David A. Graham: We’re watching an antidemocratic coup unfold
Yet the news would have been an anticlimax no matter who Anonymous had been, because in retrospect, Taylor’s Times column was the high-water mark of internal resistance to Trump. The premise of the piece was that supposedly upright citizens had the power to keep the president from committing his most egregious violations. Instead, time has proved the opposite: When Trump wanted to do something, there was nothing anyone could do to stop him. The only things that could deter the president were his own short attention span and lack of managerial competence.
I wrote at the time of the op-ed that internal sabotage was no way to behave in a country that values the rule of law. Unelected officials can (and should) refuse orders that they believe to be unconstitutional or wrong, but they must do so openly and risk being fired, rather than using cloak-and-dagger methods; otherwise, they undermine the rule of law in the name of preserving it. It turns out that this form of resistance was not only morally and politically questionable; it was also futile, as Taylor admitted in a statement today.
“I was wrong,” he wrote, “about one major assertion in my original op-ed. The country cannot rely on well-intentioned, unelected bureaucrats around the President to steer him toward what’s right. He has purged most of them anyway.”
This has been the pattern throughout the administration, in which officials who resisted Trump’s worst impulses (usually by accommodating other bad ones) have been pushed out, and replaced with hackish loyalists with few qualifications save an unstinting loyalty to the president.
Consider Taylor’s own former stomping grounds, the Department of Homeland Security. The first head of the agency under Trump was John Kelly, who though ideologically simpatico with the president bristled at his approach to process. Kelly was soon promoted from DHS to be White House chief of staff, where he tried in vain to contain Trump before eventually being shoved out the door.
David A. Graham: The last constraint on Trump
Kelly’s replacement at DHS was Kirstjen Nielsen, a career Republican functionary, rather than Trump loyalist. Like Kelly, Nielsen tried a bit to restrain Trump, but she was no more successful. She ended up being the face of the administration’s policy of separating immigrant families at the border, although the policy originated in former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s Justice Department. Despite defending this atrocity, Nielsen was eventually fired for refusing an order she believed was unlawful. Her interim successor, Kevin McAleenan, met the same fate for the same reason. Now DHS is led by Chad Wolf, who has proved that no order from Trump can faze him.
The family-separation debacle, perhaps the most morally outrageous of the administration, took place in the summer of 2018, and it casts an unflattering light on Taylor’s op-ed. The column now seems like an attempt at reputation laundering—a way for Taylor to protest, after the fact, that he was not on board with the policy his agency was executing, even as he participated in it.