I joked last week that people who want to prosecute the author seem to imagine him being charged with “failing to MAGA in the third degree” but Junior makes the political case for action as shrewdly as it can be made. Almost: He could have also reminded fans of the op-ed that subverting the will of the people is precisely what Russiagate collusion anxiety is all about. Foreigners shouldn’t be allowed to decide the direction of executive branch policy. Unelected Americans opposed to the president’s agenda shouldn’t either. The former may be a graver threat to American democracy than the latter but they’re both threats, make no mistake.
I linked it yesterday but here again is Ross Douthat on the muddied waters swirling in the anonymous op-ed. Ignoring a presidential demand to do something unfeasible or wildly reckless might be defensible. Ignoring a presidential demand to do something well within the window of mainstream policy options because you happen to disagree is not. You can refuse and resign or you can bite your lip and do what you’re told, but taking it upon yourself to shape policy contrary to the president’s wishes because you think he either won’t notice or won’t easily be able to undo your actions if he does is insubordination. And, yes, anti-democratic:
[T]he most troubling thing about the anonymous op-ed — apart from the dubious judgment that inspired its writing — is that the author doesn’t seem to recognize this issue, or acknowledge any distinction between protecting America from Trump’s erratic personality and extra-constitutional whims and frustrating the agenda that won our president the White House.
An internal resistance that conflates those two missions may prevent certain disasters; let us hope it does. But it will not save the country or its party from populism; it will only make the next surge that much stronger, and ease the next Donald Trump’s ascent.
If Trump’s victory in 2016 was a populist attempt to make Washington more responsive to the average American’s priorities, watching Trump’s agenda be sabotaged from within will have the predictable effect of convincing voters that normal politics can’t solve this problem. The Beltway establishment will impose its will on voters no matter whom they elect. That’s a recipe for disaffection and radicalization.
Is it illegal, though? If a bureaucrat gets an order from POTUS and decides to put it in a drawer and go about his business, what’s to be done? Don Jr is analogizing to the military, I think, where failing to do one’s lawful duty is in fact a federal offense. On the civilian side of government, though, I’m unaware of any “insubordination” statute that might trigger Justice Department interest. The solution to the problem is firing the insubordinate and replacing him with someone more loyal, yet that feels too pat given the scale of the problem Trump is facing. If you have one disloyal staffer in the ranks then sure, it’s on the president and his chief of staff to ferret out that bad apple and toss him from the bunch. But when the barrel is filled with bad apples, when the chief of staff himself is credibly accused of being a bad apple, when there are frequent references to a “two-track administration” in which the president says one thing and the rest of the executive branch does something else, “fire the bad apples” feels unequal to the task.
There’s a reason so many people, both pro-Trump and anti, have used the word “coup” to describe the situation laid out by the NYT op-ed author. Should the Justice Department be interested if it has reason to believe a “coup” against the president is in (slow) motion? Every time Trump tweets something off the wall about Jeff Sessions and his supposed disloyalty, a million well-meaning eggheads pop up on Twitter to remind him that the DOJ works for the people, not for the president. Well, if there are agents within the executive branch undermining the president’s agenda, is that an affront to him — or to the people who elected him? If there’s no statute that makes that a matter of DOJ concern, should there be?
EXCLUSIVE: Donald Trump Jr. says he believes the New York Times op-ed penned by an anonymous senior administration official was written by a “very low-level person" and that the Justice Department should investigate the author https://t.co/4PhvkL0UvD pic.twitter.com/9jqncd8FaO
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) September 11, 2018