Friday, 07 September 2018 05:36

Anonymous coward hiding in the Trump White House with NY Times op-ed

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Do you wonder who “Anonymous” is?

“Anonymous,” as in the author of the recent New York Times op-ed that criticizes President Donald Trump while simultaneously claiming to work for him, in a very high place.

I know who it is.

 

A coward.

Someone who doesn’t believe in America.

“Anonymous” is someone the Founding Fathers would have scoffed at.  Look at all those fluidly dark, deliberate, determined and even florid signatures on America’s Declaration of Independence.  John Hancock’s “John Hancock” was so enormous a signature that it became synonymous with anyone writing their name on anything. “Put your ‘John Hancock” right here,” people have said for centuries now when you’re signing on the dotted line.  The Declaration of Independence is one of the world’s greatest writings ever.  Too long for a New York Times op-ed, perhaps.  But the New York Times and newspapers like it only exist at all because there was a Declaration of Independence in the first place, and because so many important Americans signed it with their real names.  It would not have been a document to take seriously if all the Founding Fathers had signed their names “Anonymous.”

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Although it was immediately printed as a handbill, the Declaration of Independence became known by many colonists because it was published in a newspaper—The Philadelphia Evening Post, just two days after John Hancock and his fellows signed it.

A writer who truly believes in America and in democracy doesn’t act like some bored, disgruntled kid spraying graffiti in the dark.

Is America a democracy that has lost its vitality?

I don’t think so.

But the White House has a coward skulking around in the shadows, seeking to thwart a president who communicates more personally, directly and frequently with the American people than any president before him.

 

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The “Anonymous” op-ed? That’s the stab in the back, the sucker punch, the bushwhack.  This is why terrorists and bank robbers wear balaclavas. They want to hit the target hard, run away, and then head into work the next morning whistling and sipping cappuccinos like they’ve done nothing wrong.

Sometimes, a writer publishes something that causes ripples, resonates, repels, leaves people revolted. Sometimes, what a writer publishes can result in them being shrieked at, accosted, threatened in the street, harassed on the phone and internet, and fired from their non-writing “day” job.

If a writer criticizes his boss at his day job, getting fired is almost a certainty.

One of the first thing writers learn is that opinion is not always protected—not at home, and not at your day job.  You pay a price for writing and publishing, always.  Always, there will be someone left offended, someone left upset, someone left bitter and angered.  But for a real writer, there are worse things than losing your day job—even if that day job is in the White House.

Which is the only reason that the New York Times published “Anonymous’s” op-ed in the first place.

Slipping letters signed “Anonymous” under office doors in the dead of night has never been the American way.  It happens; my clergyman complained about it from his pulpit when gay marriage was being debated, and told the congregation he’d no longer read these unsigned missives.  Moreover, the ease of cloaking one’s identity on the internet has made anonymity common. But the internet’s meant to be used for small things like photographing your cheeseburger or your dog dressed up as a ballerina-- things that can go “blip” in a moment.

To knowingly publish an “Anonymous” op-ed is something newspapers ordinarily refuse to do. “Protecting a source” is one thing. But publishing an “Anonymous” critical essay is patting someone on the head for dishing out the heat, but not willing to take it.

That’s a coward.

Few remember him today, but Hans Morganthau was Jewish political scientist who managed to escape Nazi Germany and found a place in America’s greatest universities. He was an advisor to President John F. Kennedy and a great proponent of democracy. But when Columbia University professor Charles Van Doren was fired from his Columbia teaching job for having lied and misled the public on a popular quiz show for a large amount of money and no little celebrity “fame,” Morganthau scolded students for sending him letters supporting the disgraced Van Doren but signed “Anonymous.”

You live in America, Morganthau responded to the quivering students, who said they feared “reprisals” for signing their names.  You’re not living under a Nazi dictatorship, so why do you act like you do?  Why do you tremble? Who do you fear? Honesty means telling the truth, and being accountable, and signing your name. Van Doren was dishonest even with investigators, and so Columbia fired him for that dishonesty. In America, you have rights and avenues of appeal if you feel you’ve been wronged for signing your name to something.  And those persons about whom you’ve written have rights, too.

We sort these things out in courts that carry America’s flag. We don’t knock our enemies down in darkness and run away.

We’re a government of laws, and not of men.

The Constitution that came after the Declaration of Independence spelled these rights out, and freedom of speech was one of them. Newspapers have received the lion’s share of speech protections and privileges, as have their writers. This is why sucker-punches to a president like the New York Times’s op-ed “masked man” writer are so obviously unfair, and un-American.

Big things deserve a signature, a name, an identity, and the courage to stand by one’s convictions.

John Hancock signed his name, bigly.

“Anonymous?” They’re a coward—and the name speaks for itself.

 

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Sarah Whalen

sarahw2Sarah Whalen is a university journalism instructor, attorney and author.

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