If I declare myself to be Emperor of the United States, it’s safe to say not much would come of it. Just because I say I’m in charge doesn’t mean I’m actually in charge. To be in charge, you have to have people willing to follow you, and I don’t have a lot of people who want to be my minions.
(Yes, I know I wouldn’t be the first Emperor of the United States. God rest Emperor Norton.)
For better or worse, American Democracy works the same way. The 537 elected federal office holders do not run this country through some sort of magical compulsion. They run this country because millions of people believe they do, and are willing to continue to let them. There is nothing special about Donald Trump that makes him any more qualified to be President of the United States than I am qualified to be Emperor of the United States. The reason he’s President and I’m not Emperor is because millions of people believe that he is, and no one believes that I am.
That’s why I’m not comforted by words like this from an anonymous Trump administration insider:
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.
This is not a good sign.
To be clear, I want much of Trump’s agenda to be defeated. To the extent that he has policies, I think many of them will be very bad for this country. And even where I might agree with some of his policies, I don’t trust him to actually implement them in a competent manner, because my biggest problem with Trump is the same problem the anonymous op-ed author identifies:
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.
I don’t want someone like that as President. But since someone like that is President, I want to minimize the damage. And I’m somewhat comforted to learn from this op-ed (and the excerpts from Bob Woodward’s book about Trump) that there are people inside his administration trying to do exactly 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.
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.
That last sentence contains a conundrum: Can you really preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting the will of the democratically elected president?
We only have a democracy because everyone believes we do. Some people will stray from that belief, but as long as there is still a critical mass of democracy believers to bring them back in line, we will continue to have a democracy. But if belief in our democracy declines far enough, eventually there won’t be anyone with the power to correct the problem.
I don’t want to be too alarmist here. It’s not an all-or-nothing situation. Everybody with a difficult boss (or even just a boss) learns to manage up. In one form or another, pushing back or ignoring the boss when he wants something stupid is part of every job. That’s got to be especially true for the presidency, which requires far more knowledge and skill than any one person possesses. Many successful leaders with volatile personalities are wise enough to choose subordinates who know how to stop them from breaking things.
That can prove useful when the boss acts like this:
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.
As a libertarian, I’m tempted to see anything that prevents Donald Trump from exerting power as a good thing. However, my real goal is to reduce the power of the entire federal government, and I don’t see this resistance accomplishing that. It doesn’t do much good to wrest power away from Trump if we’re turn it over to someone arrogant enough to write this op-ed.
The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around the White House.
I don’t want to get off into a deep state conspiracy here. This is not some persistent class of high-level bureaucrats who run the government their own way regardless of who is in office. The people described in the op-ed were all brought in with the Trump Administration, and they will leave with the Trump administration.
Good riddance to the lot of them.