This is the week when the political distress signals emanating from the White House came through like an alarm at midnight — loud, startling, and impossible to ignore.
They showed up first through early stories about two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear,” another chronicling of this chaotic president and his dysfunctional White House. And about the clandestine efforts his staff makes to thwart his worst instincts.
Then, just as Team Trump had shifted into furious damage-control mode on the Woodward front, similar signals came through in a more surprising and controversial way, in the form of an anonymous guest column in The New York Times.
Its author, known to the Times and described as “a senior official in the Trump administration,” makes much the same case as Woodward. The message, however, is even more explicit: “Many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his own worst inclinations.”
Why? “The root of the problem,” the anonymous official says, “is the president’s amorality.” Calling Trump’s impulses generally “anti-democratic,” the author writes that “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.”
His leadership style is “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective,” replete with “half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.”
That prompted a seething president to argue that this was a “gutless” move and that the Times should reveal the author’s name, and “turn him/her over to government at once!” (What?!) And, further, that none of it mattered, because the economy is strong.
Now, the Times obviously has put its credibility on the line in a monumental way. The name of the author is sure to come out eventually, and if it turns out to be a mid-level functionary, or a hold-over with a political grudge, or a non-Trumpian Republican with run-of-the-mill policy disagreements, the newspaper will have hurt itself immensely.
But consider: This is the same message we’ve heard from different messengers. And not just by the anonymous official and Woodward, or the others who have written tell-all books, but also from regular reporting in the nation’s non-ideologically-blinkered newspapers and magazines.
We see aspects of that behavior in the many untruths this president tells, in his conspiratorialist contentions, and in the ranting and bullying he regularly resorts to on Twitter. In other words, much of this is known, truths there to be seen by all but those determined to ignore them.
It’s not just Trump’s antidemocratic instincts that are so troubling, of course. It’s also his disdain for the rule of law. Here is a president trying to bully his own attorney general into acting as his prosecutorial praetorian guard. And who now apparently intends to fire him after the midterms, because Sessions refuses to bend the law to Trump’s will.
Tried-and-true Trump supporters will either dismiss these warnings as “fake news” or welcome them as the very sort of strong-man rule some of them clearly desire. But for Americans with a longer and more level-headed view, the message should be clear:
We have as president a man radically out of keeping with previous norms and understandings that constrain executive behavior, a man who is mentally, temperamentally, and intellectually unfit to occupy the Oval Office.
So what can the public do? Simple: Impose some checks and balances by voting to put Democrats in control of Congress this November.
Level-headed citizens concerned about the future of this country must look beyond the usual partisan concerns. This election must be about imposing political constraints on an erratic, unstable, bullying man-child with the ability to do lasting damage to this nation and the world.