The White House is seen under dark rain clouds in Washington, DC, on June 1, 2015. 
Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty

One year after the anonymous op-ed from a senior Trump admin official

Updated

The Rachel Maddow Show, 9/5/18, 8:39 PM ET

Maddow on anonymous Op-ed: Somebody is pulling the fire alarm

Rachel Maddow reacts to the anonymous Op-ed in the New York Times purportedly written by a senior White House staffer describing Donald Trump’s lack of fitness for the office he holds and how members of his staff have appointed themselves the bulwark
Rachel Maddow reacts to the anonymous Op-ed in the New York Times purportedly written by a senior White House staffer describing Donald Trump’s lack of fitness for the office he holds and how members of his staff have appointed themselves the bulwark
On Sept. 5, 2018, the New York Times published one of the most striking op-eds Americans have ever seen. It was written by someone identified only as “a senior official in the Trump administration,” and while the newspaper explained to readers that its editors were aware of the author’s identity, they decided to publish the piece anonymously in order to “deliver an important perspective.”

And as we discussed at the time, it was quite a perspective. The unnamed author explained in the piece that he/she is one of “many” in the Trump administration who were “working diligently from within to frustrate parts of [the president’s] agenda and his worst inclinations.” He/she characterized Donald Trump as an ignorant and erratic leader, unfit for leadership, whose decisions needed to be contained and curtailed by those around him.

The author wasn’t a progressive opponent of a conservative agenda. Rather, he/she appeared to be a Republican who sincerely believed Trump is a dangerous, amoral, and unprincipled buffoon who was acting “in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.”

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. […]

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 author described a “two-track presidency” in which the unhinged president went in one direction, while responsible adults around him quietly steered the administration in another.

Trump World did not take this well. The White House entered “total meltdown” mode and officials launched a “frantic hunt” to identify the author. The president sought a Justice Department investigation, before arguing that the New York Times wrote its own op-ed, essentially perpetrating an elaborate fraud, in order to malign him.

Exactly one year later, plenty of questions linger.

Is the person responsible for the op-ed still there? Are there still officials in the president’s orbit who believe he’s acting “in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic”?

Are they still trying to “steer the administration” in responsible directions? How?

Part of the problem with the op-ed was coming to terms with the motivation behind it. The author seemed eager to reassure the public that there’s a structure in place to contain Trump’s madness, preventing him from doing catastrophic harm. Sure, the sitting American president was unwell, the op-ed suggested, but people around him would prevent genuine catastrophes.

That was a double-edged sword. Obviously, no one benefits from an unstable leader making ridiculous decisions, but our system of government isn’t supposed to function by way of un-elected and unaccountable aides circumventing and undermining a mad president.

One year later, the op-ed is very easy to believe. On a daily basis, we’re confronted with fresh evidence of Trump’s … what’s the phrase I’m looking for … unsettling shortcomings. But what’s worse: the idea that no one around him is constraining the unhinged president, or the idea that the executive branch of the world’s dominant superpower is a dysfunctional circus divided against itself?