With the forthcoming release of “Fear: Trump in the White House,” the Bob Woodward book that more or less portrays the West Wing as “crazy town,” and the recently published New York Times op-ed by an anonymous “senior official in the Trump administration” that essentially confirms the view that the American people have been spared President Donald Trump’s most disastrous impulses only by the grace of insiders quietly thwarting them behind the scenes, the public has gotten a double-dose of yowza (as in: “Yowza, this is some kind of scary stuff”). And it’s left only one lingering question: Is this reporting factual or alternative factual?
Given that we are not Mr. Woodward nor are we privy to the internal machinations of The New York Times, we can’t say for certain. So, instead, let us weigh the evidence available at hand. Has anything happened over the last several years to suggest that the president of the United States is given to acting rashly, to being temperamental, to churlishness, to not having a firm grasp of the facts, to sometimes requiring intervention by his senior staff? Wait, is this a trick question? Do we mean every day or just most days?
Remember all those behind-the-scenes reports that chief of staff John F. Kelly thinks President Trump is an idiot and erratic with a questionable grasp of issues? Those articles came out last April. Or that time last fall when then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson allegedly referred to the president as an “(expletive) moron?” That’s so last year. Or how about Omarosa Manigault Newman’s recent claims that White House aides are scurrying behind the scenes to keep Mr. Trump in check? She may not be the most credible source in the world, but, hey, her descriptions aren’t coming out of left field.
As celebrated a reporter as Mr. Woodward of Watergate fame might be, he’s not exactly broken new ground here. Can anyone claim to be staggered by what has so far come out from his book or from the Times op-ed, or have we all just had our worst fears confirmed? You want evidence of Mr. Trump’s quasi-insanity? Just read his rambling Twitter posts, most recently about Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sen. Bob Corker famously called the White House an “adult day care center” back in October of 2017. We’ve yet to hear that one disproven.
Wait, wait, we can do better. Why not just take a look at Mr. Trump’s own reactions to this week’s events. First, he claims the sources in question don’t exist. Then, a slew of senior officials are stepping up to say it’s not them. Mr. Trump is even calling for the Times contributor to be “turned over to the government at once” like this was a dictatorship and a political dissident was hiding in the newsroom. Clearly, the president thinks he/she exists because the White House appears to be in full introspective mode with the press secretary calling for the writer to resign. Why? Because like it or not, they all know how The New York Times operates. (Hint: Not like Mr. Trump in the truthfulness department.)
None of this is to suggest that whoever wrote the Times op-ed is some kind of hero or part of a noble cabal that’s keeping the nation from self-destructive tariffs, public flirtations with Vladimir Putin, hostile outbursts toward NATO allies, deficit-expanding handouts to the rich or inhumane treatment of immigrant children. For starters, if that’s what they’re up to, they’re doing a crummy job, as all those things still happened. But perhaps more importantly, it’s kind of cowardly to make these claims anonymously. It’s not Horatius at the Bridge fighting against overwhelming odds to save your country, it’s more like those frightened grownups in the classic 1961 Twilight Zone episode, “It’s a Good Life,” in which a 6-year-old boy has god-like power and everyone just tries to placate him. Whoever you are, buddy, you should have known what you signed up for.