At the beginning of this administration four years ago, many of us leaned on the notion that there would be someone in government to counter the president. One or more elected or appointed officials who would provide logic and sanity to temper situations and pending decisions otherwise fraught with peril. We counted heavily on the likelihood that there would be ‘an adult in the room’ (with apologies to those below adult age), someone with influence we could count on near or in the Oval Office to advocate for and eventually ensure that the right thing was done. Or, at the very least, someone who would prevent the unthinkable. Like, just for example, the separation of children from their parents at the southern border.
We believed then that after a wholly unconventional, outlandish, even outrageous 2016 campaign — one filled with name-calling, baseless claims, conspiracy theories, White supremacist leanings, threats of violence and the promise of isolating the country from the world — that at least a few centrist, traditional Republicans in the House and Senate would provide an effective check on the proclivities of the newly-elected president. It won’t be that bad, we thought. It’s government, after all, and government is an entity based on and requiring compromise. There are good people on both sides of the aisle, we said, who will provide maturity, intelligence and sound moral judgement to calm the waters, to counter the audacious statements made during the campaign. How much damage can one person do, we thought, even if that person is the president? Hey, it’s just Trump being Trump. John McCain, Lindsay Graham, even Ted Cruz — who was savagely attacked by Trump during the primaries — will surely provide a voice of reason.
How quaint, how charming a presumption. Yet, how very naïve. And this was years before the novel coronavirus made itself comfortable and completely at home in our country — and turned life upside down.
After amassing a long list of transgressions so profound, so remarkable, so incomprehensible, it is now clear that our hopes for a counterbalance were foolhardy. Part of the reason, as we now know, is that the president has a penchant for ridding his administration of those players, some life-long, distinguished civil servants, who chose to stand in his way. As of May 20, 2020, a whopping 415 individuals — notably, many of his appointees and a handful of whistleblowers — have either resigned or been fired.¹ Of these, three have served as the president’s Chief of Staff, the role specifically tasked with providing order, reason and rationality to the executive staff.²
Presidents have the power to replace appointees at will and, of course, appointees have the right to resign. Both are common to all presidencies. But to have 415 leave via termination or resignation through the first 3.5 years of the term stands apart from every other administration. By all appearances, attempting to provide a contrary opinion to this president leads to professional death. There is clearly no room for dissent. Just ask any of those removed from their position, especially the three Chiefs of Staff. Or, for that matter, Republicans running for reelection.
At present, the only people in the room are the architects and engineers of the administration’s transgressions. No leaders of the Republican Party, especially those in the Senate, have been willing to provide even a hint of criticism, much less opposition — either because they are in agreement, are hypocritical, or fear that one harsh Twitter rant will doom them in their re-election bid. Maybe for them, riding the president’s coattails is their choice or, perhaps, their only alternative. Maybe some senior Republicans secretly disagree with the president. Maybe some do not support his war on half the country. Maybe some are repelled by the Republican Party’s blatant attempts to suppress voting in states the president must win to remain in office. Maybe some think everyone should wear a mask to prevent infection and death. Maybe some believe in science and find conspiracy theories, especially one like QAnon, vile. Maybe. But their collective silence and inaction say otherwise.
That adult in the room, the one we counted on, remains missing in action, nowhere to be found.
Which brings us to a scary thought: there is no protector, no savior in the administration. There is no one to rely on to control or stop the madness. We are completely on our own. We are the last line of defense for our democracy and for the very soul of our nation. We have become, whether we like it or now, the adults in the room.
We should have seen this coming. Now that we are here, on the eve of the election, comfort comes from the knowledge that this country is filled with people who care deeply about democracy — true democracy — and find abhorrent much of the current administration’s divisiveness, racism, bold-faced lies and lack of concern for our health and safety. There is comfort in knowing that millions have already voted, that millions are participating in this most essential democratic process, even as the administration and Republicans are working hard, very hard, to prevent us from doing so. There is comfort in knowing that millions are willing to stand in long lines — even during a pandemic — and be counted for what they believe to be right. There is comfort in the knowledge that we are in good hands, because those hands are ours.
We are now that adult in the room. Let us not miss this opportunity.