President Trump attends a cabinet meeting during the partial government shutdown, January 2, 2019. (Jim Young/Reuters)The premise of efforts to undermine Trump is that the establishment has such power, prestige, and authority to overturn the verdict of the 2016 election.
On September 5, 2018, the New York Times published an anonymous editorial by a supposed “senior official” in the Trump administration. In astounding fashion, the unnamed writer claimed that he/she was part of a legion of administration appointees and government officials who were actively working to undermine the Trump presidency by overriding his orders, keeping information from an unknowing Trump, or acting independently of his directives. Or as Anonymous unapologetically put it:
Trump is facing a test to his presidency unlike any faced by a modern American leader.
It’s not just that the special counsel looms large. Or that the country is bitterly divided over Mr. Trump’s leadership. Or even that his party might well lose the House to an opposition hellbent on his downfall.
The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.
I would know. I am one of them.
The Times author then continues by confessing to a sort of slow-motion coup to undermine the Trump presidency:
It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.
The result is a two-track presidency.
The writer then lists the supposed Trump sins and offers the following rationale for such extraordinary subversion on the part of self-elected conspirators:
This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.
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.
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.
Most telling, however, given the supposed plethora of Trump sins, the author never cites a particular presidential act that by any coherent definition could be called illegal, dangerous, or unethical, much less unprecedented in presidential history. Indeed, Anonymous concedes that Trump has often been successful in his tenure: “Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.”
Yet Anonymous then boasts that such landmark success came because of others and in spite of Trump: “But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.”
Trump’s purported sins then arise largely in matters of executive “style” and supposedly unpresidential character: “Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.” Anonymous did not square the circle of how such an incompetent and dangerous leader had accomplished such admittedly good things, often well beyond the ability of prior and supposedly better qualified and more sober Republican presidents.
The author concludes his opinion editorial by promising the country that like-minded unelected officials and bureaucrats have formed a “resistance” that will do its best to nullify the directives of the elected president and instead implement policies that they believe will take the country in the “right direction” — and are the product of their apparently superior professionalism and a proper presidential tone that they associate with their own:
There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one: Americans.
What neither the opinion writer nor the New York Times disclosed about their joint efforts of producing an anonymous op-ed on September 5 were some obvious considerations of sourcing, timing, and objectives.
First, the editorial appeared on the eve of a much publicized tell-all about the Trump White House by Washington Post investigative journalist Bob Woodward, whose latest book, Fear — his nineteenth such exposé mostly based on undisclosed and unnamed sources and without citations — was scheduled to come out just six days later. Advance excerpts largely dovetailed with Anonymous’s argument of a president whose inexperience and temperament “scare” those in government and force them to find ways to circumvent or obstruct his wishes.
The opinion piece also coincidentally was published just four days after the late Senator John McCain’s funeral. McCain is lionized in the anonymous op-ed as the proper antithesis to Trump (“We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue”).
At the funeral, eulogist after eulogist used the solemn occasion not just to praise John McCain, but also to blast Donald Trump. Oddly, McCain’s final deification by his erstwhile critics and enemies was mostly a result of his own bitter and ongoing feud with Donald Trump that in his eleventh hour sanctified him to past presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Both their earlier presidential campaigns had once smeared McCain as a libertine and reckless (the Bush effort in 2000, especially during the South Carolina primary), and vilified him in 2008 as a near-demented racist (the Obama 2008 campaign). Due to his feud with Trump, in death McCain was transmogrified into angelic status by the very architects who in life were sometimes responsible for his demonization.
Finally, the McCain funeral and anonymous op-ed marked the return of former president Barack Obama to the campaign trail, as he began to give a series of angry and often bitter speeches on the eve of the 2018 midterms — ironically both blasting Trump as dangerous and incompetent while taking credit for the apparently quite competent Trump handling of the economy. The common thread in all these coincidental events was not just collective hatred of Trump on the part of the establishment, but also the extraordinary means by which a proverbial deep state sought to subvert a supposedly extraordinarily dangerous outsider.
Usually ex-presidents do not blast their successors at funerals. A prior president customarily does not hit the campaign trail to level charges against a sitting president. State funerals are not regularly transmogrified into pep rallies. And anonymous members of an administration usually do not have the connections to publish lead New York Times editorials that channel Bob Woodward’s sensational but unsourced allegations.
A cynic might have believed there had been some sort of collusive effort ahead of the 2018 midterm election to create a simultaneous and force-multiplying demonization of Trump — almost as if there was a common effort coordinated by the major media, journalists, establishment politicians, and supposedly dozens of officials within government. But that idea would not completely be a conspiratorial conclusion, because Anonymous boasted of the presence of such an organized “resistance” inside the government.
A final, even more disturbing note: the deep state is neither transparent nor confident in its criticisms, at least enough to name names in its near-subversionary efforts. Both past presidents and Megan McCain, daughter of John McCain, in their funeral eulogies trashed Trump — to the glee of editorials in the major papers.
But none of them completed their politicization of the service by mentioning Donald Trump by name. Nor did Anonymous ever disclose his name or come forward publicly to present particular examples of documented wrongdoing. Nor did Bob Woodward cite most of his sources, name his informants, or produce footnoted data to assure the readers of the veracity of his sensational charges. Instead, the premise was that the establishment has such power, prestige, and authority that it has no need to reveal its methodologies and sources — once it claimed the higher moral ground and felt that it had not just the right, but indeed the duty, to overturn the verdict of the 2016 election.
Editor’s Note: This essay is adapted from Victor Davis Hanson’s new book, The Case for Trump.