The past week has brought information about the Trump administration's apparent lack of control over what is going on in and outside of the White House — disturbing — and of multiple efforts to exploit that situation in what appear to be concerted attempts to undermine — and perhaps even bring down — the Trump administration. This is even more disturbing.
Without doubt, the Trump administration is off to a bumpy start, and a good many of these problems are of their own making. Unforced errors like the haphazard rollout of the "travel ban" deflect attention from legitimate concerns about the Ninth Circuit's complete disregard for the president's statutory authority when it comes to certain immigration restrictions. Michael Flynn's failure to fully disclose conversations with members of the Russian government obscures the dangers of unaccountable law enforcement spying on private citizens without a warrant. (Two superb journalists, Glenn Greenwald and Eli Lake, offer some thoughtful, competing views of these issues.)
Even so, the confluence of tactics being employed against the White House — as well as the multiplicity of sources — seems without parallel.
David French at National Review Online wrote an open letter to the anonymous individuals leaking information to the press — some of which, it is alleged, are White House staff. In French's piece, he acknowledges the seriousness of some of the allegations. But he also points out that a number of the "leaks" were false or frivolous. French calls upon the "leakers" to identify themselves, in order to establish their veracity and credibility with the public.
I don't think we should hold our breath.
The media has drawn the longest of their long knives in the all-too typical war against Republican administrations, and just about every member of Trump's White House staff, his cabinet picks, and his (thus far, only) Supreme Court nominee are targets. (Even the first lady and young Barron Trump have not been spared, though at least their media adversaries apologized.)
A critical part of the left's "resistance" to President Trump's administration is constant protests, which — in the case of Portland, Oregon, Washington, D.C., and Berkeley, have been violent. Some agitators, like BAMN's (By Any Means Necessary) Yvette Felarca, are bragging about the violence and promising more.
In what is perhaps the most disturbing piece of all, there are creeping allegations of a "shadow government," run by none other than former President Barack Obama himself. According to a widely circulated article in the New York Post, Obama, having stepped down as leader of the free world, is apparently stepping back into his old role of "community organizer," with 30,000 shock troops in Organizing for America and related leftist non-profits, ready to "draw battle lines on immigration, Obamacare, race relations and climate change."
It's hard to overstate how unprecedented this is. Historically, our outgoing presidents have stepped down and gone home. Yes, they continued to devote themselves to the causes they believed in, but through speaking engagements or private foundations. Some notable initiatives (see, e.g., Bill Clinton's and George H.W. Bush's Haiti Fund) were visibly bipartisan.
Never has a president stayed behind to deliberate undermine the next administration. (The Obama's plans to live in Washington, D.C., weren't made overnight, and it's logical to wonder whether the initial strategy might have been to be pulling the strings behind the scenes in a Hillary Clinton presidency — especially given questions about Clinton's health. If so, her shocking defeat prompted a change of tactics.)
As I have argued repeatedly in other contexts, these tactics — like so much of what the left does — set bad precedents. The left denigrates their political opponents, but when their opponents respond in kind, they cry foul. They act spectacularly vulgarly, but when others do the same, they claim that their delicate sensibilities are outraged. (That Sarah Silverman claims to be offended by anything Trump says is a pathetic joke. Just read her tweets.) They block speakers whose message they don't like, they form mobs, riot, destroy property; they attack and brutalized people — yet through it all, they seem remarkably unconcerned that the tables will turn on them.
Now they speak and act as if they are plotting a coup — and they apparently see no risk in that, either.
These tactics may end up crippling President Trump's administration. But whether they do or not, they set new rules of engagement that threaten the stability of the country. The left counts on conservative voters being too proper, too restrained by our own morality, too fond of peace and order to respond in kind. This is classic Saul Alinsky. (Rule No. 4: "Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.")
But it is worth remembering that those the left expects to play nice are the same people who blew the left's expectations out of the water by electing Donald Trump. Even those who love peace and order can be pushed too far.
We had a day or two of pious platitudes about "peaceful transitions of power." That brief interlude over, opponents of Donald Trump seem to have decided that they'll take him down, confident that they can handle whatever happens next.
I fear that that confidence is misplaced.