An anonymous writer who is only identified as a “senior official in the Trump administration” recently published a poison pen letter in the New York Times. In case the term is unfamiliar to you, a poison pen letter is filled with accusations, criticisms and a harsh litany of the failings of the recipient. It is usually sent anonymously to the recipient with the intent of upsetting him or causing some reaction. But in this case a letter about the failings of President Trump was not sent anonymously to the President, though he was free to read it. No, thanks to the editors of the New York Times, it was sent to you and me. What gives?
I Am Not Amused
The writer claims that his (or her) intent is to reassure us that there are “adults in the room” and that a group of senior administration personnel were working to “preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.” Geez, that sounds serious, doesn’t it? I mean, not only is President Trump “amoral”, but “Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.”
That is not reassuring! Not only are you telling me that Trump is a terrible president and a horrible human being, but that we, the American public, are terrible citizens. We let this happen and now you, dear anonymous defender of American values, you and your heroic band are all that stand between us and the consequences of our actions. This was a poison pen letter to America and I am not amused. If the intent was to upset the American public and generate some sort of reaction, well, mark that as job done.
Who’s The Hero?
What, exactly, did the writer hope to accomplish by going public with these concerns but keeping his (or her) identity private? No one is reassured, so that was a failure if that was indeed the goal. It seems more likely that the goal was to weaken the president at a particularly vulnerable moment with elections on the horizon and the Mueller investigation closing in. By claiming to be part of a shadow administration at cross purposes to the public one, the writer is effectively saying that the shadow group is doing a great job and he/she just wants us to know about it. So, you know, we can sleep better at night.
Really? I know superheroes love to hide their true identity – does the writer see him/herself in heroic terms? It appears so. I don’t trust anyone with a hero complex any more than I trust someone who is erratic and unstable. In fact, Mr. Trump is himself afflicted with a hero complex since he believes that he is a better negotiator than anyone in the State Department, a better businessman than anyone at Treasury or Commerce, and the best president ever. He loves going it alone and getting all the glory. What we have here is a classic case of enemy twins – rivals who end up becoming mirror images of one another.
Rivals do not want to see their enemy succeed, despite what the writer’s claim in the letter that “we want the administration to succeed”. No, you don’t. What you want is to replace Donald Trump at the head of the administration because you believe that that is the only way the administration will succeed. You say that “the president’s leadership style… is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective”. I’m sure, dear writer, that you are nothing like that though one could say that this letter is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective, don’t you think?
Who’s To Blame?
I want to end by returning to my main point, which is that this horrible, pointless letter was addressed to you and me. The writer says, “The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.” The letter was sent to us because the writer believes that we are the problem because we have allowed this terrible man to make us terrible, too. Though this may be a valid point, let’s face it, incivility in public discourse did not start with Trump. He is an expert practitioner, no doubt about it, and does his best to bring out the worst in us. But he did not initiate lying, name-calling, deceit and conceit in politics. And we the American public have been on a long, slow descent into hyper-partisanship for many election cycles.
Getting rid of Mr. Trump, which many could argue would be a good thing, will do very little to end the “bigger concern” of the writer. What might help is to stop sending America poison pen letters. Or stop engaging in character assassination. Or have the courage to sign your name to your concerns so we can talk face to face, heart to heart, about where we go from here. We don’t need superheroes and we don’t need to find someone to blame. We need honesty, courage, and courtesy. Most people I know possess all three. So, America, my advice is to put this poison pen letter through the shredder and get back to the serious work of citizenship. An election is coming up and we have big decisions to make.