The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The unnamed op-ed writer can’t be pleased

Many senior officials in the Trump administration have been working from within to frustrate parts of the president’s agenda to protect the country from his worst inclinations, an anonymous Trump official wrote in an op-ed published by the New York Times on Wednesday. (The Post)

I do not believe that the unnamed New York Times op-ed writer, who warns us the president is unfit for office, is Cabinet-rank. Surely anyone at that level would know they would be asked and would have to deny authorship, but since the op-ed writer thinks of themselves as honorable, they wouldn’t want to lie. And in any event, a “big” name would have no reason to write anonymously. They’d quit and get a book deal.

It therefore makes more sense that the writer is a level or two down the food chain from a Cabinet secretary. These are the sort of people who may attend the deputies meetings of the National Security Council (e.g., deputy secretaries of treasury, defense, state). They aren’t household names; they don’t generally get book deals or make the front page of papers when they are fired or quit. And these are, by the way, the same sort of people who joined the administration, rationalizing their decision, and are now inundated with I-told-you-so’s from friends, family and colleagues who said their participation in this administration was akin to selling their souls.

Given the op-ed’s emphasis on foreign policy, the author no doubt knew, maybe very well, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was eulogized by two presidents last Saturday in Washington National Cathedral. Perhaps the writer’s conscience had been pricked. He needs to believe and have others believe that he could serve in this White House honorably. He insists he hasn’t been destroying conservatism but, like the monks of the Dark Ages, squirreling away treasure for a time when the Trumpian cloud lifts. ( The phrase “free minds, free markets and free people” is straight from the young Republicans’ Russell Kirk collection. This is no protectionist or anti-immigrant zealot, but someone who imagines he’s bending politics to the right.)

The anonymous "senior administration official" published in the New York Times owes a few more answers to the American people, media critic Erik Wemple says. (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

So, assuming this is all correct (and it may be wildly off base), what does a defensive, never-a-top-tier player do? He probably resigns by the end of the year, having put in two years with an administration. His op-ed is the first draft of the rationalization he will give to employers, friends, relatives, et al.

But here’s the problem: No one, it seems, views this author positively. Trump cultists of course see this person as a “traitor.” Trump’s harshest critics denounce this person who serves this president and can’t even sign his name to an op-ed. In their eyes, he is a cowering enabler. The Washington establishment, where this person will likely want to continue operating, has become, if anything, even more severe in its judgment: You cannot be honorable if you are silent in what appears to be an incapacitated, antidemocratic presidency. You’re an enabler.

In short, somewhere in a West Wing or department office, a nervous adviser is trying to blend into the walls, keep his head down. He likely didn’t get what he wanted — balm for his inflamed conscience. And worse, the chief “saviors” are gone or soon to go from Cabinet jobs, leaving fewer guardrails and putting the country further at risk. No, the anonymous author didn’t get what he wanted; indeed, he may have made his own and the country’s predicament worse.

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