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Boardman writes: "The Anonymous Op-Ed was a cleverly constructed Rorschach blot that invited the reader to see any number of positions, principled and unprincipled, but offered none itself."

The White House (photo: ABC7)
The White House (photo: ABC7)

Anonymous Masks Identity to Distract From Op-Ed's Emptiness

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

10 September 18

This was a very strongly, clearly written piece by someone who was staking out what we felt was a very principled position that deserved an airing.

New York Times Op-Ed editor James Dao, September 5, 2018

ell, no, that wasn’t what the Anonymous Op-Ed was, although it makes sense in our dishonest world for the Times to sell it that way. The Anonymous Op-Ed was a cleverly constructed Rorschach blot that invited the reader to see any number of positions, principled and unprincipled, but offered none itself. The Anonymous Op-Ed offered little if anything that hasn’t gotten plenty of airing. The Anonymous Op-Ed reads as if it were written by committee or as if it were designed as a squirrelly hoax. The Anonymous Op-Ed touches on plenty of serious issues without actually getting serious about any of them. Let’s go to the text.

President Trump is facing a test to his presidency unlike any faced by a modern American leader.

That would be a good hook if it were true. A criminal indictment of the president would be unprecedented, but Anonymous doesn’t predict that. Republican loss of control of both houses of Congress might produce unprecedented results, but Anonymous doesn’t predict that, either. The unprecedented test facing the president “is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.” This isn’t unprecedented at all; President Nixon faced much more serious internal opposition in 1974. Depending on the specifics of Trump’s agenda and inclinations, Anonymous might be describing good staff work. Anonymous does not provide specifics. Having over-promised the importance of the message, Anonymous then gives the game away:

We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.

Anonymous seems to think the Trump administration is somehow separate from President Trump, a neat bit of doublethink for people who want to pick and choose where their loyalties lie, as Anonymous immediately tried to explain:

But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.

Illustrated with particular issues, this could be a potent argument. Anonymous offers no particulars of bad policies thwarted or good policies preserved. Anonymous merely engages in the popular evasion of an ad hominem anti-Trump rant, here centered on “the president’s amorality,” undefined and unargued. In place of actual argument, Anonymous slips in a familiar lie:

Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people.

Is there anyone who doesn’t realize that most Republicans aren’t anything like honest conservatives? And those supposed “ideals long espoused by conservatives” can’t stand up under close scrutiny:

  • “Free minds” is the opposite of what Republican lock-step ideologues display in running the country, for example refusing even to allow hearings on a legitimate Supreme Court nominee. Free minds are anathema to the right-wing think tanks that have so successfully narrowed and conformed public debate over the past forty years.

  • “Free markets” don’t exist, can’t exist, and are wholly unacceptable to successful capitalists, but we’re supposed to believe in them anyway?

  • “Free people” as a Republican or conservative ideal is just a sick joke. Ask the free people of Afghanistan or Iraq or Latin America or any other country where the US has waged freedom. Ask the people of the US who have been gerrymandered, denied voting rights, crushed by predatory banks and fake universities, jailed for behavior that elites indulge with impunity, turned into profit centers by corrupt private prisons, abused for the race, ethnicity, and other circumstances of their birth. Yes, ask those free people.

Anonymous offers no evidence of caring for any of this, or for any other articulated humane concerns. The only values Anonymous actually affirms, albeit sketchily, are implied values at best:

Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.
  • “Effective deregulation” is meaninglessly neutral, but in this administration it includes killing people with coal waste, subjecting public land to extraction destruction, arming school teachers, protecting payday loan sharks, and so on. No wonder Anonymous gives no specifics.

  • “Historic tax reform” presumably refers to the tax bill that makes the rich richer, but also hemorrhages the national debt, providing a future, fatuous argument for gutting Social Security and other programs for those free people who need to be free of support. Sweet.

  • “More robust military” is just scary, given the performance of recent decades, the horrendous cost, the unaudited waste, or the lack of any rational justification by any conceivable cost/benefit analysis. And military expansion isn’t a Trump achievement, it’s a bi-partisan corruption that cannot be discussed rationally in public.

  • “And more….” Anonymous doesn’t say.

In the midst of a long passage of more ad hominem Trump-trashing, Anonymous makes a startling claim about the executive branch of the US government, if one is to take the claim literally:

From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.

If Anonymous is to be taken at face value, that means there are eight of 15 cabinet members (“most”) working to limit the president’s authority, not to mention literally hundreds if not thousands of other sub-cabinet officials all doing the same, although not presumably in the same way or for the same reasons. One might or might not hope any of this was true, but Anonymous is a relentless self-promoter and not to be believed without independent verification.

Anonymous offers a long, largely empty aside about foreign policy that omits Iran, Syria, Myanmar, the Philippines, or any of the other places where Anonymous and his allies have managed to persuade their president to do anything that improves the prospects for peace. Instead, Anonymous puts heavy emphasis on “hold[ing] Moscow accountable,” using kneejerk Cold War rhetoric to denigrate one of the few decent ideas the president has expressed, reducing US-Russian tensions. This would be complicated by the as-yet-unresolved role Russia played in the US 2016 election, but Anonymous ignores that altogether. It’s still all about Trump’s behavior couched in non-specific ad hominem terms:

Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.

What does “early whispers within the cabinet” actually mean? Anonymous and others were considering removing the president in early 2017? Anonymous doesn’t say, of course, but offers instead the craven rationalization that “no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis.” That is so bogus. In the first place, the 25th Amendment is designed to resolve a constitutional crisis created by a dysfunctional president. More to the point, given the uncertain legitimacy of Trump’s election and his willingness to violate the Constitution for self-gain (emoluments clause), the US has been in a constitutional crisis at least since Inauguration Day. Anonymous is a shape-shifting self-server who pretends to be on the side of the angels (“the right direction”).

Anonymous offers few clues as to what that “right direction” is, and those Anonymous gives (above) are neither reassuring nor democratically determined. Anonymous seems to acknowledge that with the mysterious phrasing: “in the right direction until – one way or another – it’s over.”

Anonymous is anticipating an ending, maybe predicting one, maybe promoting one. Anonymous remains a slippery, unreliable witness. Anonymous wallows in imprecise distractions:

The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.

Wait, what? Trump is all OUR fault, even though a majority of voters opposed him? Anonymous is pushing liberal guilt on us, with no basis in fact, and for no stated reason. Anonymous is also lying. Political discourse has been uncivil for decades. Gingrich Republicans pioneered the new incivility that culminated in impeachment for a blow job, a constitutional process in which one of the players made his bones to earn a seat on the Supreme Court. Incivility for Bush and Cheney was rife, only partly because they lied us into war. And the Republican racist boycott of Obama initiatives (with Trump playing birther tunes in the background) only formalized the incivility of today. And incivility isn’t the issue, it’s a ruse to allow people to avoid facts, truth, evidence, reality, integrity. Anonymous has none of these, as illustrated by his fawning appeals to “our shared values” (unnamed) and “choosing to put the country first” (as if that was one clear thing we all agree on).

Anonymous is, if not a hypocrite, clearly someone who refuses to speak the truth in plain language. Anonymous does not take a clear stand and try to defend it. But Anonymous appears to have a real, hidden agenda. What is that agenda, and who benefits from it?

The message Anonymous seems most intent on conveying is: don’t worry, folks, the country is in good hands, we’re principled people, we weren’t elected to anything, but we have your best interests in mind, stay calm and trust us.

Sounds like Republican Plan B to me. Maybe it works like this: the fall elections go badly enough for Republicans that they feel the need to do something to stabilize the country and maintain power, a neat trick if they can pull it off. Maybe they can do that by sacrificing Trump, one way or another, as anonymous says. The Anonymous Op-Ed lays the groundwork for that, for replacing Trump with Vice President Mike Pence. Anonymous has assured us that the secret government of which he’s a part is made up of all honorable men (and women), they just want to save the republic, everything will be fine if we’re just civil about it. Well, we’ll see about that, one way or another.

And thanks to the Times for airing that “very principled position.”

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William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
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