Mutiny in the White House

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

President Donald Trump's hair is seen illuminated as he listens during a discussion in the Roosevelt Room of the White House

If you haven't seen the 1954 film The Caine Mutiny, now's a good time to watch it. Humphrey Bogart plays Phillip Queeg, a navy captain who shows signs of mental instability that jeopardizes the ship. To save the crew, the first officer relieves him of command. When Queeg gets word of the mutiny, he broadcasts this message over the ship's intercom:

This is the captain speaking. Some misguided sailors on this ship still think they can pull a fast one on me. Well, they're very much mistaken. Since you've taken this course, the innocent will be punished with the guilty. There will be no liberty for any member of this crew for three months. I will not be made a fool of. Do you hear me?

Fast-forward to the current occupant of the White House.

A high-ranking Trump administration official has written an anonymous op-ed column in The New York Times entitled, "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration."  Many Americans are wondering if this is a game-changer. Trump is wondering who did it and how he can exact revenge.

The author acknowledges that the president is bonkers and dangerous, revealing that some of Trump's top aides, conservatives all, are doing whatever they can to thwart him from blowing up the world, destroying American credibility, and undermining our democracy and the rule of law.

Now, of course, there's a big guessing game about the identity of the column’s author. Hopefully, we won't have to wait 30 years to find out. That was the time lapse between the publication of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's stories about the Watergate scandal in The Washington Post that helped bring down President Nixon and the moment when former FBI official Mark Felt came clean as the real “Deep Throat.”

One can assume that the anonymous author of the Times op-ed had two goals in mind: (1) Saving the republic, and (2) getting a helluva good book deal. 

At some point, after Trump is no longer president, she/he will no doubt reveal her/himself and get a lucrative book contract for spilling the beans. But at the moment, whoever it is, she or he has performed a valuable public service by confirming the chaos within the White House—and perhaps helping persuade some fence-sitting voters that to check Trump's chaos, we need to elect a Democratic Congress.

The anonymous writer is obviously a conservative. She/he opposes Trump because she/he thinks the president is out of control, unprincipled (“amoral” is the term the author uses), and dangerous. In that way, she/he agrees with a growing number of conservative pundits—George Will, William Kristol, Charles Sykes, Peggy Noonan, David Frum, Jennifer Rubin, David Brooks, and Steve Schmidt, among them—who have come out against Trump. 

Their motives and reasons for opposing Trump are different from those of liberals and progressives who've led the "resistance" protest movement in the streets and in the campaigns to elect Democrats. The anti-Trump conservatives want to cleanse the conservative “brand” of this crude and cruel interloper. They want to return the GOP to core conservative principles, or at least what they consider to be its principles, including the rule of law. If some Republican whom they liked actually were elected president—she/he would clearly prefer someone like John McCain, but might settle for Marco Rubio or Nikki Haley—liberals and progressives would be opposed. 

But in the world we presently live in, the opposition to Trump by conservative pundits and by the writer of the Times op-ed column is an act of patriotism. If it helps undermine Trump's credibility with Republican elites, some Republican politicians, and perhaps some GOP-leaning independents and Republican voters (although not Trump’s core cult followers), it may come to be viewed by historians as a turning point in the fate of the nation. In the short term, it can accelerate the "blue wave" and help elect a Democratic majority in the House, which could neutralize Trump on many (though not all) fronts, initiate investigations into corruption, and perhaps begin impeachment proceedings. 

So the author of the Times op-ed has joined the anti-Trump conservative pundits as—at least for the moment—allies of liberals and progressives. As they say in the world of organizing and activism, there are no permanent friends, no permanent enemies.

Clearly, the anonymous author is urging people to stop Trump from being re-elected in 2020 if he doesn’t resign or get impeached before then. How else to interpret these sentences: “So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until—one way or another—it’s over,” and, “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.”

It will be interesting to watch how Trump reacts to this mutiny from within.

Like Captain Queeg, Trump is going nuts trying to figure out who squealed. It may lead him to purge many of his top staff and Cabinet officials (except his family members) and look even more suspiciously at people who have dirt about his personal life. Trump may even ask the FBI to investigate those he suspects wrote the op-ed to uncover who the culprit is. Will the FBI—or Attorney General Jeff Sessions—cooperate with this? The anonymous author, after all, has neither leaked any documents nor violated any laws.

Whether the FBI cooperates or not, will the story leak out that Trump asked the agency to track down the author and thereby make Trump look even more out of control? If so, how will Trump investigate this leak? Clearly the Times column is going to consume Trump for the next few months if not longer. As a result, his administration will become even more ineffective at getting things done. That's a good thing, too.

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