In ‘A Warning,’ Anonymous Author Makes Case Against Re-election
“A Warning,” Anonymous says, is intended for a “broad audience,” though to judge by the parade of bland, methodical arguments (Anonymous loves to qualify criticisms with a lawyerly “in fairness”), the ideal reader would seem to be an undecided voter who has lived in a cave for the past three years, and is irresistibly moved by quotations from Teddy Roosevelt and solemn invocations of Cicero.
Plenty of people have preemptively criticized this book as an opportunistic grift, though Anonymous has announced a plan to donate a portion of the royalties to “nonprofit organizations that focus on government accountability,” including the White House Correspondents’ Association. Besides, everything in the text of “A Warning” suggests a dyed-in-the-wool establishment Republican. There’s the typical talk about American exceptionalism and national security. There’s the eternal complaint that President Barack Obama was “out of touch with mainstream America.” There’s a wistful elegy for “our budget-balancing daydreams.” Yes, Anonymous is happy about the conservative judicial appointments, the deregulation, the tax cuts; what rankles is the “unbecoming” behavior, the “unseemly antics.”
A big tell comes early on, when Anonymous reveals what “the last straw” was. It wasn’t Mr. Trump’s response to the right-wing rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, when a white supremacist killed a woman and the president talked about “the violence on many sides.” It wasn’t even the administration’s separation of migrant families at the border. These examples might have left Anonymous appalled, but the truly unforgivable act was when Senator John McCain died last year and Mr. Trump tried to hoist the flag on the White House above half-staff: “President Trump, in unprecedented fashion, was determined to use his office to limit the nation’s recognition of John McCain’s legacy.”
Anonymous says that the president “deserves to be fired,” but that’s just the author indulging in a little rhetorical flourish; what Anonymous really means is that the president’s contract shouldn’t be renewed. Actively seeking to remove Mr. Trump from office, whether by invoking the 25th Amendment or pursuing impeachment proceedings, would be “bad” because “we can scarcely afford further disunion.” Mr. Trump, Anonymous says, should simply not be elected to a second term; only then can the country “undertake the arduous task of moral repair” and “restore the soul of its political system.”
Anonymous declares that this “American spirit” was best exemplified by the bravery shown by the passengers on United Flight 93, who rushed the cockpit on 9/11. We’ve seen Flight 93 used as a conservative analogy before — by another anonymous author no less, writing under the pen name Publius Decius Mus, who argued before the 2016 presidential election that “a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto” and consequently that voting for Mr. Trump offered the only chance for the republic’s survival.
That the same violent tragedy has been deployed to argue one point and then, three years later, to argue its utter opposite is, to put it charitably, bizarre. But then Anonymous, a self-described “student of history,” doesn’t seem to register the discrepancy. Nor does Anonymous square the analogy with an episode mentioned in the opening pages of “A Warning” — of senior officials contemplating a replay of the Nixon administration’s so-called Saturday Night Massacre by resigning en masse. The idea of doing anything so bold was floated within the first two years of the Trump administration, and then abandoned.
Toward the end of the book, an earlier quote from Mr. Trump kept coming back to me, unbidden: “These are just words. A bunch of words. It doesn’t mean anything.”