The GOP's Immoral Trump "Resistance" | Crooked Media
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The GOP's Immoral Trump "Resistance"

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Many things about the Trump era stand apart from the past without being entirely new, and the unnamed “senior administration official” whose New York Times op-ed casts President Trump as wildly unfit for office fits easily in that tradition.

The column has stunned official Washington like perhaps no development since Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, but its power seems to stem entirely from the form of communication, rather than its meaning.

It portrays Trump as a president surrounded by a cabal of governing-class Republicans who hold him in deep contempt, and who have, as best they can, wrested executive power from him, creating a “two-track presidency.”

There is a great deal of evidence, much of it plain to see, that this anonymous official is correct. The American government is hobbling along under the influence of a limited and decentralized administrative coup.

In fact, there’s so much evidence that we’ve grown complacent about it, like fish acclimating to polluted water. It’s good to be stirred out of complacency about this uncomfortable fact, but only if we use the opportunity to grapple with the meaning of the evidence, and why it’s being rolled out to us the way it is.

The op-ed ran against the backdrop of the looming publication of a new book by Bob Woodward, which include reported depictions of how the soft coup works. Republicans in the administration take advantage of Trump’s ignorance and disordered personality to end run around his demands. His defense secretary tells people to ignore rants that sound like commands; his domestic policy advisers simply fail to produce the paper he insists they produce, or they remove documents from his desk when they believe he’ll destabilize the country or the world by signing them.

Woodward’s isn’t even the first book-length treatment of this chaos, and he, like other authors, learned about it from sources who work close enough to Trump to see the dysfunction.

Similar tales appear in newspapers on an almost weekly basis. Just over a year ago, Axios described a group of senior administration officials and congressional leaders who had anointed themselves “the committee to save America.”

In a recent profile, Mark Liebovich of the New York Times quoted House Speaker Paul Ryan justifying his collaboration with Trump on the basis of his ability to short-circuit the presidency. “I can look myself in the mirror at the end of the day and say I avoided that tragedy, I avoided that tragedy, I avoided that tragedy,” Ryan said. “I advanced this goal, I advanced this goal, I advanced this goal.” Only a few thousand children kidnapped, but at least those taxes got cut.

After a year and a half of these stories, the op-ed nevertheless feels groundbreaking because the mode is new—because we trust that the Times wouldn’t have published something like this without a byline if the author weren’t someone very senior, and, thus, because this person is likelier to be identified (by Trump or by reporters) than Woodward’s myriad sources. But its content is decidedly old.

It is also immoral, manipulative, and self-serving. We are asked not to panic about an incredibly dangerous state of affairs because, we’re told, adults are in the room. “We will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until—one way or another—it’s over,” the anonymous author writes, without ever acknowledging that it could all end in tragedy; that they have accepted tragedy as a cost the rest of us might be forced to bear so that they can gamble on a post-Trump rebranding of the party.

These Republicans are, most immediately, concealing from those who voted for Trump the consequences of their decisions and making true democratic accountability impossible. Because the coup is soft, and intraparty, it also scrambles proper channels for anyone who works with the U.S. government, and creates a fertile environment for corruption.

The people who have settled on this course may not care about corruption or efficient government. But it is the risk of democratic accountability—that voters will punish Republicans—that really terrifies them. The way to keep the country and the world safe would be to allow the country’s democratic mechanisms to function: to come forward and explain what Trump is really trying to do publicly; let Congress and voters remedy the situation one way or another. But the political toll the Republican Party would suffer as a result would be severe.

The GOP governing class is trying to circumvent that penalty by creating a paper trail of innocent pleas. We lost our way embracing Trump, but we were also the ones holding things together. Without that narrative laid in advance, there’s no place in a post-Trump GOP for any collaborators.

This, too, stands apart, but is not new. It’s a simple twist on the strategy Republicans ran last time they hitched themselves to a disastrous president and corrupted the government. After George W. Bush lost Congress and then left the White House in disgrace, Republicans asked for leniency for having lost their way. In short order, the voting public gave it to them. They hope that if and when Trump experiences a similar collapse in political support, they can repeat the same disingenuous play, and eventually be given another undeserved seat behind the reins of power.