I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration

I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.

.. The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is 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.
.. To be clear, 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.
.. 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.
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.
.. Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives:
  • free minds,
  • free markets and
  • free people.
At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright.
.. In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic.

There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture:

  • effective deregulation,
  • historic tax reform, a
  • more robust military and more.

But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is

  • impetuous,
  • adversarial,
  • petty and
  • ineffective.

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.

“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.

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.

The result is a two-track presidency.

Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.

Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.

.. On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.

.. This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.

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 bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.

.. Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation.

.. We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them.

.. 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.

Robert E. Lee at West Point

Lee embodied the values that West Point seeks to inculcate in its graduates: Duty, Honor, and Country. So I was taught and so I believed.

.. It is my fate to be a quick study and a slow learner. Not until I was in my thirties, therefore, did I begin to wonder how it was that West Point should elevate to the status of role model a serving officer who had abandoned his country in its time of maximum need.

.. My complaint about Lee—I admit this to my everlasting shame—was not that he was a slaveholder who in joining the Confederacy fought to preserve slavery. It was that he had thereby engineered the killing of many thousands of American patriots who (whatever their views on slavery and race) wished simply to preserve the Union. At the beginning of the Civil War, Lee famously remarked that he could not bring himself to take up arms against his home state of Virginia. This obliged him to take up arms against the very nation that as a serving officer he had sworn to defend?

No less than Benedict Arnold, Robert E. Lee was a traitor. This became, and remains, my firm conviction.

.. Elsewhere, however, quietly expunge Lee’s name from gates, roads, halls, barracks, and awards handed out to cadets. To put the matter kindly, he doesn’t deserve the recognition. As with General Koster, there’s no way to excise Lee from the Academy’s history. That he should occupy a place of honor in the Long Gray Line is something of an obscenity, however.

The Week When President Trump Resigned

Trump resigned the presidency already — if we regard the job as one of moral stewardship, if we assume that an iota of civic concern must joust with self-regard, if we expect a president’s interest in legislation to rise above vacuous theatrics, if we consider a certain baseline of diplomatic etiquette to be part of the equation.

.. He abdicated his responsibilities so thoroughly and recklessly that it amounted to a letter of resignation. Then he whored for his Virginia winery on the way out the door.

.. Trump knew full well what he should have done, because he’d done it — grudgingly and badly — only a day earlier. But it left him feeling countermanded, corrected, submissive and weak, and those emotions just won’t do for an ego as needy and skin as thin as his.

.. On Tuesday he “relinquished what presidents from Roosevelt to Reagan have regarded as a cardinal duty of their job: set a moral course to unify the nation,” wrote The Times’ Mark Landler

.. Did he place the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, on the same “moral plane” as those who showed up to push back at them?

“I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane,” Trump answered.

.. he never in fact wanted or set out to be president, not as the position is conventionally or correctly defined.

.. He revealed that repeatedly as he rejected the traditional rules and usual etiquette, refusing to release his tax returns, bragging about his penis size, feuding with the Muslim father of a fallen American soldier and electing puerility over poetry at nearly every meaningful moment.

.. All that time on Twitter wasn’t principally about a direct connection to voters. It was a way to stare at an odometer of approval and monitor, in real time, how broadly his sentiments were being liked and shared.

.. Applause. Greater brand exposure. A new layer of perks atop an existence already lavish with them. Utter saturation of Americans’ consciousness. These were his foremost goals. Governing wasn’t

.. He made clear that conflicts of interest didn’t trouble him, drawing constant attention to Trump properties

.. members of Congress who met with Trump about the repeal-and-replace of Obamacare were aghast at his ignorance of the legislation and of the legislative process itself.

.. A president is supposed to safeguard the most sacred American institutions, repairing them if need be. Trump doesn’t respect them. He has sought to discredit and disempower the judiciary, the free press, the FBI, the Congressional Budget Office. He even managed to inject politics into, and pollute, the Boy Scouts. This is the course of a tyrant.

.. I kept coming across variations on the verdict that he had “failed to lead,” and that phraseology is off. “Fail” and “failure” imply that there was an effort, albeit unsuccessful.

All About James Comey

What his Thursday testimony made clear is how much he has damaged the country.

Mr. Comey was not merely a player in the past year’s palaver. He was the player.
It was Mr. Comey who botched the investigation of Mrs. Clinton by appropriating the authority to exonerate and excoriate her publicly in an inappropriate press event, and then by reopening the probe right before the election. This gave Mrs. Clinton’s supporters a reason to claim they’d been robbed, which in turn stoked the “resistance” that has overrun U.S. politics.
.. Mr. Comey explained that he had lost faith in then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s ability to handle the affair, in part because she had directed him to describe the probe in public as a “matter” rather than an “investigation.” That one of President Obama’s political appointees outright directed the head of the FBI to play down an investigation is far more scandalous than any accusation aired about Mr. Trump.
.. If Mr. Comey truly had believed the president was interfering, he had a duty to report it or to resign. Instead he maintained Thursday it wasn’t his role to pronounce whether Mr. Trump had obstructed justice. Really? This may count as the only time Mr. Comey suddenly didn’t have an opinion on whether to render justice or to take things into his own hands.
.. And why did he agree to dinner with Mr. Trump in the first place? Why keep accepting the president’s phone calls? Asked whether he, in those early meetings, ever told the president how things ought to go, he said no. Mr. Comey did nothing to establish a relationship he felt was correct.
Instead, he kept secret memos, something he’d never done before. He wrote them in an unclassified manner, the better to make them public later. He allowed Mr. Trump to continue, while building up this dossier.
.. Yes, Russia interfered. Yes, Mr. Trump damages himself with reckless words and tweets. Yes, the Hillary situation was tricky. Yet you have to ask: How remarkably different would the world look had Mr. Comey chosen to retire in, say, 2015

Trump must be impeached. Here’s why.

Further reporting suggests that the encounter was even more sinister, with Trump insisting that Comey pledge “loyalty” to him in order to retain his job. Publicly saying he saw nothing wrong with demanding such loyalty, the president turned to Twitter with a none-too-subtle threat that Comey would regret any decision to disseminate his version of his conversations with Trump — something that Comey has every right, and indeed a civic duty, to do.

What Does Steve Bannon Want?

One Harvard Business School classmate described him to The Boston Globe as “top three in intellectual horsepower in our class — perhaps the smartest.”

.. While he is certainly a hard-line conservative of some kind, the evidence that he is an extremist of a more troubling sort has generally been either massaged, misread or hyped up.

.. Where Mr. Bannon does veer sharply from recent mainstream Republicanism is in his all-embracing nationalism. He speaks of sovereignty, economic nationalism, opposition to globalization and finding common ground with Brexit supporters and other groups hostile to the transnational European Union. On Thursday, at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, he described the “center core” of Trump administration philosophy as the belief that the United States is more than an economic unit in a borderless word. It is “a nation with a culture anda reason for being.”

.. Mr. Bannon, unlike Mr. Trump, has a detailed idea, an explanation, of how American sovereignty was lost, and of what to do about it. It is the same idea that Tea Party activists have: A class of regulators in the government has robbed Americans of their democratic prerogatives. That class now constitutes an “administrative state” that operates to empower itself and enrich its crony-capitalist allies.

.. He has a theory of historical cycles that can be considered elegantly simple or dangerously simplistic. It is a model laid out by William Strauss and Neil Howe in two books from the 1990s. Their argument assumes an 80- to 100-year cycle divided into roughly 20-year “highs,” “awakenings,” “unravelings” and “crises.” The American Revolution, the Civil War, the New Deal, World War II — Mr. Bannon has said for years that we’re due for another crisis about now. His documentary about the 2008 financial collapse, “Generation Zero,” released in 2010, uses the Strauss-Howe model to explain what happened, and concludes with Mr. Howe himself saying, “History is seasonal, and winter is coming.”

.. They question whether the free market is altogether free. Mr. Ritholtz says that the outcome of the financial crisis has been “socialism for the wealthy but capitalism for everybody else.”

.. “Think about it,” he said in a talk hosted by the Institute for Human Dignity. “Not one criminal charge has ever been brought to any bank executive associated with 2008 crisis.”

He warned against “the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism,” by which he meant “a capitalism that really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people.” Capitalism, he said, ought to rest on a “Judeo-Christian” foundation.

.. More controversially he holds that, since this political movement is generated within the sphere of Islam, the growth of Islam — the religion — is itself a problem with which American authorities should occupy themselves. This is a view that was emphatically repudiated by Presidents Obama and George W. Bush.

.. As Ms. Jones sees it, a more reliable key to his worldview lies in his military service. “He has a respect for duty,” she said in early February. “The word he has used a lot is ‘dharma.’ ” Mr. Bannon found the concept of dharma in the Bhagavad Gita, she recalls. It can describe one’s path in life or one’s place in the universe.

.. She regrets that Mr. Bannon “has found a home in nationalism.” But she does not believe he is any kind of anarchist, let alone a racist.

.. he is attached to a theory of history’s cycles that is, to put it politely, untested. Most ominously, he is an intellectual in politics excited by grand theories — a combination that has produced unpredictable results before.

Can McMaster Stabilize Trump’s Foreign Policy Team?

General McMaster is a compelling choice: a scholar-warrior in the mold of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, with the bonus of looking every inch the part — allegedly a critical asset in the image-conscious Trump administration.

Yet those very qualities could spell more trouble ahead. General McMaster’s deep understanding of civil-military relations, and his reputation for not suffering fools, could quickly make him an irrepressible critic — and political enemy — of Mr. Trump and his senior adviser, Stephen K. Bannon.

.. At the same time, General McMaster has a cooler head than Mr. Flynn, or for that matter John Bolton, whom he beat out for the job.

.. Perhaps the best indication of General McMaster’s thinking, and the likelihood of conflict with Mr. Bannon and others, is his 1997 book, “Dereliction of Duty,” a merciless, meticulous study of the early days of the Vietnam War, and how senior civilian officials and the Joint Chiefs of Staff led the country into a quagmire.

.. His central thesis is that the Joint Chiefs became inordinately politicized, caving to senior civilian officials in the Johnson administration like McGeorge Bundy, the national security adviser, who knew little about Vietnam, or military doctrine. Those officials were more concerned about appearing just strong enough not to lose hawkish domestic support without compromising the Great Society agenda than they were about actually winning the war.

.. “The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field nor was it lost on the front page of The New York Times or the college campuses,” he wrote. “It was lost in Washington,” even before “the first American units were deployed.”

.. Men like Mr. Bannon, of course, are not likely to be either silent or deferential. Instead, they will try to bureaucratically outflank dissenters.

.. General McMaster, for his part, vehemently objected to the way President Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara largely circumvented the Security Council’s interagency process in formulating and implementing Vietnam policy; it’s unlikely he’ll abide a similar move by Mr. Bannon and his circle. He’ll probably be joined by General Mattis

.. Expect fireworks. General McMaster’s unblinking, incisive criticism of national security officials reflects a conviction that they are duty bound to do all they can to avoid making or repeating historical mistakes — even at the risk of insubordination.

.. And Mr. Trump, given his rhetoric, appears willing to indulge the use of military force with little regard to strategic consequences.