DAVID WEBBER: No good will come from the Times op ed

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The New York Times should not have published an anonymous Op-Ed essay purported to be penned by a senior official claiming to be “part of the resistance” inside the Trump Administration. It continues the erosion of norms and standards to which President Donald Trump has significantly contributed.

Publishing the Op-Ed complies with the “fake news” narrative advanced by Trump and his base. In our present era of lies and distortions, we need to encourage and preserve confidence and credibility. This senior official sure as heck better exist as a real, living, breathing Trump appointee. No composite of unwilling and unknowing critics, no compilation of quotes out of Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear,” and no longtime government bureaucrat will be accepted. Otherwise, the publication will be tainted as a publicity stunt.

Mainstream media standards of attributions have weakened over the years by more frequent use of unnamed sources. Publishing an entire op ed anonymously adds to the decline in credibility, inviting similar corrosive practices and presidential and political revenge. It’s commonplace to blame the tabloids, cable TV and the internet for informational pollution, but the American icon, the New York Times, did this themselves.

The unnamed senior official will undoubtedly be exposed sooner or later. I’m betting on sooner. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.” When the author is exposed, Trump will likely deny the author is a senior official or that he ever met with him or her.

There is a great deal to agree with in the op ed but not much new. Apparently, many people have become frustrated with Trump’s inability to grasp the intricacies of our constitutional system and political history. His public actions are often consistent with reports of his lack of fitness to hold the most powerful office in the world.

Prior to writing a public critique, the senior official should have exhausted all avenues of bureaucratic and congressional influence. If the senior official knows of illegalities, he or she should have contacted Robert Mueller or a senior member of Congress.

The unsigned op ed is unlikely to influence citizen opinion on the way Trump is handling his duties as president. Several recent public opinion surveys find that his approval is in the 36-38 percent range. Few people will take comfort that the op ed asserts that the senior official is one of several “adults in the room.”

The worst-case scenario is that Trump reacts as a wounded lion and takes the kind of action the senior official describes. It must be particularly irksome to Trump for the senior official to refer to the late Sen. John McCain’s farewell message. As one who is particularly concerned with our actions in Asia and particularly the Korean Peninsula, wounding the commander-in-chief causes me great concern.

Our nation’s democracy is not in good shape. We have neglected significant symptoms of decay for several decades. Among them are anonymous campaign contributions and misleading advertising, political parties in disarray, a spineless Congress and inattentive citizens.

Congressional Republicans apparently have chosen to be silent or to exit the institution. The House of Representatives has a lame duck Speaker and the Senate has been ineffective in all but affirming judicial appointments. Few observers seem to know that the Senate majority leader’s wife is the Trump appointed secretary of transportation. How independent can they be?

In the spirit of Sen. J. William Fulbright during the Vietnam War era, Sen. Bob Corker, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could have held Senate hearings on Trump’s foreign policy decisions about North Korea, trade policy with China, or Trump’s statements after Helsinki. Instead Corker is leaving the Senate.

The chances of the Cabinet using the 25th Amendment to declare Trump incapacitated because of illness is miniscule. Let’s hope the cabinet secretaries are courageous and strong and run their departments to meet the needs of the American people rather than the personal interests of the Trumps.

The senior official chose to go the public route rather than the inside route, perhaps because he or she has exhausted internal strategies of change. Some commentators think this is courageous, I think it is a pity.

Perhaps I have become a cynic, but I am expecting the senior official to be revealed soon and to sign a big book deal within 30 days of being replaced.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.

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