When House Speaker Paul Ryan announced last fall that he would not seek re-election, after a brief turn on the center stage of Washington power, so that he could “spend more time with his family,” many of us Americans were foolish enough to believe him. But if the anonymous op-ed published by the New York Times Wednesday is true, we now know the real reason Mr. Ryan is leaving. His unique vantage point as speaker afforded him the opportunity to look into the eyes of President Donald Trump, and whatever he saw there made him run like hell.
All presidential scholars know the stories about the times in White House history when this president or that president briefly checked out. We know about President Reagan tuning out during important meetings. We know about the dead periods in the West Wing after President Wilson’s stroke and President Eisenhower’s heart attack. We’re not naïve, we know that there have been presidents who have fallen down on the job.
But if the NYT op-ed is true in its claims that the president does not “fully grasp” what’s happening in his administration, is amoral, “engages in repetitive rants,” and that “his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back,” we are talking about something far worse than a president wanting a short break from the stresses of the office. If that op-ed is true, if the president is indeed acting “in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic,” we have confirmation that the country is being run either by someone totally unfit or by a secret coterie of un-elected advisers who collectively decided to run America behind his back — and ours. Either one of these scenarios is absolutely unacceptable.
The writer of the op-ed, who was granted rare anonymity because their words put their job in jeopardy, seemed proud to assure us that the nation’s affairs are in good hands. As if his or her assurances should somehow console us. We are not consoled — we are alarmed.
As much as some voters might lament the fact that Donald Trump is president, he is the one who was elected to fill the office, not the revolving cast of inexperienced newcomers and ideologues he has assembled around himself. Not the writer of this op-ed.
Anyone who is not horrified by the op-ed is not paying attention. If it is true, it means that it is Stephen Miller, not President Trump, conceiving, shaping and overseeing the implementation of the nation’s immigration policies. It means Jared Kushner really is the one in charge of the nation’s sensitive Mid-East negotiations. And it means orders given to place our uniformed men and women in harm’s way or to launch an airstrike on some South-Asian village are potentially being made without the president’s knowledge by delusional, self-aggrandizing, un-elected assistants.
Why in a democracy do we have to rely on a “deep throat” figure to tell us the truth about what is going on in the White House when we have a Congress, an institution constitutionally charged with the responsibility to check the decisions of president? It’s been two years! Where are the investigations? Where are the hearings?
Instead, the Republican-controlled Congress prefers to focus its attention on pushing though a reliably-loyal Republican Supreme Court nominee whose appointment, for all we know, is being rushed in advance of the midterms so he’ll be in place to protect the president from impeachment should the Democrats take back the House.
White House Press secretary Sarah Sanders called the writer of the op-ed a coward and urged him or her to resign. Given how power flows in the White house, there is no way Ms. Sanders is not a part of the secret group of advisers described in the piece. We know from the president’s taped conversation with Washington Post writer Bob Woodward that Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah has no contact with the president. This information confirms the belief that only a very-tight-knit group of advisers have direct access to Mr. Trump. If that is true, there is no way that Ms. Sanders, Chief of staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, National Security Adviser John Bolton, and the president’s private secretaries are not among those who are supposedly “working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations” — to run our country.
Not only does the president have no clothes, the people around him are taking advantage of this. Whatever Mr. Trump’s deficiencies, they have no right to govern for him.
The nation appears to be in the midst of a genuine crisis, and the media seem powerless to help. We need Congress to act.
Speaker Ryan, you swore to support and defend the United States against all threats — foreign and domestic. Concerned Americans are desperately looking to you to fulfill your oath.
K. Ward Cummings (email@example.com) is the author of “Partner to Power: The Secret World of Presidents and their Most Trusted Advisers.”