The New York Times
September 5, 2018
The Times today is taking the rare step of publishing an anonymous Op-Ed essay. We
have done so at the request of the author, a senior official in the Trump administration
whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure. We
believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important
perspective to our readers. We invite you to submit a question about the essay or our
vetting process here.
President Trump is facing a test to his presidency unlike any faced by a modern American leader.
It’s not just that the special counsel looms large. Or that the country is bitterly divided over Mr. Trump’s leadership. Or even that his party might well lose the House to an opposition hellbent on his downfall.
The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his
own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.
I would know. I am one of them.
To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of the left. We want the administration to
succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more
But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a
manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.
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 root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.
Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people. At best, he has
invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright.
In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic.
Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of
the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.
But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership
style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.
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.
“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.
The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and
around the White House. Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.
It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.
The result is a two-track presidency.
Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for
autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s
leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to
allied, like-minded nations.
Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on
another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished
accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.
On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies
as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for
weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with
Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions
on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.
This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.
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.
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.
Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation.
We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a
lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear
such honorable men, but we should revere them.
There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one: Americans.
The writer is a senior official in the Trump administration.