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Who is in Charge of the White House?

05 Sep 2018

The White House has been rocked by two accounts this week, both of which make an uncomfortable allegation: President Trump is not really in charge of the White House. Bob Woodward’s explosive new book, Fear, portrays an executive in a perpetual state of turmoil with senior staffers routinely thwarting the President’s desires through either inaction, counteraction, or limiting his information, sometimes to the point of taking papers from his desk–even ones he is about to sign.

On Wednesday, The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed from someone purported to be a member of that senior staff, essentially confirming Woodward’s reporting. “Anonymous” takes on the mantle of “the resistance” within the Executive Branch. This resistance is not an effort to unseat Trump per se, but is instead geared around protecting the President from his worst instincts while still maintaining a positive direction in American foreign and domestic policy. The staff member, whose identity is known to the Times, claims an allegiance not to Trump, but “to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.”

Trump’s primary shortcoming, says Anonymous, is obvious. “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.” Trump, it is alleged, is reflexively deferential to strong dictators and tends to be anti-democratic and anti-free trade by disposition.

This is nothing short of stunning.

Every administration is rife with competing agendas. Several hundred key players, with strong minds and stronger wills, often work to bend the president’s desires to their own as much as possible. Even with the most noble intentions, every White House has its share of non-compliance.

What is described here is something different. There is, it seems, a shadow presidency, not, as Anonymous says, from the deep state, but within the White House itself. These would have to be senior officials with the power to countermand Trump and get away with it. The fact they remain cloaked, until now, suggests Trump is oblivious, that his focus is so minimal that not only is he unable to keep the trains running on time, he may not be aware there is a schedule.

There is a nobility of a kind to Anonymous’s convenient claims. As Brit Hume suggested, it is indeed tempting to thank God such people exist if President Trump is the man he is portrayed to be by Woodward and Anonymous.

This behavior, though, is intolerable. There are three responsible roads to go down for senior officials if Trump is actually the man being portrayed in these accounts. First, be clear with the President. Argue against him. Risk being fired. Work with him toward better policies. Second, there is always resignation. Go public and shine the light of truth on a dysfunctional White House that appears to be a danger to American institutions. Third, failing the first two options, implement the 25th Amendment. Work to convince the Vice President and cabinet to exercise their constitutional powers to strip the president of authority because he is unable to carry out his duties. The Constitution does not define fitness or ability in this context. If the Vice President and cabinet are witnessing a disaster, it is their obligation to avert it. They have the proper authority to do so.

Anonymous, naturally, knows this and claims an unwillingness to provoke a constitutional crisis. This is purely self-serving. If Trump is as portrayed this week, leaving him within shouting distance of nuclear weapons, or even the Executive’s robust pen, is intolerable.

While some might laud Anonymous, and senior staffers like Chief of Staff Kelly or Sec. Def. Mattis, as well-intentioned and heroic in their “resistance,” such tendencies are misguided and dangerous. Let’s be candid. No one elected Kelly or Mattis. No one chose their agenda. If Trump is unhinged, and the people want unhinged, there are mechanisms in place to oust Trump and deprive the people of their chosen leader.

Even if staffers are driven by duty and honor, such tendencies are flagrantly open for abuse. When, precisely, should a Secretary of Defense countermand the President’s order? When, precisely, should the Chief of Staff take things off the President’s desk? The actions, by themselves, are repugnant, regardless of their motivation because such men have not been invested with the proper authority, from the people, to steer the ship of state to their own outcomes. If President Trump is asleep at the rudder, or is convinced the rudder actually tastes like licorice and should be eaten instead of steered, such men, like Anonymous, should not only say so, but do something within their power to change it.

By using the Constitution–either through the 25th Amendment, or by initiating impeachment proceedings against the President–these men and women would strengthen our system of government by adhering to its carefully defined processes. By acting with their own authority, to individually decide if the President’s directives are worth carrying out, even against an allegedly unfit president, they undermine not only his ability to act, but weaken our republic by installing themselves as masked potentates.

Working to remove the President, though, would ultimately take away their own newly found power to do as they wish. I am sure it is quite intoxicating to ignore the President and pull the levers of government however you like.