I’ve tried to explain this phenomenon before. The short explanation is: every bureaucrat in Washington believes he or she should be president, no matter who technically holds the title. This is true in all agencies, at all levels. Never mind the claim that the author is a “senior official” somewhere or other. Anyone from the level of deputy assistant secretary to special assistants to Senate-confirmed ranks can make such a claim. If you want documentation, have a peek at all those employees expected to show up for work during a “government shutdown.” They’re all desperate to be classified “essential.”
Thousands of them abound in the long, grey corridors of the government, and all of them ask the mirror every morning: “How come that idiot is making decisions that YOU should make?”
It’s what Washington is all about. It isn’t treasonous or cowardly, it’s about ambition. You cannot imagine it until you see it unfold. When I worked for then-Secretary of State Haig, I was in a staff meeting one morning where Haig gave an explicit order to an assistant secretary, who of course responded, “Yes, sir.” Whereupon, within hours, he did the opposite. And kept his job! Really.
Anonymous has no end of allies, who are misdescribed as “resistance from within.” The New York Times op-ed could have been written most any time in the past many decades. Of course these ambitious cloak their ambition in the rhetoric of the “higher good.” As Anonymous says, “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 the republic.”
What does this mean in simple English? It means that the bureaucrats have seen many presidents come and go, but they—Anonymous et al.—are still there, and will still be there post-Trump. So they will continue to work for smart policy, which is to say THEIR policy, never mind what that clod in the White House may want.
Trump and the New York crowd don’t seem to get this. They seem to assume that it’s sufficient to issue orders, and the rank and file in the bureaucracy will salute and do what they’re told. That is not how Washington works, and failure to understand that lies at the root of this president’s greatest failure. Trump’s personnel policy is a disaster. There are innumerable cases where highly talented pro-Trump candidates have failed to win administration jobs, while those jobs were given to outspoken critics or even Obama holdovers. Remember when General McMaster denied there was such a thing as a “holdover"? Everyone was on the same team, right?
Wrong. But that misguided comment reflects the view from the Oval Office. If the president understood how Washington works, he’d have long since replaced Johnny DeStefano in the office of White House personnel, a product of John Boehner’s unfortunate tenure in D.C. Perhaps Anonymous will clarify the situation for President Trump, but my guess is that our leader won’t change his instincts. He’s more likely to seek revenge than to assert systematic leadership.
Meanwhile, I’m grateful the editors at the New York Times have helped clarify the workings of the swamp. It’s crucial to recognize that this is a long-standing and very widespread phenomenon. Funny how these “essential” officials are the very same swamp dwellers who purport to fear a Trump dictatorship, when they so often impose their own views without a proper policy debate.