, to believe we must fight poison with poison, constraining this president by anything short of constitutional means.
The anonymous writer of the New York Times op-ed invokes the spirit of the late Sen. John McCain to justify his campaign of resistance within the White House. “All Americans,” he says of McCain, “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.”
But the writer’s got McCain wrong.
The senator from Arizona never attempted to thwart Trump’s will by anti-democratic stealth. He stood up in public, like a true free American, and called Trump out for the disaster he is. He put his faith in the democratic process.
As a nation, we are holding our breath, waiting for the results of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 presidential race. That, more than any well-intended “resistance” within the White House, ultimately should be what holds Trump to account.
In the meantime, we’re sticking with government of, by, and for the people.
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