Almost every week we learn "new" information about the Trump regime's attempted (and ongoing) coup and other crimes against democracy and the rule of law. These supposed revelations are now barely newsworthy. This new type of normal is the way democracy dies.
Donald Trump's underlings, as it turns out, issued detailed instructions to Vice President Mike Pence on how to sabotage the counting of the Electoral College votes last Jan. 6, in order to send the results of the 2020 presidential election back to Republican-controlled state legislatures in "battleground" states. If that failed to change the outcome, the final decision — as specified in the Constitution — would have been made in the House of Representatives, where Trump would presumably have been "elected."
It's impossible to know exactly how bad things would have gotten after such an outcome. The United States likely would have seen mass public unrest on a virtually unprecedented scale, perhaps offering Trump an excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act, order the military into the streets, and suspend the Constitution. In effect, that manufactured emergency would have granted Donald Trump the powers of a dictator — which was quite likely his goal all along.
Ultimately, Donald Trump and his regime's array of crimes against democracy, American society and humanity should not have been a surprise to any reasonably intelligent person. When future historians look back on the Age of Trump, one central theme will likely be that America's political class almost unanimously knew about Trump's misdeeds, and for a variety of reasons were silent or complicit or both.
There were certainly whistleblowers — but they were far too few.
There were the "adults in the room" who tried to rein in Trump's worst impulses, including the retired generals John Kelly, H.R. McMaster and Jim Mattis, who at least prevented him from starting a nuclear war or provoking another global catastrophe. But for the most part these "adults in the room" remained silent both during and after their time in Trump's administration, and did not act to remove him from office or aid in his impeachment.
There were opportunists, who for personal or political reasons (or both), found ways to advance their own agendas through Trump's malfeasance. They may have personally disliked or even detested Trump but, in the end, he was a valuable means to an end.
There were people with books to sell and other ways to cash in on their privileged access to Trump, often by hoarding the secrets about his misconduct that they had accumulated.
Miles Taylor, who worked as chief of staff to former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, was one of the few members of the Trump regime who attempted to resist from within. Under the name "Anonymous," Taylor wrote the much-discussed 2018 New York Times op-ed "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration," in which he warned the American people and the world about the great danger that Trump represented. Taylor also sought to reassure onlookers that there were rational patriots within that unhinged regime, doing their utmost to control Trump's worst inclinations.
One can debate the morality of Taylor's choice to remain inside the Trump regime as a truth-teller and human guardrail, but there can be no question he has paid a price, becoming a major enemy for Trump and his loyal supporters. Taylor has also been maligned by many in the political class and the media, as well as liberals and progressives, because he did not resign, make himself public and reveal what he knew.
In this interview, to be published by Salon in two parts, Taylor discusses the threats that he and other former members of the Trump regime have endured for speaking out, and what this reveals about America's worsening democracy crisis. He also reflects on his initial decision to join the Trump administration, in hopes of goal of bringing some level of professionalism to what he and others knew would be a volatile and dangerous presidency.
Later in this conversation, Taylor explains his views of that the events of Jan. 6, which he says were utterly predictable, adding that senior officials in the Trump administration and the Republican Party's leadership knew all along that such a destructive outcome was more likely than not.
Given all that has happened since your decision to speak out against the Trump administration, with the events of Jan. 6 and America's escalating democracy crisis more generally, how are you feeling?
I recently spoke with someone else who left the Trump administration in protest. He told me, "It never really gets easier." That comment really resonated with me. People who made that choice have post-traumatic stress disorder. Those of us who joined the Trump administration to try to do the right thing and then left in protest have been under siege by MAGAworld ever since. This is also emblematic of the bigger picture of American politics at present. The discourse has gotten very violent. It is not just vitriolic, it is violent. Those of us who left Trumpland and have spoken out against him are experiencing this in a very visceral way.
The person I just spoke with no longer lives in their home and in a sense is really on the run and living with day-to-day personal life trauma, from having made what they felt was the correct professional choice.
Let me contrast my experience with leaving the Trump administration with what would have happened if I had resigned from the Bush administration in protest. In that event, I would have been maligned by GOP figures and then they would've forgotten about me. I wouldn't be fearing for my life and on the run. But people who've made such a choice in the Trump era are literally still fearing for their lives. In some cases, some are still on the run. Many others have lost homes, jobs, marriages and the like.
It's a really different environment. This is because of Trump in many ways. Trump is the person who has really given a permission slip to the people who want to inject violence into American politics as a means of intimidation, to silence the opposition.
What did you expect would happen when you and others decided to leave or otherwise stand up against Trump and the administration?
I fully expected from the moment that I submitted an op-ed years ago to the New York Times that it would have severe negative repercussions for my life. It was clear what our political environment was like. In some ways it is actually encouraging that all these people who knew that opposing Trump from the inside would lead to a self-detonation of their personal lives still went ahead and did it anyway.
That gives me some cause for hope. There is strength in numbers. I'm hopeful that we will see a slow snowball rolling through MAGAland consisting of people who are disaffected, that left the president's orbit and are tired of it all and want to move on. If more people en masse are willing to speak the truth about Trump and this moment, to stand up to the Big Lie or Trump in their actual communities, then the price for doing so will go down.
I actually see that in my own small sample size of the community I grew up in. People who were afraid during the four years of Trump to admit how crazy they thought the guy was, and then, after Jan. 6, felt like, "Oh, thank God! One, he's out of office. Two, it culminated in something terrible." Now they feel more comfortable to speak the truth, but they're not going to do so if there's not air cover, if there are not more people willing to speak up.
Puzzle through this scenario and decision-making process with me. People lingered on in the Trump administration and larger orbit. They got what they wanted, be it policies or visibility and some amount of power and other rewards. Then at some point they decide, "I'm going to bail." But what about accountability? What about responsibility?
Let's use the example of someone joining the Mafia or another criminal organization. They extort a neighborhood and burn down all these houses. But then when they get to the school, one of them decides that is going too far — they're going to go public and write a book about their time in the mob. That decision does not exonerate that person for burning down all those houses.
This is of course totally self-serving, so I don't blame someone for writing me off by saying this. But the people who went in at the beginning of the administration were far and away not Trumpers. The vast majority of people who went into the administration at the beginning were solid Republicans who'd worked in past administrations, hadn't supported Trump at all, but felt like, "All right, this thing's pretty crazy. Let's go in and try to stabilize the ship."
I mean that all the way up to the Cabinet. In fact, I would argue that at the beginning of his term, the Cabinet was largely of that worldview: that the man who had just assumed the presidency was probably unqualified for the job and needed people who knew what the hell they were doing around him. They were largely of the view that he probably wouldn't acclimate to the job, but they could manage the fallout. Over time, I think almost all of those folks came to the conclusion that it was worse than they had even imagined when they decided to join the administration.
Then comes that next moral question. Someone may have joined a mob and not known it was a mob, and then said, "Well, now they're burning down houses." Alternatively, maybe they joined the mob and said, "Hey, we're going to dismantle this thing from the inside or change them to go do bake sales instead of burn down houses." But then, once you don't succeed, you have another moral choice to make.
The first is, can you do any good and stop the bad from happening? And once you realize you're not able to do good anymore, you arrive at a key decision. This is when saying no is no longer enough — that has really got to be the time to go.
I've got personal opinions about folks who stayed too long. In my case, once we hit that inflection point of saying no, and it no longer stopped bad things from happening because Trump would just start overruling us, to me the moral choice became very clear.
At this point, you're no longer doing any good. So, you just have to call it out. That's where I think the inflection has to be for folks. Unfortunately, you've got a lot of people who ended up at the end of this administration who were the echo chamber for Donald Trump. They benefited from being the echo chamber because it let them get closer to him. This is not dissimilar from what one sees in authoritarian regimes.
I don't look at the administration and say, "Every person that went in was a Trumper, and therefore they were bad." Most of them were just general public servants. But what happened over time, and what decisions they made along the way, is how history will and should judge those folks.
But in the meantime, the recriminations can come later. I think what's most important is that even those who were loyal up until Jan. 6 and have not spoken out yet still have an obligation to do so. They should share the things that they would say privately, have the courage to come out and tell the world who this man really is. Because I don't know what the hell else will wake up people who still support Donald Trump. Other than that his whole inner circle could come out and say, "He's a bad, bad man, and he is totally incompetent."
What was your reaction to the events of Jan. 6, the attempted coup and attack on the Capitol?
Watching those events, there was no doubt to me that a coup was in progress.
If war beget war after 9/11, what happens after Jan. 6? That's what we need to be thinking about here. This is not over. There is an ongoing effort to subvert our democracy. It is now being actively systematized by Donald Trump and enabled by his elected acolytes in Congress and candidates running for Congress. They want to rewrite the rules, literally, to benefit them. I can't imagine something more antithetical to a democratic republic than that. It's a true test, and a huge proportion of the American people are blind to that threat. We are in one of those inflection moments where truly horrible things can happen.
In my career I have focused on national security and public safety work. To me, this is the single biggest national security threat this country has faced in my lifetime. The threats to our democracy are greater now from an illiberal, unreformed GOP than they were from al-Qaida or than they were from ISIS or have been from Russia. And perhaps even from the threat of the Chinese Communist Party. That's how serious the strain of illiberalism that's coursing through our political veins is to the health of our democracy.
Given your experience in the Trump administration, were the events of Jan. 6 a surprise? Or was it just confirmation of what you always suspected could happen?
Genuinely, anyone who voted for Donald Trump should have had enough data points to anticipate this could potentially be the outcome. It's why during the campaign and the GOP nomination in 2016, so many of us behind the scenes were actively working to thwart Trump's rise.
It was not even the thought that he could win the presidency, because none of us thought he could win it. I can't remember a single person that was working with me among the House Republican leadership who thought Donald Trump could win.
But they did all think that merely his achievement in becoming the GOP frontrunner, and then the nominee, would have severe negative repercussions on not just the party but on the country. For example, there was real fear in Paul Ryan's office that if Trump got the nomination, it would give legitimacy to his very isolationist, bigoted worldview.
Given all the things that Donald Trump said during the campaign, one should have been able to extrapolate a straight line to something like Jan. 6. And it's also why people went into the administration.
It's firmly my view that I should let people speak for themselves who haven't spoken publicly. But one very prominent person in the administration, who's not come out, in my opinion, hard enough publicly against the president, said to me toward the very beginning, "I'm joining this team because I'm scared as hell for the country." That was one of their explanations to me about why I should come join the team. So here was someone at the Cabinet level at the beginning, who was already foreseeing how bad this could end up.
Jan. 6 was not an aberration. If you ran this scenario a thousand times, it is probably the result you would get 900 of those times. I think 50 of those times it ends up far worse and more tragically. Maybe another 50, they don't breach the walls of the Capitol. But in almost every scenario, Trump ends up doing exactly what he did and fomenting exactly what he did on Jan. 6. That should have been foreseeable and now it's been made real.
That outcome and events should factor into the public's considerations on whether to support Trump if he runs in 2024. Moreover, it should factor into whether we embrace the people that Donald Trump selects to be his heirs. The latter is crucially important because it has now been proven that Donald Trump is that large of a danger to our republic. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to act.
Coming next week: More on the inner workings of the Trump White House, in the second part of this conversation.
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