Mutiny on the state of the ship
Bob Woodward is the gold standard in investigative journalism. For the past 45 years, his byline has ensured the accuracy of whatever story has followed. His reporting has not been free from controversy over the years, but no one in the national media has a better record of getting it right. So, what to make of Woodward’s new book about the Trump presidency, “Fear,” which has yet to be released but excerpts of which have leaked into stories this week?
The reaction in the White House was predictable. The president wants Congress to rewrite libel laws. Some figures who appear in the book (based on first-person accounts of people who witnessed the events) have denied they said the words quoted. And some administration and White House officials have taken to calling the book fiction.
But most of Washington, in and out of the administration, recognizes the president in the Trump Woodward depicts. He is ignorant of history, policy and basic facts yet committed to whatever spurious claims he insists on making. He belittles everyone around him yet brags incessantly of his own accomplishments as the “best ever.” He is paranoid, hostile and prone to rants that interrupt briefings and set his staff on edge. Dealing with him is like walking through a minefield, the only protection a slavish sycophancy.
It isn’t so much that the essence of what Woodward describes is exactly new. What is new is the revelation that many who work for the president seem to believe he is unfit for the office he holds. It is one thing for Trump’s critics to see the president this way — both liberals and those, like me, who are conservative never-Trumpers — but quite another for the men and women who work for him at the highest level to do so.
If Woodward’s book was not enough of a shock to Washington, it was followed by an op-ed released Wednesday by The New York Times that was more confession than reportage. Penned anonymously by someone described only as a “senior official,” the article described a group of Trump appointees who work within the administration “to frustrate parts of (Trump’s) agenda and his worst inclinations.” This is mutiny — perhaps justified but mutiny nonetheless. Trump is Captain Queeg and Captain Bligh rolled into one — autocratic, cruel, unhinged. But even those of us sympathetic to the need to keep the ship of state from going aground understand that mutiny is not the answer.
As Americans, we like to think the people are always right — and the people elected Donald Trump. Whether right or wrong, Trump is the legitimate president of the United States chosen under the rules of our Constitution. If enough members of his Cabinet and the vice president come to believe that Trump must be removed because he is not mentally capable of performing his duties, they can invoke the 25th Amendment — but I don’t see that happening, barring descent into dementia or some other physical impediment to his serving out his term. And as much as I disdain Trump the man, I do not yet see evidence that he has committed an impeachable offense. Perhaps that will change, but we’re not there yet. Which means that the only way to end this presidency is to elect someone else in 2020. I would like to see a Republican candidate challenge Trump in the primary. But if not, I could see an independent running in the general election picking off enough voters who, like me, see most of the potential Democratic candidates to be too far left.
In the meantime, I watch and pray. As appalling as Trump is, I support many of his policies. I watch the hearings for Brett Kavanaugh aghast at the Democrats’ antics and am glad that a Republican is in the position to nominate Supreme Court justices. I look at an economy that is finally robust, even if I am worried that Trump’s trade and immigration policies will derail it. I see businesses booming and hiring and don’t believe the same would have been true if Hillary Clinton had been elected. Woodward’s book scares me, but I don’t think there is any shortcut to letting the people decide in 2020.
Linda Chavez is chair of the Center for Equal Opportunity and a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center.