In Defense of “Lodestar”
Everyone is talking about the unnamed writer of an op-ed to the New York Times on September 5. The writer is a “senior administration official” and has said that they and others have thwarted some of President Trump’s worst excesses.
The response from pro-Trump factions is predictable. But what has been surprising, at least to me, is the amount of Trump critics who are mad at the writer, with many suggesting they come forward and resign. Some go as far as to say they, along with the anonymous sources to Bob Woodward’s latest book focusing on the Trump Administration are taking part in a slow moving coup. This is what David Frum says in the Atlantic:
Speak in your own name. Resign in a way that will count. Present the evidence that will justify an invocation of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, or an impeachment, or at the very least, the first necessary step toward either outcome, a Democratic Congress after the November elections.
The belief from Frum and others is that it is cowardly to not step forward and come clean. Like Frum, the idea is to resign and present the case.
While I am surprised so many people are condemning this person, maybe I shouldn’t be. We live in incredibly polarized times. President Trump has taken advantage of that atmosphere to do allow himself to rule. Because he is considered such an odious character, because he has put forth heartless policies like the forced separation of migrant parents from their children, because he seems to thrive on racial/ethinc animosity, it is very hard for Trump critics to give a person like this official, some slack. Some see this person as a collaborator and not some kind of hero. Trump’s black and white reality is reflected in Trump critics that see black and white and not shades of gray.
But I don’t think either should happen. Being anonymous has allowed this person to keep us focused on the problem at hand, that our President is ill suited for the position. If they went public, the media spotlight would be focused on the person, their background, who they voted for and so on. What would have been forgotten would be the reason they wrote the article in the first place, that this President is incompetent if not insane, and that there are people trying to do the right thing on the inside.
As for resigning, a fair number of people have resigned their posts in protest during the Trump administration. The result has been….nothing. Yes, people leave. Yes, these workers don’t feel compromised or having to defend why they are working in the government for the President. But the thing is, if “Lodestar” did come forward and resign, he would probably get a gig as a special correspondent on CNN or MSNBC, but little would change. Many of those who have resigned their position because of Trump don’t make a big splash at all.
What about what Frum and others suggest, that these people who do whatever is needed to curb some of Trump’s excesses are basically coup plotters? Well, let’s look at it from another vantage point: if these people didn’t try to undermine the President, we might have gone to war with North Korea and it probably would have been a nuclear exchange. Writer Zach Beauchamp shares that Trump was fixated on hitting the “hermit kingdom:”
Trump spent the second half of 2017 threatening Pyongyang with “fire and fury,” undercutting then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s efforts to negotiate, and tweeting implied threats to launch a war against the North. Sen. Chris Murphy(D-CT) told me in December that the Defense Department had quietly ramped up preparations for war, and that he had become worried about “Trump’s willingness to launch a preemptive strike.”
Axios reported that the president had a “fixation” on the idea of attacking North Korea, constantly bringing it up in meetings. “There is a reason the harshest assessments of Trump usually leak after North Korea meetings,” Axios’s reporters wrote ominously.
A war between North Korea and the United States, according to our best guesses, would likely have cost millions of lives. Yet instead of a conflict, we got rapprochement?—?a summit and sham deal between Trump and Kim Jong Un that seems to have moved us off of war footing (for now). But we still don’t really know why things went down this way.
There are very few practical checks on the executive branch’s ability to initiate force. If Trump had decided he wanted to follow through on his threats, he could have ordered a strike on North Korea’s nuclear facilities. But for some reason, he changed his mind.
We don’t know for sure that someone was working to either change Trump’s mind or steer him away from World War III, but it isn’t that hard to believe that someone on the inside was able to stop Trump from going down a dangerous road. It’s not good to try to undermine the will of the President, but we are not in normal times. We have someone in the Oval Office that is not fit to be President, but is in the White House. Yes, subverting the President’s wishes is breaking norms, but it’s either this or probably dealing with the aftermath of Manhattan getting nuked.
What “Lodestar” is showing is that Trump doesn’t have the confidence of his staff. When people are so easily leaking information to journalists, it shows bad leadership, not bad followership. If the President were a better leader, one that wasn’t demanding loyalty, but trying to live up to his constitutional vows, you would see less leaking.
As columnist Megan McArdle and other writers have noticed, we are in new territory here. We have never had a leader like Trump; someone who seems to not understand how American government works, let alone know how the Constitution works. We have never had someone that seems so willing to subvert governing norms. Yes, we have had bad actors in the Oval Office, like Nixon. But while Nixon was corrupt, he was also a politician and knew how to govern. I remember reading one of Nixon’s many books on policy back in the early 90s; this was a guy that understood government, especially foreign policy. Trump has none of those redeeming qualities. He lives in a delusional world where he is the smartest guy in the room.
So what do you do when there is someone like Trump in the White House? People could resign, but mass resignations could mean that Trump fills the administration with his cronies, who might not be qualified for a job. At the end of the day, working on the inside to contain Trump is the best of many bad options.
So is Lodestar a “hero?” I don’t know. What I do know is that I am thankful that there are people within the government that are trying to keep the ship afloat. Because at the end of the day, that is probably all we can do until 2020. Both impeachment and invoking the 25th Amendment are clunky and would not be the slam dunk that liberals and Never Trumpers think it would be.
I don’t know if Lodestar is a hero, but I will say thanks to them and others that are trying to do the best they can. They have showed us how bad it is inside the White House. Without them it could be much, much worse.