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Jamil Smith: Don’t Mistake Complicity for Courage

The anonymous administration official’s ‘NYT’ op-ed is a study in reputation-saving

TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump listens during a phone conversation with Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto on trade in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on August 27, 2018. - President Donald Trump said Monday the US had reached a "really good deal" with Mexico and talks with Canada would begin shortly on a new regional free trade pact."It's a big day for trade. It's a really good deal for both countries," Trump said."Canada, we will start negotiations shortly. I'll be calling their prime minister very soon," Trump said.US and Mexican negotiators have been working for weeks to iron out differences in order to revise the nearly 25-year old North American Free Trade Agreement, while Canada was waiting to rejoin the negotiations. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump

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It may no longer be front-page news, but the Trump administration is still locking kids in cages. Nearly 500 of them, according to court papers filed late last week. Twenty-two are younger than five years old. The deadline to return these children to their families passed more than a month ago, and the Washington Post reported that two-thirds of them have parents who have already been deported. On Thursday, the administration announced plans to withdraw from the Flores consent decree, which would essentially pave the way for immigrant children to be detained indefinitely with their families in concentration camps.

It is a good thing, then, we have anonymous administration officials to tell us that President Trump is a bad person.

The New York Times published an op-ed Wednesday afternoon authored by a “senior official in the Trump administration.” It is poorly written, so it is easy to see why the person would want to go unnamed. The official reason given for granting anonymity was the writer didn’t want to get fired. That desire to remain in President Trump’s employ, is an honorable thing, you see, since she or he is helping save the nation and indeed the world by thwarting the unfettered whims of the megalomaniac now sitting in the Oval Office. Since this person claims to be working insidiously within the White House to undermine the president’s agenda, the headline generously brands this Trump official as “part of the Resistance.”

The writer eschews that label, however. “To be clear,” Anonymous writes, “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 prosperous.” Later, she or he lauds the “bright spots” of this first term, including “effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.” I put that in quotes because those characterizations are propaganda. Why would someone willing to risk their own future and the ire of this dangerous president  be rooting for him to succeed?

This is a fundamental dilemma many have been wrestling with since Trump was elected. If you want to have the government operate efficiently, as many good Democrats do, what does that look like when people like Stephen Miller, Betsy DeVos and Ben Carson are involved? We need a White House that works, but a Trump government that is successful is one that empowers ethnonationalism, speeds up climate change and subjugates minorities and the poor. This White House has produced some genuine horrors, and Anonymous saying that these “successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style” is cold comfort to those who will suffer the worst consequences from this administration. This op-ed writer reads like a typical Republican, seeking to guard the conservative spoils of this soiled presidency while issuing Very Strong Language lamenting the president’s reckless behavior.

Not once does Anonymous describe exactly what she or he is actually doing to block the president’s worst impulses from manifesting as disasters. Unlike the new Bob Woodward book, no specific incidences of stopping Trump from, say, assassinating Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, are mentioned. We are to take the writer’s word on their own heroism. There is talk about co-workers whispering about invoking the 25th Amendment, but little indication that they plan to follow through.

It is tempting to root for people like Anonymous, to believe them when they say they are preventing something much worse from Trump. We’ll soon find out. Trump now has been given an actual reason not to trust a soul in the the White House, and who knows what he’ll do next. But many of the critiques Anonymous levies resemble liberal warnings about Trump from his time as a candidate: he is “anti-democratic,” repeatedly shows evidence of his “amorality,” and is unpredictable, petty and intellectually lazy. These are all things that the left was worried about during the campaign, and black and Hispanic folks familiar with his record in New York City shouted warnings well before then. Now Anonymous treats these revelations like breaking news. “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.”

We had a chance to dodge this bullet. Republicans, presumably like that op-ed writer, preferred instead to elect Trump so that they could loot whatever Supreme Court picks and other conservative booty they could during his inevitable horror show.

The op-ed’s ending is the worst part. Exploiting the late John McCain’s name, the writer dredges up a debunked notion from news cycles past and advocates “civility” as a salve for our politics. Then the kicker: “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.” Essentially, the paper-stealers inside the White House can only do so much. Once we all shuck this identity politics thing and get down to just being “American,” that’s when this will all get better. Say what?

It is ironic that Anonymous goes there at the end, for she or he conveys no concern whatsoever for the people who suffer most under the thumb of this president. As much as we can read the tea leaves when administration officials comment without revealing their identity, it is telling that none of this vile Trump behavior, not even his response to the domestic terrorist attack in Charlottesville last summer, was enough to make these people resign. It’s too late to be a hero now. No Trump official, anonymous or not, can cleanse themselves of their complicity in the evils of this administration.

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