President Donald Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Monday evening after she refused to defend his executive orders on immigration in court. She could have resigned in protest, but chose defiance and martyrdom.
The problem goes much further than one official. Trump’s opponents are burrowed throughout the federal bureaucracy, and at senior as well as junior levels.
Contrary to what some conservatives may suspect, they are not the majority of government employees. Most are loyal to the Constitution and to their duties. But there are enough die-hard Barack Obama appointees, and lifelong leftists, to frustrate the Trump administration — and they may be encouraging each other to do so.
The press is certainly encouraging them to “resist.” Some journalists are conflating Yates’s firing with the “Saturday Night Massacre,” Nixon’s firing of key Department of Justice staff to thwart the Watergate investigation. That was a classic abuse of presidential power. The Yates episode is the opposite — an illegitimate abuse of power by bureaucrats to undermine the president.
Also encouraging the rebellion: President Barack Obama, who reverted to 1980s community organizer mode in releasing a statement — merely 10 days after leaving office — criticizing the Trump administration, mis-stating the basis of the executive orders, and encouraging the protests at the nation’s airports, which had done more to disrupt travel than anything Trump signed in the White House. Obama is urging the country to become ungovernable — and his appointees may be listening.
Monday’s events make clear exactly why the Trump administration kept its executive order quiet, declining to share it in advance with the agencies that would be tasked with its implementation. The White House knows that it cannot trust large parts of the federal bureaucracy. Hence last week’s firings of senior managers at the State Department — falsely described, initially, as resignations.
It is not good for a White House to be so insular — but it has no choice, at least for the time being.
In that sense, Yates’s firing is an important signal to the rest of the bureaucracy. And to President Trump’s supporters, it is something to cheer — the first of many such dismissals as the administration rids itself of ideological careerists and superfluous Beltway barnacles. But while the confrontation may escalate, it cannot and should not last forever.
The “coup of the bureaucrats” must end; the bureaucracy must surrender.
There is a place for criticizing the president — namely, outside of the government. There are places for challenging Trump’s authority — namely, the opposition benches, the courts, and ultimately the ballot box.
Those who abuse the power of the bureaucracy to defy the electorate, and the Constitution, may think themselves heroes, but they are destroying the foundations of liberal democracy. They must go.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.