On Sept. 5, the New York Times published a testimonial written by an anonymous “senior official” within the Trump administration. The official claims that they and like-minded staff within the administration are fighting to “keep the boat afloat” by supporting actions that reflect traditional Republican values, such as a robust defense, free market economy and deregulation, while fighting the president’s more questionable or misguided actions and erratic behavior.
The official lists their grievances and those of other White House staff: Trump’s frequent, seemingly random flip-flops on the issues, his praise of autocratic leaders such as Vladimir Putin of Russia and Kim Jong-Un of North Korea and his hostility toward other democratic nations, such as Germany.
This official says that they and other members of the administration do what they believe is right, even if Trump doesn’t agree. Despite Trump’s open admiration and trust of Putin, Trump’s national security team expelled Russian diplomats and imposed sanctions against the country after the attempted murder of a former Russian spy on British soil.
The article closes by reassuring readers that “the adults are still in the room,” and asking for Americans to shun political labels and put the good of the nation first. For good measure, the official also quotes John McCain, the beloved Republican senator, war hero and rival of Trump who passed away on Aug. 25.
It is very tempting to take this message to heart, to abandon identity politics and come together as one country, especially considering the loss of a senator and soldier, well-respected on both sides of the aisle, who sacrificed so much for his country. However, this article does not come without drawbacks.
While the author claims that their message is a bipartisan one, parts of it seem to encourage voters to remember those moderate “stable state” Republicans come election day. The unpopularity of the Trump administration has created a real chance that Republicans will lose many seats to Democrats in the upcoming house election. Prominent Republicans, perhaps fearing their reelection prospects could be damaged by Trump’s baggage, tweeted praising globalization and open borders, two things questioned by traditional Republicans and loathed by Trump.
A cynic could easily infer that this op-ed was meant to distance Trump from the Republican party by portraying him as a sort of “blind idiot god” who reasonable Republicans simply tiptoe around and will continue to come November. Is this a true bipartisan message, or Republican damage control in response to Trump’s damage to the brand?
Trump and his supporters often talk about a “Deep State”: a shadowy body unelected, long-serving government bureaucrats coordinating their positions to push political agendas. Goals often attributed to this deep state are to increase federal power (usually in a leftward direction) and undermine conservative, anti-establishment actors like Trump. Trump has called the deep state by name in writing, and he has long promised to “drain the swamp” of its figures.
Despite the official’s claim that “This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state,” to a Trump supporter this attempt by his staff to control his actions looks like the exact same coordinated undermining Trump has been warning about for nearly two years.
Recent years have given birth to a distressing rise in public acceptance of baseless, harmful conspiracy theories. “Pizzagate,” the theory that the Clinton family and other democratic figures were running a child trafficking ring out of U.S. restaurants, lead one believer to open fire on the Comet Ping Pong restaurant in December 2016.
QAnon, a 4chan user claiming to have top-secret Q clearance, has theorized that the Trump administration is secretly fighting to stop a child sex trafficking ring run by politicians and celebrities. QAnon also mentions the “deep state” attempting to subvert Trump’s efforts. The Reddit page for the theory, r/greatawakening, had over 70,000 subscribers before it was banned on Sept. 12.
In a time when everything that goes wrong in the Trump administration is blamed both by Trump and his followers on secretive actors who seek to shut down his agenda, an op-ed admitting to doing just that steers dangerously close to legitimizing these theories.
But this is not to say that the Times made a mistake in publishing the article. This testimony, although possibly tinted by partisan bias, gives us a glimpse into the chaotic, turnover-addled Trump administration. Trump himself should approve, given his stated disgust for deep state operatives moving undetected, frequent criticism of the Obama administration’s lack of transparency. Now he and the public know exactly what his people think of him.
A final part of the editorial that deserves analysis:
“The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.”
The Trump administration is not a new phenomenon in American politics. While the self-parodying, mean-tweeting package it comes in may be novel, it is nothing more than the logical progression of nearly 20 years of two-party dominance and toxic elitism. This day-to-day toxicity would still exist under a Clinton or Jeb Bush presidency.
Trump is not a cause of the country’s ills but rather is a symptom, perhaps a terminal one, of what duopoly and elitism have done. “Democrat” and “Republican” have become labels used to shut political opponents rather than ideological descriptors. Relatively moderate political figures are treated like they belong in league with Hitler and Stalin if they don’t agree with someone’s politics.
Trump was elected partially in response to years of seemingly status-quo republicans and democrats. In this regard, the official is correct in being concerned about what “we as a nation have allowed him to do to us.”
The best we can hope for is that the official is true to their word and the “stable state” have seen the error in their ways and now want the best for all Americans not just their favored party, but we must also be prepared for the possibility that, underneath the calls for unity, they are simply holding up their side of the status-quo.