If That Anonymous Op-Ed Made You Feel Better, You’ve Been Played

Man Reading New York Times

If the anonymous Op-Ed published on Wednesday in the New York Times made you feel better, I suggest that you read it more carefully, and then renew your commitment to helping elect Democrats in November. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. There may be adults in the room, but they’re not your friends.

There certainly has been a lot of talk about that piece, and it has generated a lot of traffic for the New York Times. All in all, I think there was less discussion of the content itself than there was about whether the author was right or wrong to have written it, or whether the Times should have published it; and of course, there was endless speculation about who wrote it. President Trump characteristically suggested the writer committed treason (in ALL CAPS), and he also demanded that the Times turn the writer over to the government “for National Security purposes.” All of which is great for ratings and great for the Times’ bottom line. But was that the reason that Anonymous wrote the piece? Surely not.

So what was the motivation?

If there are actually a number of senior officials in the administration working secretly to frustrate parts of Trump’s agenda and his worst inclinations, wouldn’t such work be jeopardized by publicly revealing the secret? This is especially true with a man as petty and paranoid as Donald Trump, who will inevitably now view with suspicion all the members of his staff and become more watchful, vengeful and even more paranoid. Surely this public revelation will make the job of thwarting the President much more difficult and the work of those insiders much more precarious. But given all of that, the goal must be extremely important to have jeopardize all of their work. What, then was the real purpose of the essay?

It was meant, in part, to put liberals at  ease, and maybe get us to let down our guard. Liberals can be forgiven for warming up to the writer. The very title of the piece called out to us: “I Am Part of the Resistance” it declared. And the piece was published in the “liberal New York Times.” We immediately knew the writer understood our pain when we saw the phrase “until he is out of office,” and when we read the word immorality. Our eye was no doubt drawn to the parts where the anonymous author called Trump’s leadership style “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.” We savored reading that “his impusiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions.” Those words drew us in and made us feel better, so that we might begin to feel that there are people on the inside working for us. We all felt vindicated because the piece confirmed without reservation our suspicions about the dysfunctionality in the White House and the fact that the man at the helm shouldn’t be there. And when we saw that the people on the inside actually contemplated invoking the 25th Amendment early on because our newly-elected President was clearly incompetent, we were relieved to know that others do in fact see what we see. The writer went on to assure us that those inside will do what they can “to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it is over.” One way or another. They are going to see that he is impeached. Or better.

On the one hand, I think that the Op-Ed piece was meant to make left-leaning potential voters relax, feel reassured that the situation is not as dire as we fear, and therefore make us less likely to show up at the polls in November. It was also a call to put partisanship aside, put country first, reach across the aisle. In other words, to do what liberals always do: compromise and capitulate.

But the less obvious and significantly more important purpose of the essay was to allay the fears of Republicans who, afraid of Trump’s worst impulses, might be contemplating voting blue in the midterm elections. There are increasing numbers of Republicans who are seriously concerned about what they are seeing coming out of the White House, from praising dictators to trade wars to abandoning our long-time allies, and who are considering enabling a Democratic-led House to act as a check on the out-of-control agenda and rhetoric emanating from the White House. The New York Times piece was really meant for them: it was meant reassure Republican voters, to keep them from abandoning ship, in an attempt to keep the House in Republican control.

It’s no coincidence that the Op-Ed came out just as exerpts from Bob Woodward’s new book were released, which paint the White house as a place of dysfunction and chaos, being led by a man utterly incapable of doing his job. Loaded with details, the exerpts leave Democrats and Republicans alike with the feeling that the only real solution to our mounting problems is to vote to put Democrats in control of the House in November. To those Republicans who might be considering jumping ship, this Op-Ed says: Do not lose hope. “There are adults in the room.” We will protect what you value and continue to do your work.

Those Republicans were no doubt assured by many of the phrases that liberal readers, in their glee, completely overlooked. Republicans no doubt focused like laser beams on phrases like “We want the administration to succeed. Many of its policies have made America safer and more prosperous.” They perked up at the mention of “effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.”

It must have been very reassuring for concerned Republicans to know that there are plenty of people in the White House who are keeping in check Trump’s worst impulses, yet who are at the same time working hard to further the Republican Agenda.

But to liberals, progressives and independents I say this: Do not be lulled into a false sense of security or let down your guard. Remember that while Trump is dangerous and despotic, he is not the only danger in Washington. We must also remember that the Republican Agenda itself is a threat to the values that we hold dear, and we cannot be distracted. Yes, there may be “adults in the room.” But they are dangerous adults and we can’t trust our country to their hands.

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