bureaucracybusters

TRUMP’S TWO OPTIONS–BOTH BAD

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 11, 2018 at 12:08 am

Donald Trump is on the prowl. He’s looking for a traitor—or at least his version of one.

On September 5, Trump was rocked by an unprecedented scandal: The New York Times published an anonymous Op-Ed essay by “a senior official in the Trump administration.”

The writer called himself as a member of “The Resistance.” And he claimed that “many of the senior officials” in the Trump administration “are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of [Trump’s] agenda and his worst inclinations.”

Among his revelations:

  • “From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.”
  • “Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.”
  • “Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until—one way or another—it’s over.”
  • Trump had opposed expelling “so many of Mr. [Vladimir] Putin’s spies” in retaliation for the poisoning of a former Russian spy living in Britain. He also opposed putting further sanctions on Russia “for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better—such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.”

The Op-Ed ignited a furious guessing game among Washington reporters and ordinary citizens. Not since Watergate and Deep Throat had so many reporters and high-level government officials  tried to identify a news source.

Related image

Donald Trump

For many, it’s simply an enjoyable mystery.

For Trump, it’s a personal affront. Someone has dared reveal that he is not in total command of the government that he heads. And, even worse, that a shadow government exists to thwart his often reckless and even dangerous ambitions.

Two days after the editorial appeared, on September 7, Trump told reporters on Air Force One: “Yeah, I would say [Attorney General] Jeff [Sessions] should be investigating who the author of this piece was because I really believe it’s national security,”

This despite the fact that:

  • No State secrets had been revealed, and
  • “Leaking” is a routine occurrence among officials at every government agency.

So will the Justice Department investigate a case under such circumstances? 

No one knows.

Jeff Sessions, official portrait.jpg

Jeff Sessions

Trump has locked himself into a no-win contest—to which there can be only two outcomes. And both of them will prove destructive to him.

Outcome #1: Trump doesn’t find the writer. Trump has always believed in conspiracy theories. and seen disagreement as betrayal. He will become increasingly paranoid and self-destructive, and the White House will become increasingly a place where few want to work.

Even under the best circumstances, any job at the Executive Mansion is tremendously stressful—filled with constant deadlines, turf battles between egotistical staffers, the threat of embarrassing exposure in the national media. 

If Trump insists that everyone now working for him be strapped into lie detectors, at least some people will refuse and leave. And getting well-screened and experienced replacements for such positions won’t be easy.

Outcome #2: Trump does find the writer. In that case, Trump’s Mount Rushmore-sized ego will demand the writer’s prosecution and imprisonment—if not execution.

Since the writer didn’t leak State secrets, there won’t be any legal basis for such a prosecution. So this will be seen as a vendetta driven by an authoritarian man’s ego. 

Moreover, Trump will run headlong into the danger of unleashing a Constitutional crisis.

His hatred of the “fake news” has long been known. The only media he watches and considers reliable is Right-wing Fox News Network, which acts as his personal cheering squad.

The rest of the media will see this—correctly—as an outright attack on their Constitutionally-protected freedom to discover the news and report it. And they will depict it as such.

Picking a fight with the national news media is a no-win situation for Presidents: The media have the resources to “dig up the dirt” on their enemies—and a unique megaphone to give voice to it.

Donald Trump has earned the hatred of many of the reporters covering him. And they will relish doing all they can to bring him down.  

And while Republicans have marched in lockstep with Trump from Day One, even they may well hesitate to support him in an all-out war on the press. After all, they have to run for office every two years (for the House of Representatives) or six (for the Senate). 

And they know how dangerous it is to antagonize the reporters and editors who cover them. 

For Trump, there will be the very real danger that, this time, they won’t back him.

Richard Nixon learned the hard way how dangerous it is to go to war against a free press.  

Donald Trump may be about to do the same.

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