My Notes On David A. Graham’s: We’re Watching an Antidemocratic Coup Unfold and Other Such Writings | #NYTimesOpEd on Blog#42
Bob Woodward has commented on the op-ed since the publication of Graham’s piece.
“Veteran journalist Bob Woodward said Sunday that, if he were a New York Times editor, he would not have published this week’s op-ed from an anonymous “senior [Trump] administration official.”
“I wouldn’t have used it,” Woodward told CBS News.
“… [T]oo vague and does not meet the standards of trying to describe specific incidents. Specific incidents are the building blocks of journalism, as you well know,” he added.
Woodward told “CBS Sunday Morning” he would have pressed the op-ed’s writer for concrete details about their claims if they had come to him.”
Readers should be reminded that opinion pieces do not fall under the same stringent requirements as news stories. The anonymous piece was published in the Times’ op-ed pages. The fact that The Times published it that way, means that the content was published as-is. Ask any New York Times opinion writer and they will tell you that their pieces are published as-is, and any editing is for misspellings and grammatical errors – not content. Woodward, of course, is entitled to his own opinion, but it must be pointed out that the publication of that anonymous official has enhanced the claims Woodward makes in his book.
Politico, in a piece entitled The Times Would Have Been Crazy Not To Publish That Op-Ed, provides a history of the New York Times’ op-ed page and an incisive look at the value added by guest writers. The value added by this anonymous op-ed can’t be stressed enough.
“It was unlike anything we’ve seen so far, but not because of the information delivered. A profusion of news articles and television reports have described President Trump’s behavior behind closed doors. Had this author simply handed their information to a New York Times newsroom reporter – as Silver would have it – this piece would have had little news value. In that sense, the critics are right that it doesn’t reveal much we didn’t already know.
Yet this essay was both qualitatively and descriptively different from anything we’ve seen yet in the Trump era, and that’s because its power, vitality and relevance emerge from its direct address. Focusing on the motives of the author, or the essay’s news value, is a mistake. In other words, it’s the medium, not the message. And to understand why this might be the most significant and consequential op-ed ever published, we need to think about why the page was invented and what purpose it was designed to serve.”
Back to the Atlantic… David A. Graham writes:
“If you believe that Trump does not have the judgment and temperament for office—not a difficult conclusion to draw—this is a win of a sort. Yet the actions described in the book and in the op-ed are extremely worrying, and amount to a soft coup against the president.”
Were it true that Trump is unable to get his agenda carried out, in great part or in whole, I might tend to agree. A soft coup would have the effect of mostly or completely neutralizing Trump. Clearly, that isn’t the case. For example, it has been obvious for most of Rex Tillerson, Mike Pompeo and Wilbur Ross’ tenures that Trump is actively making and carrying out foreign and trade policies, completely eclipsing the work of his cabinet secretaries. In the case of Wilbur Ross, we know from news reports dating back to May this year, that Trump has told him, specifically, not to act on trade issues. With Pompeo, compared to predecessors in past administrations, it is rather clear that he’s acting as nothing more than a glorified attaché d’affaires. Pompeo and Mattis, of late, have had to travel to India to smooth ruffled feathers ahead of foreign travel by Trump.
The examples cited – Gary Cohn and Rob Porter each swiping letters off of Trump’s desk, and Mattis’ handling of Trump on killing Assad – go specifically to administration officials’ judgment of Trump’s mental fitness. They are the clearest indication we have of how the cabinet handles Trump in their day to day interactions. The closest thing that comes to mind is how the rest of us treat a senile uncle. We say one thing and go on to do the exact opposite, in the knowledge that Uncle Don won’t remember in a few minutes. So far, it seems that their strategy is working. That isn’t a soft coup, either, and if it is, then we’ve been there before and it wasn’t that long ago.
President Reagan, we learned, was exhibiting clear signs of Alzheimer’s during the latter portion of his second term, at the very least. Contemporaneous news reports about Reagan’s fitness are nowhere near as plentiful as today’s news cycle on Trump. Since Reagan’s death, we’ve read relatively little about the way things ran in the Reagan White House. We certainly have not been told about instances that even remotely compare to the way Trump is handled.
But there is a key reason why none of the things Trump’s staff are doing constitute a soft coup. The soft coup was engineered even before Trump was sworn in, right after he won his primary, at the time he chose Mike Pence as his VP-candidate. The soft coup took place during the transition, which Mike Pence managed entirely. Pence, who was responsible for staffing the incoming administration, placed Koch-aligned candidates in all of the top positions to be filled, with a few exceptions. Pence was responsible for making the short lists. Trump picked the final candidates from that.
** Note this tweet by Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe:
Anyone recall who hand-picked Pence as Trump’s VP? Paul Manafort. And recall who led the squirrely transition? Mike Pence. Watch what unfolds as Manafort tells Mueller all he knows!
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) September 14, 2018
The vast majority of the agenda that has either passed Congress for Trump’s signature, or was effected from the various cabinets (executive orders, roll-backs, new regulations countering previous ones) are aligned with the vision of Charles and David Koch. The only disagreements the Kochs have had with Trumpian policy are directly related to those areas that Trump has exercised full control over: foreign, trade and immigration policy, with the latter being the one area that Trump and John Kelly agree on. Readers should be reminded here that before becoming Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly was the head of Homeland Security, and in charge of ICE. Kelly was responsible for the naming and confirmation of his successor and it is said that, since becoming White House chief of staff, he has continued to direct policy at DHS. The family separations and camps are his policy ideas.
The Tax Scam Bill is the signature work of this Congress. Today, the news timeline includes articles on how to make sure the public isn’t surprised with a large tax bill come January 2019 and urge the public to follow a link to an IRS tax calculator to make sure they have declared the right number of deductions from their salaries. The fiscal changes in the Tax Scam Bill shift the onus of taxation from corporations to the public through the cancelation of various tax deductions. That signature legislation goes hand in hand with the rolling back of regulations pertaining to the workplace, and the coming scaling back of social programs, most likely after the November election, while Republicans still dominate both houses of Congress.
While we heard and saw plenty about ICE raids and the separation of migrant families from their children at the border, others are busily cementing the other side of this racist policy initiative that John Kelly initiated. Jeff Sessions, it was announced today, plans a 50% surge in immigration judges. The policy that underlies the ugliness of the last few months is being cemented into practice. The raids will go on. The swift deportations will continue. The deepening of the reach of ICE will continue and new populations will be targeted for deportation. For example, we began to hear about the rescinding and deportations of naturalized citizens.
Scott Pruitt’s work at the EPA may have ended because he was too flashy about his corruption, but his successor is no less busy undoing decades of environmental policy. The latest development comes through this New York Times breaking news headline: Trump Administration Wants To Make It Easier to Release Methane Into Air. Somewhere, the Kochs and other families who own mines and chemical plants are plotting the coming to life of a society modeled after the darkest of Dickensian novels.
Seema Verma, Mike Pence’s former top health official in Indiana and now the Medicaid administrator has been busy rolling back healthcare regulations since she joined the administration. While most Democrats voted nay on that monster’s nomination, the usual centrist suspects voted yay.
In order to properly assess the health of our democracy, all of these factors need to be accounted for. Trump, as damaging and dangerous as he may be, is the distraction away from the real work of the oligarchic cooperative that is now in full control of our government.
For all of the hoopla we’ve seen in the media about the impending departure of John Kelly, his supposed disdainful attitude towards Trump and his children, Kelly’s service in this administration has not only been central, but his purpose is aligned with that of Trump even as their personalities clash in some ways. Kelly has been Trump’s chief of white supremacy from day one. After all the talk of Kelly’s impeding departure, we learned that he’s agreed to stay on until 2020.
The same things were said of Gary Cohn. He didn’t leave after Charlottesville and he made a big to do about his anger and disappointment with Trump over his behavior. He only left when it became clear that he only had one job and that job was done: the Tax Scam Bill. Once his influence over policy became nil, Cohn left. It is risible to read Woodward about Cohn’s heroic swiping of papers off of Trump’s desk. Cohn is out of government while Trump persists in the White House.
That’s the thing about all these would be white knights of the Trump administration who claim to imagine themselves as saviors of America by virtue of their service to the modern equivalent of Roman Emperor Nero. In actuality, all of these officials were never really put there to serve Trump as much as they’re there to serve the corporate and oligarchic classes. To the Kochs, Apple, or Goldman Sachs, it really doesn’t matter who is president, as long as America’s social contract, tax, labor, and health laws are reversed, and the proceeds from those reversals funneled back to them.
And that’s exactly what has been happening. The media has been completely remiss in keeping any kind of running list of the damage that is being done daily by the various parts of the Trump administration. Politico, for the first year of the Trump administration, ran a series entitled 5 Things Trump Did While You Weren’t Looking. Sadly, by the end of March this year, that series was discontinued. Something like it is sorely needed. Better, still, would be for a very detailed online spreadsheet of all the things that have been rolled back. American voters need access to running news series that will show them, in black and white, the magnitude of the destruction the Trump administration has wreaked.
Voters also need to realize that Trump is only the front for what really is a Koch Brothers presidency. That, in essence, is my disagreement with the majority of analyses of the Times op-ed and the argument that the behaviors revealed in it constitute some kind of “soft coup.”
One needs to understand the way oligarchies work in order to take in the full picture that has evolved since January 20, 2017. Each department of the U.S. government is its own little fiefdom, with a vassal in charge of destruction. Taken as a whole, the cooperative work of the Trump administration is the destruction of government and the reversal of the financial osmosis from the public realm to the oligarchy.
The coup happened the instant Mike Pence was put in charge of staffing. The people he placed in key positions are all Koch allies. Those people were confirmed by the Senate. Who among the senators who voted yea didn’t know these nominee’s affiliations? None. In many cases
Trump’s Pence’s nominees were confirmed with near unanimity. Trump didn’t have a political network before he decided to run. The coup, both hyperbolic and literal, was tricking Trump into picking Mike Pence as VP.
Without coming to this realization and promulgating theories with that as a basis, there is no moving forward towards a solution. Without admitting that the left still suffers from a gaping leadership vacuum all the while the right is re-establishing the old pre-civil war order, there can be no sense of urgency that will propel new leadership from the grassroots up. Yes, some progressives are winning their races and will probably win their elections come November. But the real fight will take place in December, with the top spot in the House Democratic leadership will be up for a vote. Nancy Pelosi won’t cede without a fight. No election is scheduled to replace Chuck Schumer in the Senate leadership role. Both leaders need to go.
The All Trump, all the time newscycle is robbing the left of a much needed post-2016 introspective review. It has put off the coup that must be engineered and executed on the left. Soon, it will be too late and whether or not there was a soft or actual coup against Trump will be moot.
We fancy ourselves a democracy, but we should really be examining how true that statement might ever have been.
Along with ridding ourselves of Trump and the entirety of this Republican party, we must have in place Democratic leaders who have the courage and stamina not only to redo what Trump is undoing, but also to give our constitution a much needed reboot. Without the latter, America will be doomed to abject failure. Our nation was never really set up as a democracy. The things that allowed for the periodic appearance of the likes of Trump need to be excised from that most important document of ours. The sooner we have independent (from corporate control), capable, and imaginative leaders to do it, the safer we will all be.
This website is my work. Please become a subscriber with as little as a $1-5 monthly PayPal or Patreon subscription.