When I learned that Melania Trump had issued a statement about The Times’ provocative op-ed piece by an anonymous White House insider, I was intrigued enough to dig a little deeper than the headlines.
Here is what she said:
Freedom of speech is an important pillar of our nation’s founding principles and a free press is important to our democracy. The press should be fair, unbiased and responsible. Unidentified sources have become the majority of voices people hear about in today’s news. People with no names are writing our nation’s history. Words are important, and accusations can lead to severe consequences. If a person is bold enough to accuse people of negative actions, they have a responsibility to publicly stand by their words and people have the right to be able to defend themselves. To the writer of the op-ed – you are not protecting this country, you are sabotaging it with your cowardly actions.
It seemed a puzzling mish-mash – rather indirect, if it was meant as a declaration of support for the President against his detractors within the Administration.
I read it again carefully, sentence by sentence, and discovered that it was not what it was purported – and reported – to be.
Freedom of speech is an important pillar of our nation’s founding principles and a free press is important to our democracy. The press should be fair, unbiased and responsible.
Of course. This is nothing but rhetorical blah-blah that we can assent to in our sleep.
Unidentified sources have become the majority of voices people hear about in today’s news.
Well, maybe “the majority of voices” is an exaggeration, but unidentified sources arguably have become the most consequential voices in the news.
People with no names are writing our nation’s history.
A memorable sentence: succinct and striking, and quite true. Just look at Wikipedia, ubiquitous, protean, anonymous.
Words are important, and accusations can lead to severe consequences.
This sentence brought me up short. Yes, “accusations can lead to severe consequences.” But what does this mean in terms of the anonymous op-ed piece?
An accusation, according to my on-line Merriam-Webster, is “a charge of wrongdoing.” Anonymous describes the President as “amoral” and unprincipled, with “a leadership style” that is “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective,” and complains about his “repetitive rants... impulsiveness... half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions.” Yes, you could call these opinions about the President “accusations,” but they are better described as observations – intensely critical ones – as judgements, as denunciations, rather than accusations. They are the same complaints about the President that are made every day in the mainline media, and not anonymously. So far, they have not led to “severe consequences.”
There is in Anonymous’ essay, however, a revelation of what clearly is wrongdoing. It is the admission to the “thwarting” of the President by Anonymous and other “senior officials... working... to frustrate... his agenda.” Anonymous sees this activity, which unquestionably is deceitful and might even be unlawful, as a patriotic duty, as falling into the category of justifiable civil disobedience. Considering the dire situation that exists in the executive branch, Thoreau – the originator of the concept of civil disobedience – surely would agree.
If by “accusations” Melania Trump refers not to Anonymous’ complaints about the President’s shortcomings, but to Anonymous’ disclosure of what technically is wrongdoing by a covert resistance within the administration, then her warning about “severe consequences” makes perfect sense. The first-hand disclosure in The Times of a patriotic resistance within the President’s inner circle certainly will weaken it by driving it further under cover, and might even lead to its being completely purged. Those are indeed severe consequences for the country.
If a person is bold enough to accuse people of negative actions, they have a responsibility to publicly stand by their words and people have the right to be able to defend themselves.
Melania Trump does not say “if a person is bold enough to accuse someone of negative actions,” which would be the appropriate wording if she were referring to Anonymous’ charges against her husband. She says “if a person is bold enough to accuse people of negative actions.” Who are the people is she referring to?
Nor does “negative actions” quite describe the President’s activity. Tariffs, tax breaks, deportations and the disassembling of international alliances, threats, lies, name-calling and pointless theatrics may have negative consequences, but their intent is to appear assertive and decisive. The clumsy phrase “negative actions” better describes the efforts by the internal resistance to limit the President’s authority.
The final clause of the sentence, “people have the right to be able to defend themselves,” again makes no sense in reference to the President – not only because of its use of the plural “people,” but because the President exercises his right to defend himself constantly, even excessively. The people who will have trouble defending themselves, once their identities are revealed, are Anonymous and his or her cohorts in the resistance.
The meaning of the sentence is: It is not an act of bravery to hide behind anonymity while placing your fellow resistors at risk.
To the writer of the op-ed – you are not protecting this country, you are sabotaging it with your cowardly actions.
Melania Trump’s meaning here is clear, it is correct, it is damning: By publishing this op-ed piece you have sabotaged the resistance within the administration and betrayed those who are trying to protect the country from my idiot husband.
I might be wrong. Melania Trump’s statement might be just the meaningless jumble of clichés and platitudes cobbled together by her and her advisors that it appears to be. I admit I have a weakness for reading too much into what people do and say. But bear in mind that Melania Trump is a native of Eastern Europe where, even before Communism, under the authoritarian rule of the Czars or the Habsburgs or the Ottomans, the skillful practice of oblique political discourse became second nature.