The Spy in the White House, the Dogs in the Manger

The New York Times hit a new journalistic low on Wednesday with the publication of an anonymous op-ed, purportedly by a senior member of the Trump Administration, that reveals the existence of a sapper within the president’s circle. No doubt commissioned to coincide with the release of Bob Woodward’s latest exercise in Washington fiction, Fear, as well the orgy of crocodile tears occasioned by the passing of John McCain, it portrays an erratic, amoral president entirely unmoored from previous notions of ideological or party fidelity, whose impulsive behavior his aides are trying, with only some success, to contain and correct.

“This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state,” writes the author. “It’s the work of the steady state.”

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.

Not for the first time, what’s going on in Washington brings to mind not the late Roman Empire, but the early one—the Julian line that began with Caesar, passed through Augustus and Tiberius, and then degenerated into the reigns of Caligula, Claudius, and ended with Nero. As the Republic morphed into the Empire, the Senate receded in importance, as did the twin consuls, annually elected. Powerful women—the mothers, wives, and mistresses of the emperors—wielded great power. And yet, in the end, nearly all died unnatural deaths, assassinated (all but Augustus, in fact), murdered, executed, or forced to suicide. To spare you reading Gibbon in his magnificent entirety: the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was written in the stars, right from the start, just as Shakespeare said.

The Left and its allies in the media would have us think—as this op-ed is clearly meant to do—that Trump is some combination of Claudius and Nero, a mad king barely restrained by his courtiers. “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,” the unknown author writes. “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.”

I have no idea whether any of this is true. It is possible that Trump is as changeable as they say, and that his worst impulses are held in check by the wise men around him. More likely, however, is that Trump remains surrounded by those who want to see him fail, out of pique; if he’s an emperor, he’s beleaguered rather than omnipotent, with spies lurking behind every arras, shivs at the ready.

Certainly, the success of the administration’s initiatives, from the booming economy to the moments of clarity it has brought to rogue enemies and feckless allies from North Korea to Germany, is indisputable, no matter what you think of Trump. I would further venture to say that those who support the president do not do so because they are enamored of him, or think of him as a god-king, or Cheeto Jesus, but rather because they agree with his policies and like their results.

But to a wide swath of #TheResistance, this is both incredible and unacceptable. Trump offends them so personally and so deeply that they cannot constrain their bitterness, their jealousy, and their anger. The old guard, Baby Boomer media, almost to a man, despises him for his insouciant rejection of the “norms” with which they grew up. Indeed, one of the things that most infuriates them is his resolute refusal to play the part of Richard Nixon, which is why they have recently deployed the ghosts of Watergate Past, including not only “Woodstein” but even superannuated bit players like John Dean, as repellant a weasel today as he was in the 1970s.

And so organizations like the Times now feel free to violate every canon in the reporter’s handbook, and turn to legions of Deep Throat wannabees—whose identities are protected not because their lives are in danger but because they might lose their jobs and thus be of no further use to #TheResistance. That this puts the Times’s reporters into direct conflict with its editors has not gone unnoticed; as Jodi Kantor tweeted:

Still, it’s a little late for Kantor and her colleagues to find that old-time religion. No reportorial cats patrol the anonymice/rat precincts any more, and so journalism is overrun by self-serving vermin, men without chests who prize their jobs more than their honor—Brave Sir Robins all, who fire their slings and arrows behind the newsprint equivalent of an Antifa mask and then run away. Or, even worse, we have a group of unprincipled, fabulist reporters who invent from whole cloth a shadow army of “resistance” fighters, the better to give imaginary voice to the reporters’ own political proclivities.

Sarah Sanders responded quickly to Mr. Anonymous: “The individual behind this piece has chosen to deceive, rather than support, the duly elected President of the United States. He is not putting country first, but putting himself and his ego ahead of the will of the American people. This coward should do the right thing, and resign.”

Fat chance. For the dirty little secret of official Washington is that every single civil servant and Washington bureau reporter has more job security than the president; voter-and-term-limited chief executives may come and go, but Congress, the agencies, and the parasites who feed off of them are nearly forever, long after the current occupant of the White House is gone.

Consumed with resentment toward a man they loathe and, worse, for whom not a single person they collectively know voted, today’s journalists jealously guard what’s left of their dignity, their ethics, and their honor, even as they gnaw at their own entrails, and wonder why they’re dying.

Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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About Michael Walsh

Michael Walsh is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. He was for 16 years the music critic and foreign correspondent for Time Magazine, for which he covered the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. His works include the novels As Time Goes By, And All the Saints (winner, 2004 American Book Award for fiction), and the bestselling “Devlin” series of NSA thrillers; as well as the recent nonfiction bestseller, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace. A sequel, The Fiery Angel, was published by Encounter in May 2018. Follow him on Twitter at @dkahanerules (Photo credit: Peter Duke Photo)