The sleeper cells have awoken

Who wrote the anonymous oped in the Times?

Donald Trump and every other carbon-based lifeform who cares about politics is frantically trying to figure out which senior White House official wrote this oped in The New York Times.

So yes, staffers in the White House are actually texting each other “the sleeper cells have awoken” as they huddle behind closed doors and speculate on who it might be.

Now, I write serious things all day and do this silly blog for fun, and for free. So in normal times I’d post something about weird news, why the third act of the latest DC movie doesn’t work or dissect the first page of novel.

But times are not normal. This is an important moment in history, not just for American democracy and the rule of law, but around the world, as Putin and Russia wage a secret and sustained war against the foundations of democratic countries in Europe and elsewhere.

Let’s talk about how conventional wisdom on the oped is wrong.

1) Unmasking the author doesn’t help Trump one bit

Here’s the thing: solving that mystery won’t help Trump.

The author of this oped is taking a big risk to their job, and career, to warn America.

That warning went out. Unmasking the author doesn’t reverse time and unpublish the oped. We’ve all read it.

The dam broke and the damage is done.

2) Punishing the oped author won’t fix a thing, either

If the author gets revealed, sure, they’ll get fired–if they haven’t resigned already and revealed themselves.

Won’t matter.

The author may not have a future in Republican politics, at least for a few years.

If the author is a staffer and not a cabinet official or former elected official, their name recognition and status will increase exponentially.

No matter who they are, they won’t starve on the unemployment line.

Whoever wrote that oped can write their own ticket with publishers. They’ll be booked solid on every political show when they’re not getting magazine profiles and interviews with newspapers.

3) The incentives are now reversed

Sure, everybody in D.C. leaks to reporters. The normal incentive, though, is for seniors staffers at the White House and cabinet officials to be loyal to the president, or the presidency, until they leave office for a job with a lower profile and higher salary. To keep their nose clean.

That’s why most standard leaks are self-serving and minor.

This oped isn’t self-serving or minor. It’s the nuclear bomb of leaks.

The Trump White House already had reversed incentives in many ways. President Barack Obama cultivated a culture of no drama, as it’s toxic and unproductive if you can’t trust your colleagues and boss.

Trump treats the White House like his old reality show. He likes teasing that a staffer or cabinet official might get fired, and they know from history it may well happen by a random tweet. Just like in reality shows, contestants have to deceive and betray just to survive in this White House.

Now, the incentives are fully reversed from normal. Loyalty isn’t helpful anymore in any respect.

This oped, and the new book by the legendary Bob Woodward, create a new incentive to leak more about Trump and get on the right side of history.

Because they know it’s a train wreck. They see it every day and there’s a distinct feeling that we’ve turned a corner, and the end is near.

If they can’t be quiet and loyal to wait for one of those cushy jobs, the other option—the new incentive—is to beat other leakers at the game and hope the history books make you look like a hero instead of a complicit villain.

4) This will paralyze an already paranoid Trump

Running the most powerful country on the planet is the toughest job on the planet. It takes a team that trusts each other and believes in the boss.

After this oped and the Woodward book, it’s clear they don’t believe in the boss and can’t trust each other.

Anyone could be the mole. Half the staff apparently talked to Woodward.

If you think the White House was dysfunctional before, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

5) It’s a race now

The hunt for the identity of the author won’t scare other staffers into not leaking.

It will embolden them.

They know they’re not alone. Woodward’s new book shows how many senior staffers agreed to sit down, with the tape running, to tell the truth.

They know the incentives have flipped, and that subverting a dangerous and dysfunctional White House from within makes them look patriotic instead of disloyal.

And they know the first person to go public—like the oped author—will get far more press and attention than the seventh or tenth.

Leaks to the press will accelerate and escalate.

Expect more anonymous opeds, document dumps and secret tapes.

This week was incredibly awful for Trump, with the Woodward book and NYT oped two mortal blows that will continue to bleed and bleed.

And things will only get worse from here, since no staffer fears getting fired from a sinking ship.

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