Anonymous Official’s Opinion Piece Raises Questions, Concerns

The New York Times recently published a now-infamous opinion piece titled “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration” Sept. 5. In the essay, an anonymous senior official of the Trump administration alleges that they, along with other senior officials within the Trump administration, “are working diligently to frustrate parts of Trump’s agenda and his worst inclinations.” While claiming that “the root of the problem is the president’s amorality” and that “President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic,” the writer claims that members of the Executive Office and agencies have moved to operate independently of the president.

Another anonymous article, “The Flight 93 Election,” was published in the conservative quarterly Claremont Review of Books by a writer who called themself Publius Decius Mus. Just two months before the 2016 presidential election, they wrote that “2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You — or the leader of your party — may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees. Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.”

A reference to both Roman consul Publius Decius Mus — known for sacrificing his life in the Battle of Vesuvius in exchange for victory — and the tragic events of the 9/11 suicide hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93, the message of the article was clear: elect Trump or watch, as the writer put it, “a party, a society, a country, a people, a civilization” die. Decius Mus was later revealed to be Michael Anton, a former speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani and member of George W. Bush’s National Security Council who was named deputy assistant to the president for Strategic Communications on the National Security Council under President Trump. Echoes of Anton’s alarmist rhetoric appeared during his service in the NSC, when a leaked memo prepared by a staffer alleged that globalists, Islamists, bankers, the “deep state,” and nefarious forces inside and outside the government were undermining President Trump’s agenda — not unlike the actions alleged in the Times opinion piece.

This is a dangerous moment for the United States, regardless of whether the Times’s anonymous official’s accusations are true or not. Should these accusations be proven true, this would imply that an unelected cabal of senior administration officials and the conduct of federal agencies have undermined the laws and norms set in place by the Constitution. Should these accusations be proven false, the opinion piece would have fueled President Trump’s resentment, verifying the deep state conspiracy theory that was previously only the realm of the alt-right, iconoclasts like Michael Anton, and the occasional presidential tweet.

There have been prior accusations that the president had knowledge of Russian attempts to interfere with the 2016 presidential elections. There have been prior accusations that the president knew his hand-picked National Security advisor, Michael Flynn, had illegally lobbied on the behalf of foreign governments and lied about those activities to the FBI. There have been prior accusations that the president illegally asked James Comey to end the Bureau’s investigation into Michael Flynn’s ties and dismissed the director when he refused to follow the president’s request. The alleged activities in the opinion piece are different. The revelations in that piece are not about knowledge; they are about lack of knowledge.

There now exists a lack of knowledge about whether a president’s directives on domestic, administrative, or foreign policy issues are going to be followed or not. How can the Senate complete its constitutional duty to “advise and consent” if they do not know if the appointments and treaties submitted to that body of legislators are truly those made by the President of the United States? How can Congress effectively allot spending on foreign initiatives if the future of such initiatives is unknown even to the president of the United States?

A general uncertainty exists within the White House today regarding policies and executive actions, which has been strengthened by the opinion piece. It is not unlikely that foreign and domestic enemies of the United States may seek to capitalize on this uncertainty. The immediate danger lies in the risk of a misunderstanding by an adversary — enhanced by unorthodox presidential behaviour — that could lead to a conflict that escalates beyond conventional weapons.

Both the anonymous administration official and The New York Times are wrong to have written and published this piece. If the writer is truly genuine about their resistance crusade, then the publication of such a piece only serves to weaken their own goals. The piece gives credence to the president’s accusations of a deep state opposing his policy initiatives, empowering him to investigate and remove people who are hostile to, as the piece puts it, “parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.” If the writer is not genuine about the resistance that they write about, the Times has unwittingly allowed itself to help fuel a right-wing conspiracy theory just months before the 2018 midterm elections and has weakened our international standing.

Furthermore, allowing officials within the White House to work directly against the initiatives of the president is a dangerous precedent to set for the future. The intentions of an unelected group of powerful politicians who can hijack the functions of the Executive Office of the United States may not always be in the best interests of the American people. In fact, the intentions of the so-called resistance described in The New York Times are likely not to be in the United States’ best interests right now. These officials are willing to accept short-term conservative victories on taxation, regulation, and appointments in exchange for allowing a man they believe to be incompetent to continue being president. Regardless of what the resistance may think of its own intentions, they are not committing some grand sacrifice; they are partisan political actors working against the interests of the United States to achieve their own goals.

Two anonymous articles — one in support of President Trump’s initiatives and one in opposition to them — have been published during his presidency, portraying two different visions of the United States. The first, Publius Anton’s “The Flight 93 Election” in The Claremont Review of Books, compares Trump’s administration to the honorable resistance that passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 conducted in the last few minutes of their lives. In this reality, the United States was destined to fail without some grand intervention, and the Trump presidency was that grand intervention, succeed or fail.

On the other hand, the anonymous “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration” article presents an alternate reality — one where we have an erratic, anti-democratic president whose dangerous policies are undone last-minute by administration officials. This reality entitles an oligarchy of shadowy figures to undermine our elected officials in favor of their own goals. The rule of law, the Constitutional precepts of government, and the norms of executive power have no place in this reality.

Neither of these competing visions of the United States has to be our true reality. There exist laws and norms under the American Constitutional system to deter, resist, and remove a wayward executive. We are a nation of laws and not of men — let us not reject that basic premise in this current crisis.