The Oddity of That Anonymous NYT Op-Ed

From the Weekly Standard:

There are lots of ways to leave a lousy job. In 2011, a young man named Adam, a shift duty manager of a Taco Bell in New York, was required to work on July 4, despite having worked 22 straight days. Fed up, he climbed up to the sign outside the restaurant and published a brief, but pointed op-ed, in giant letters:

“I QUIT – ADAM. F--- YOU.”

It was a stylish and clean break. But, apparently, this sort of thing is a lost art form, at least in the higher reaches of government.

Washington is consumed, as its wont, with the anonymous op ed in The New York Times by a “senior official in the Trump Administration,” announcing that he is part of a “quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first.” Unlike the Taco Bell manager, the official apparently intends to stick around as part of a group of people who “are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”

The reaction to this sensation is, of course, sensational, with the president’s own reaction described as “volcanic.” An already paranoid and dysfunctional White House is now consumed with multiple mole hunts, as Trump himself descends to opera bouffe by demanding that the Times turn the anonymous official “over to government at once!”

A more likely scenario is that the author will be exposed and forced out of government and onto cable television in the very near future. At that point, we will be able to come to some sort of a judgment about his or her motivations in penning this extraordinary, and very odd, essay.

Some clarification here: the piece is odd, but not wrong. The author’s description of Trump’s character is precise and the characterization of Trump’s erratic style of governing is familiar. The author also seems to grasp the gravamen of our political crisis: 


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.

But, as much as we might agree with the substance, the op-ed remains an oddity.

What, after all, is its message? Is it that “we got this”? Because that clearly is not the case. If it was, we would not be consumed by a daily parade of travesties and the president would not be tweet-dragging his own attorney general.

And nothing in the op-ed is really new, is it?

We’ve heard these silent screams from anonymous sources before; the off-the-record, not-for-attribution cries for help; the attempt to smuggle out signals of warning. True, the op-ed confirms nearly all of the reporting from Maggie Haberman, Ashley Parker, Michael Schmidt, Phil Rucker, Gabriel Sherman, and Jonathan Swan (and will probably confirm much of the picture painted by Bob Woodward in his new book). Indeed, the op-ed writer paints a picture of a shambolic and amoral presidency that is, more or less, conventional wisdom for everyone outside of the Fox News green room.

“This is what all of us have understood to be the situation from day one,” Senator Bob Corker told reporters. “I understand this is the case and that’s why I think all of us encourage the good people around the president to stay. I thank General Mattis whenever I see him."

Yet despite all of this, Republicans such Lindsey Graham have tightened their embrace of Trump and his media partners have moved from being mere cheerleaders to a chorus of Baghdad Bobs. And this single, anonymous op-ed in the New York Times is unlikely to bend that arc of sycophancy.

Another oddity: It seems self-evident that covert attempts to manipulate the presidency can only work if they stay covert. And yet, the author all but announces the existence on an ongoing administrative blockade: 

That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office….

The author suggests that he or she is trying to reassure an anxious nation that there are “adults in the room” who will steer the ship of state away from the Trumpian shoals. But by declaring this to the world, the author almost certainly makes those efforts more difficult and the president more unhinged.

Then there is the language of the piece itself, which is a tad too pat and self-congratulatory, (“unsung heroes”) while lacking any sense of first-hand or intimate knowledge. Perhaps this somewhat stilted persona is necessary to protect the writer’s identity, but that brings us back to the central problem here.

Unlike the Taco Bell manager, the anonymous writer has not only declined to sign his name, he is also unwilling to resign and make his case openly to the country.

Admittedly, the dilemma is painful; there are patriots in the administration who see their role as protecting the country from disaster. But there is a tension here: If the president is indeed amoral, unprincipled, unstable, and unfit for office should he be enabled? At what point do witnesses need to step forward and lay their reputations and careers on the line? Isn’t that the point of putting country first?

In other words: enough with the anonymity. We’ve been there. Done that. We know. It is not unreasonable to now expect others in the administration to do something.

One final point:

One suspects that we’ve seen this before, a story with sensational rollout, only to be followed by underwhelming consequences. We all want the author to turn out to be someone like Jared Kushner, or General Mattis, or Dan Coats. But it’s more likely to be someone you never heard of.