- The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed article Wednesday in which someone identified only as a senior Trump administration official suggested a network of officials had been secretly undermining President Donald Trump.
- This would seem to be a boon for fringe conspiracy theorists who have long said a shadowy cabal of faceless, unelected officials secretly runs the US.
- The article’s stated purpose is to assure the US public that there are “adults in the room” guiding Trump.
- But it’s unclear whether the news of open mutiny or a soft coup has significantly reassured anyone.
The idea that a shadowy cabal of unelected bureaucrats secretly runs the US – against the demonstrated will of the people and without their knowledge – has long been the stuff of conspiracy theories. But on Wednesday night, The New York Times gave a gift to those who believe it.
“I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” says the headline of an anonymous op-ed article in The Times, whose author was identified only as a senior official in the Trump administration.
A subheadline written in first-person further said the author and some colleagues “have vowed to thwart parts” of President Donald Trump’s “agenda and his worst inclinations.”
The author essentially argues that Trump is an amoral, dangerous president and that, without this network, the nation would be much worse off.
But rather than publicly move to oust a president characterised in the article as antidemocratic, the author suggests the anonymous group has instead quietly labored to deregulate markets, issue a large tax cut, and increase military spending.
In the author’s view, it is apparently worth keeping Trump as president to advance these classically Republican causes.
The official’s stated purpose in writing the article is that “Americans should know that there are adults in the room.”
But just who these adults are, what they want for the country, and how much power they actually wield remains a secret.
We are all conspiracy theorists now
Fringe media and the far right have long argued that a so-called deep state holds the real power in government and that the US public has been fooled into thinking they live in a legitimate democracy. The deep state is generally thought to be made up of unelected officials, often in career bureaucratic roles that outlast administrations.
The author acknowledged those fears in The Times on Wednesday, shunning the phrase deep state in favour of another, “steady state.”
Mainstream US media outlets including CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, and The New York Times itself have all dismissed the concept of the deep state, at least in the US, as fantasy, conspiracy, or propaganda from right-wing pundits disconnected from reality.
On Thursday morning, these same newsrooms will scour the text of the op-ed article looking for clues for who wrote it. The use of the word “lodestar” has persuaded some that Vice President Mike Pence, who frequently uses the obscure word, wrote the article. But maybe somebody else wrote it and used “lodestar” as a distraction?
Pence, of course, appeared on the 2016 ballot. The characterization of the author as a senior administration official could also suggest a direct Trump appointee.
Either way, with The Times’ publication of the op-ed, mainstream US media and conspiracy theorists have converged on a hunt for the same thing.
Not treason, but perhaps a soft coup
Trump responded to the bombshell op-ed article with a one-word tweet: “TREASON?”
While the article most likely doesn’t meet the legal definition of treason, it does clearly spell out that anonymous actors have subverted the normal rule of the US government.
It’s unclear whether Americans have been reassured by the op-ed article, which simultaneously promises steady leadership and open mutiny in the White House.
US presidents derive their authority from elections, where the US public participates in democracy to choose a leader. The Times article suggests the country’s current leadership may have little to do with democracy and a lot to do with an anonymous group advancing a Republican agenda.
It also gave a huge boost to conspiracy theorists who had long spoke of a deep-state boogeyman, which to them very well might have stepped out of the shadows on Wednesday and said, “Hi.”