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Crisis Or Coup? Trump Presidency At Risk From Within

Trump and top members of his Administration in May
Trump and top members of his Administration in May
Timothy L. O'Brien*

NEW YORK — The New York Times published an extraordinary column this afternoon by an anonymous contributor identified as a "senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure." (In a tweet, and perhaps inadvertently, the Times also described its op-ed columnist as a man.)

It's readily apparent why the writer's job would be threatened. His column describes a White House mired in subterfuge and scheming because President Donald Trump isn't able or fit to carry out his duties. "The root of the problem is the president's amorality," the columnist observes. "Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making."

Confronted with that reality, Trump's own White House staff has apparently gone rogue. "Many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations," notes the columnist. "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 our republic."

The writer said he shares Trump's goals of building a strong military, cutting taxes and doing away with federal regulations — successes he says Team Trump has been able to pull off despite the president's dangerous ineptitude. To achieve their goals, they work around Trump and walk back — or simply thwart — "Trump's more misguided impulses until he is out of office."

"Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president," the writer adds. "But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it's over."

There is some good intent here. A group of people is trying to adhere to principle and make the executive branch function in a mature and responsible way — because Trump, the man elected to do just that, can't. They are so concerned about things going haywire that they ponder making use of an amendment to the Constitution that allows for replacing the president when he or she is "unable to discharge the powers and duties' of the office.

Unless Vice President Mike Pence is involved with that decision, however, it's not up to White House officials to "invoke" the 25th Amendment by themselves. The amendment requires vice-presidential participation if it is invoked within the White House. And if Pence is involved with the group the Times columnist describes, well, the plot thickens. But all of that is an argument for another day.

The U.S. government is not supposed to function this way.

What seems more pointed to me is that the columnist says his troupe sought to avert a constitutional crisis. Think about that: White House officials were so concerned about Trump's lack of fitness that they considered dire measures, which they then dismissed to avoid a crisis. So these same unelected and unknown officials, all appointed by a president they see as unfit, are now running the country without oversight and accountability? If that's not a crisis, what is?

The U.S. government is not supposed to function this way. A vibrant democracy rides on the back of voting, transparency and the rule of law. When unelected officials act unilaterally and in secrecy because they work for an inept executive who doesn't respect the law, then you have yourself a crisis. (Trump, always a model of probity, zipped out a video on Twitter Wednesday evening slagging the Times as "gutless' for publishing the anonymous column.)

Similar things have happened before. In 1919, for example, President Woodrow Wilson became paralyzed and partially blind following a stroke. Wilson's doctor and his wife, Edith, covered up the president's condition and Edith administered his executive powers while keeping Wilson's cabinet and the Congress ill-informed and at a distance. Edith continued her stealth presidency until Wilson's term ended in 1921.

It wasn't until the 25th Amendment was passed in 1967, 48 years after Wilson's stroke and four years after John F. Kennedy's assassination, that a clear procedure for replacing an incapacitated or dead president was put into place.

Trump, of course, is neither incapacitated nor dead. He is merely tragicomically out of his depth (as Bob Woodward's upcoming book, and Trump's own history, have substantiated).

As Woodward's reporting makes clear, some White House officials, like Defense Secretary James Mattis, have occasionally been able to ward off some of Trump's most perilous instincts. But Mattis, and the Times"s anonymous columnist, haven't warded off a crisis. They're living in one.


*O'Brien is the executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion. He has been an editor and writer for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, HuffPost and Talk magazine. His books include "TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald."

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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