Since his inauguration, which he has always insisted drew record crowds, there has been a tug of war within U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration between his enablers and disablers.
Luckily, the disablers have been winning.
If those who view the Trump presidency as a threat to democracy have taken any consolation, it is in the knowledge that the commander-in-chief is surrounded by sounder minds than his own. There are people who understand that their duty is toward the republic and not the compulsive tweeter and unstable egotist it elected.
Hence, this week’s anonymous op-ed in The New York Times by a senior official in the Trump administration, who claims to be part of the resistance, only confirms what most of Washington already knows: There is an army of senior officials in Mr. Trump’s administration “working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”
It could be no other way. How else could you explain the disconnect between Mr. Trump’s own scattered threats about pulling out of the Western alliance and his refusal to take action against (or even acknowledge) Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, all while American foreign policy continues to be conducted within what can only be called conventional bounds?
Mr. Trump is hardly the first president who has needed adult supervision. But while others recognized the limits of their own intelligence or demonstrated a willingness and capacity to learn, the 45th President is in a class of his own. Neither self-aware nor capable of managing complexity, Mr. Trump requires an unparalleled degree of oversight and guidance.
“This is what all of us have understood to be the situation from Day 1,” Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker said after the Times op-ed appeared. “That's why I think all of us encourage the good people around the President to stay. I thank General [James] Mattis whenever I see him.”
Indeed, no one seems as uniquely well-suited to controlling the President’s dumbest and most dangerous urges than his Defence Secretary. Mr. Trump respects no one, though his own deep sense of inadequacy makes him a pushover for a four-star general. Were it not for this Trump Whisperer, who knows what wars the President might have already declared?
As The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward tells it in his new book on the Trump White House, the President’s regular tutorials on national security and foreign policy have been a waste of time. Instead of trying to educate Mr. Trump, Mr. Mattis and White House chief of staff John Kelly have simply taken to ignoring the President’s orders until he forgets he ever gave them.
That’s not as hard as it sounds, given Mr. Trump’s notoriously short attention span. When, according to Mr. Woodward, Mr. Trump ordered Mr. Mattis to carry out the assassination of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Defence Secretary told him he would “get right on it.”
The book recounts Mr. Mattis complaining that Mr. Trump has a fifth- or sixth-grade understanding of world affairs. Mr. Kelly – who, like Mr. Mattis, is an ex-Marine Corps general – is said to have called Mr. Trump an “idiot” and described his state of mind as “crazytown.”
This would almost be entertaining were it not so grave. The portrait of the administration that emerges from Mr. Woodward’s book, the Times op-ed and reporting by the non-fake media suggests that a few steady hands are all that is protecting us from an unhinged tyrant.
Whether this amounts to the “administrative coup d’état” that Mr. Woodward outlines in his book, or simply the “two-track presidency” described by the anonymous Times op-ed writer, this is not how American democracy is supposed to work. The checks and balances aimed at preventing tyranny are entrenched in the U.S. Constitution. Arbitrary efforts by unelected officials to thwart the President’s will are as much a recipe for a breakdown of democracy as Mr. Trump's own contempt for American democratic institutions and norms.
By their actions, Mr. Trump's disablers allow what is by all accounts a dysfunctional and chaotic administration to continue to operate. Wouldn't they be doing a greater service by joining the resistance on the outside? After all, an anonymous New York Times op-ed is just about the last thing anyone remotely sympathetic to Mr. Trump’s claims of a “deep state” conspiracy against him is going to ever believe.
As South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham explained to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “I don't mean to bust the bubble here, but most people in South Carolina are not going to take the op-ed in The New York Times very seriously.”