The allegations made in the NYT Op-Ed article on September 5th, each and every one of them by themselves, are all justifiable reasons for the turbulence it created and more. My initial thought, however, was a question: how long will the issue remain in the headlines? The second thought was an answer to this question: this will depend on what the President and his staff do about it and when, for as we know headlines stay only for a limited period of time. It looks like my guess about a response to my first questions was on the right track: three weeks have gone by and much else has taken over the headlines since then. So, what’s next? That was my second question, and still is today: what was the real purpose behind the Op-Ed? For surely there must have been a purpose. Did it accomplish what it set out to do, or are we yet to see the outcome? One thing is sure: the issue hasn’t been settled; the story is not over yet.
The Op-Ed has been analyzed and criticized from many angles. No one could have expected less. Yet, it’s my belief that the contents of the letter give us quite a number of clues as to what can be expected.
If anything, the Op-Ed – regardless of one’s views and opinions – is one perfect exemplification of the depth and breadth of the current socio-political divide. The Op-Ed is a clear evidence of a disruption beyond that which could be called normal, even when compared with some of the worst crisis that previous administrations have had to deal with except perhaps the events we all know from the 70’s. For many the Op-Ed is treasonous. Yet, for others, what’s so particularly terrifying are the accusations. On face value most earnest views seem valid. No one denies that the event is unique and troubling. The Op-Ed has been analyzed and criticized from many angles. No one could have expected less. Yet, it’s my belief that the contents of the letter give us quite a number of clues as to what can be expected. If we add the more recent developments that involve Mr. Rosenstein, it is very hard not to think there is some connection somewhere, though not necessarily the most obvious. I find it hard to believe that the NYT’s core editors, who know their sources, would put Rosenstein on the spotlight, as if linking him to the Op-Ed, thereby compromising the identity of the writer of the Op-Ed. This and any other speculation will only add fuel to the already explosive furnace.
In my opinion truth is the ultimate cure to social malaise caused by any conflict based on perceptions, be these elucidated ones or more intuitive in nature.
Perhaps, a better way to understand what happened, and what may still happen, is to frame the whole issue as an outright mutiny. A mutiny may just provide us with some elements that may help to explain the time lag between cause and effect, which in this case is linked to everyone’s desire for an explanation and, equally important: a restitution. In my opinion truth is the ultimate cure to social malaise caused by any conflict based on perceptions, be these elucidated ones or more intuitive in nature. Timothy R. Levine’s Truth Default Theory, originally referred to as Truth Bias, goes into the interesting subject of when people abandon the presumption of honesty. I am not going to attempt to explain his theory and his (and others’) scientific approach to studying and help us gain some understanding on this whole interesting issue, but would like to highlight here just two of the main key ideas that evolve from his (and others) work, as I understand it: first, “that the predominant truth-bias switch in us is deactivated when suspicion is actively triggered”, and that the reverse is also possible when people regain trust and “communication as fundamentally cooperative” 1) .
“There’s the right way, the wrong way, the Navy way, and my way—and if you do things my way, we’ll get along”.
To illustrate my “mutiny” approach to the Op-Ed incident and all that is needed to understand it, the Caine Mutiny film, with Humphrey Bogart in the leading role together, with a good number of good actors, incredible script and direction, came quickly to mind as the reason why the cause and effect relationship might need some time and discipline in order to have the proper and more conclusive perspective. Based on the 1951 Pulitzer price winning novel by Herman Wouk this very successful movie adaptation of the book is a must see, at least for its magnificent acting. The central character in the movie is Captain Queeg. His character can be summed up in one of his own lines: “There’s the right way, the wrong way, the Navy way, and my way—and if you do things my way, we’ll get along”. By the time he heads the USS Caine destroyer straight into a typhoon, everyone knows Captain Queeg is a freak. As the movie moves to the setting of a court-martial hearing against the Lieutenant Officer of the Caine the startling question for the audience of this dramatic film is: will Captain Queeg’s obsessed, judgmental, insane personality become evident during the hearing? The film is worth seeing, so go ahead and discover what happens in that courtroom.
There is no intent to draw any comparison beyond the key basic elements of my very short description of the plot, which I throw in as some sort of reference point, particularly for the last points I throw in at the end of this article.
In my opinion, there are quite numerous valid approaches to the issue and I am not going to debate every one of them in this article. To put some of my considerations in some frame of reference, I have chosen Scott Jennings’ article, a CNN contributor, and a former special assistant to President G. W. Bush and former campaign adviser to Sen. Mitch McConnell. He wrote on Thursday, 9/6/2018, an article: “How dare a senior Trump official arrogantly subvert an elected president”. His article leaves room for much discussion. I will only with what I consider is the core of his argument, namely: “Is it right for unelected people to make decisions for him? Is this a signal we want to send the rest of the world, that constitutional order has fallen apart in the world’s most durable democracy?”.
I could have also chosen other opinions, such as one from another well-known CNN’s journalist, Chris Cuomo, quite different from Scott Jennings’, but not precisely in agreement with, for example, Rachel Maddow’s, from MSNBC, both of which are derived from their own opinion, but accompanied, in both cases, with a thorough analysis and a very translucent delivery. To start with Scott Hennings seems to belittle DJT’s rampant behavior. To refer to him, as he does in his article, in terms of his “misguided impulses” or “… has certainly done some things that are not defensible” for then to throw a sweetener “…his administration has also done things… that have been successful for the nation”, seems to me as being out of focus with the fact-based reality. He then goes on to refer to “the destabilizing effect this op-ed (referring to those “to the political left”, those that are openly or anonymously “thwarting the policy desires of the President) will have on America’s standing in the eyes of our friends… and our enemies.
I beg your pardon Mr. Jennings but in my opinion you are wrong on most, if not all, counts. Let me try to summarize some of my reflections:
1) America’s standing improves (and there are sighs of relief to be heard) when we hear that DJT is subject to checks and balances from individuals in order to avoid that he does not do something really outrageous and potentially dangerous. A poll in August reveals that DJT is German people’s foremost concern. A good part of the so called free world are either worried or just given up on the US, thanks to DJT persona and what he says and does. Articles pour in daily on the subject across Europe. Hence America’s standing has not been hurt by the White House insider’s disloyalty. If anything is hurting America right now is DJT and his conduct. It’s, for example, his choice of words, on top of his already earned reputation that caused the laughter at the General Assembly. This view is shared by many respected and qualified professionals with access to information and more intimately familiar with the intricacies of American politics and system.
2) That the situation is highly unusual, and that the system doesn’t seem to be working well, is entirely correct. I’ll grant you that much. To start with there is his election; and you actually point to DJT as not feeling “particularly bound by the party’s traditional platform”. I would add that the platform or platforms do not seem to be bound precisely by the principles or the “remedies created for us by the founding fathers”. Even his original stand (Cleveland GOP candidate’s debate) on pledging not to run as independent was riddled with ifs. Loyalty seems to be missing everywhere across the political spectrum. The whole system is becoming highly dysfunctional and weak on its foundations, and not just due to the unfaithful staffers you refer to who, according to you, have committed the sin of “circumventing the established constitutional order that has served our republic well”. It has served – credit is given for that, but never perfectly – and there are numerous examples of that. Just to mention one example: how many years and how difficult has it been – since the founding fathers absolutely beautifully worded constitution – for its African Americans citizens to gain legal equality? So, instead of raising the constitutional remedies to a level of absolutely no reproach – a constitution often misquoted and misused by many, including the NRA and others, not to mention those who see DJT as some sort of GOD’s elected messenger – I think the critical mind, the objective view, is not your tilted and short-sighted criticism of the “unfaithful” and yes, questionable, perhaps “selfish” as you say “vigilantism” that you so strongly denounce.
3) Furthermore, to defend DJT’s presidency to the point of giving him a green light to dismantle anything he feels like based on his capricious and misinformed opinions and obsessions, often without serious consultation, is nothing but democratic. To use the electoral result when it is questioned from various angles, from his evident expressed desire to expose his political oppose with Russian intervention, his non disclosure of tax records, his disregard for the “emolument clauses”, his lack of ethical standards and hush-money payments, his insulting, racist and repetitive non factual and contradicting child-like speeches that mystify and confound his followers, his disregard for the rights of other Americans and of laws enacted and in force for years, and a long etc., you brush aside, and all because of your most noble respect for the principles enacted by the “founding fathers” seem to me, as irreverent, distorted and contradictory to what you use to mesmerize your readers with the usual pseudo-patriotic non-sense.
I do not want to compare the two men, but if we go back to Germany in 1933 (when no one knew what the outcome would be), wouldn’t it have been kind of “nice” if people around Hitler had resisted and actively did all they could to stop that man then and not in 1945. And, please, do not forget that the man gained power thanks to Hindenburg winning the democratic elections in 1925 and, yes, quite a number of special circumstances aptly described by Benjamin Carter Hett, a professor of history at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, in his book “The death of Democracy”, as “a moral crisis that preceded a moral catastrophe”. He refers to the Nazis as being “the great artists of victimhood”. When I think of victimhood, this idea is deeply imbedded in the callow, shadowy if not directly deceitful definition of “greatness” in the MAGA slogan. There is no place for mystical indoctrination or for pampering the electorate with grandiose and illusive dreams that are not commensurate with the current issues and the current world scenario. The USA does not retain the same position it attained after the avoidable – at least to some extent, as I do not forget the Pacific – WWII, had Hitler’s been stopped way before he started, or before Nazi Germany amassed the means to embark on the crusade of relentless murder. The world today has changed and is changing rapidly. The US has to deal with that reality, not with a foregone world. Like it not, the world has changed. And the real and troubling question is: has it changed for the better?
4) The Russian “witch-hunt” – consistently referred to as collusion – is not exactly what is written, word by work, in the appointment of Robert S. Mueller as Special Counsel and referred to in its first point, B)i), “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump”. The interference, hacking, fake news and conspiracy theories, perpetrated by Russia are a reality. And so is the gerrymandering of districts (more common where GDP is the governing side) linked to the Single-Member District legislative district system and which do not guarantee a true majority, even if it’s the existing system. Yet, this should at least be taken into account by you when, for example, considering the extent of DJT’s real base, which is definitely not the majority of Americans. Any government must always represent all its citizens. It must also have a sense of past and future, of continuity, even if pursuing something better.
5) Your alleged hypertextuality in your attempt to interpret the Constitutional rights and obligations seems to me as being overly generous with the “Executive Prerogative” which up until now has given, for example, a lot of discretion to the President on Foreign Affairs, when most of these powers are constitutionally given to the Senate. Let us recall the confrontation between Alexander Hamilton together with James Madison and George Washington precisely on this issue. Or recall James Iredell, one of America’s first Supreme Court Justices, who rejected the idea that presidents were immune from legal prosecution. And why not the Whistleblower Protection Act, which was referred to recently when a Federal Court clarified that a Trump administration executive order is not the Law.
6) Whoever is behind the NYT anonymous Op-Ed is evidently taking risks. Few or no one, no matter if they disapprove of DJT’s presidency, would normally hire someone who is “disloyal” to the boss. That he or she goes out in the open is a daring act, even a courageous one, given the evident risks and consequences if discovered. But how can anyone express surprise or disagree with the contents of the NYT op-ed article? The description of the atmosphere in the WH an the over-pitched demagoguery of the twittery commander-in-chief can’t be a surprise to anyone; at least not to people who read, hear and sees how he acts and communicates, regardless of anyone’s opinion on his stand or his policies on any particular issue. In this, Captain Queeg ́s personality and behavior came to my mind.
7) One cannot lose sight of the fact that no presidential candidate has all the experience and knows all of what he needs in order to dictate policy or take decisions. Therefore anyone who occupies the Oval Office must rely on the knowledge, acumen, experience, good judgment of a good number of people with the solemn commitment to the laws and principles that govern and carefully balance out the obligations and constraints that apply to both the Executive Branch and all other parts of what constitutes a government regardless of affiliation. Their obligation is to listen, and from various angles, before even starting to steer the nation in whatever direction. Mr. DJT, the reality-show Trump, the repeatedly bankrupt-and-debt-loving Trump, the I-got-the-greatest-genes Trump, etc., etc., does not seem to be that sort of person. Isn’t it all too evident that the man should not necessarily be the only valid proponent of the “little government”, “low tax”, and you- name-it, part of the platform you probably identify yourself with? Is it far fetched to think that he is actually damaging your agenda?
8) Hence, what the anonymous writer is telling all readers is that he is not alone in what can be labeled as “treason”. If, in fact, there is an active confabulation of some sort between a number of key advisors in the White House, then the writer is not only protecting himself but also others who may have not known and who probably have not given their consent to him/her to write the Op-Ed, as well as the cause that has united them in their cause. Shouldn ́t the writer and his reportedly like-minded key people in the White House be given credit for doing what at other times may be considered unthinkable, for the only reason that they see their “USS USA” being steered to dangerous waters, perhaps directly into a typhoon and this is the way for them to stop it, while everybody else is lost in technicalities and petty politics and are seemingly not getting to a solution of the problem. Aren’t there people who, beyond political-bias, denounce the current situation as potentially dangerous or even terrifying? In other words: are the two chambers or others doing their job to their utmost, or are they just tangled up in petty politics?
9) Last, can’t we see a calculated risk in the Op-Ed? Isn’t it actually – despite the de facto mutiny – also putting a tremendous pressure on not just the “conspirators” but everyone else in the administration (at least those who keep a more or less sound mind) that they are also going to be held accountable if what the Op-Ed and others have denounced and sounds credible enough, is actually taking place in the White House, affecting the management and direction that the whole nation is moving towards to and which could have a terrible impact on the well-being of its citizens and to world stability. Are we to expect soon a massive reality show-like “you-are-fired”, or just a face-saving selective counterfeit one, in order to try offset the damage caused by the Op-Ed? Or is ignoring it the best possible solution and perhaps one in which DJT is actually also being counseled to adhere to, perhaps by some of the same insurgents, or others, that recognize some of the same issues?
Whatever the outcome or the length of the game, I will reinstate what in my opinion – and consistent with the Truth-Bias theory – that the truth, as clearly as it became exposed in the Cain Mutiny film’s trial, seems to me the only way to reverse the Mistrust or Lie-bias which, to a great extent, has taken over the country at large, no matter where it has its roots or the problem has evolved from. What is sure is that we have not seen yet the end of the story. The accusations against Rosenstein could perhaps – only perhaps – give us a clue as to the defense strategy chosen to curtail the Op-Ed’s damaging accusations. Can anyone actually believe that there will be no response, no setting things straight, some sort of justice or, even, “revenge”?
We have not yet seen the end of the story and it will take much time to digest and understand all of what is happening and something very important: at what cost? One thing should be clear to all, irrespective of their opinion or affiliation: what is happening is, by no means, normal or “great”.
1) Quotations from “TDT”, by Timothy R. Levine (2014) – Distinguished Professor and Chair of Communication studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
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