The last four years have provided us with a number of tantalizing mysteries. Just how many Melania Trumps are there? Who was White House Covid-19 patient zero? What, exactly, is going on with George and Kellyanne Conway? Will we ever recover from the Trump presidency?
On Wednesday, one of its least intriguing open questions was answered. The real author of the briefly explosive but historically flaccid New York Times op-ed “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration” and subsequent 300-page version of that op-ed, A Warning, unmasked himself as Miles Taylor, a longtime Republican staffer who served as chief of staff to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Acting Secretary Chad Wolf.
Given the possible names bandied about as Anonymous’s true identity—John Kelly! Bill Stepien! Mike Pence!—the revelation that it was Taylor, hardly a household name, was a bit of a letdown, even if it was always highly likely that the shadowy figure was going to be the White House equivalent of middle management. That Taylor has, since the summer, emerged as a vocal critic of Trump and ally of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project only makes it less surprising.
Still, the revelation is revealing. It shows the extraordinary extent to which Taylor concealed his own complicity in one of the Trump administration’s most heinous acts: He helped spin the administration’s family separation policy—perhaps the most morally abhorrent policy of an administration that specializes in abhorrent policies—as being about “protecting children.” It also reveals not only the lengths that ex-Trump officials will go to launder their soiled reputations but the eagerness with which mainstream media and publishing institutions will help them do so.
“I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” published in 2018, and A Warning, published in 2019, are almost comically inept documents, even with the tiniest bit of hindsight. Both consist of an endless litany of familiar criticisms of the president’s boorishness, stupidity, incompetence, and malevolence, without adding anything new to the most well-worn genre of the Trump era: people complaining anonymously to the media about the president’s personality and job performance. And both depict a group of determined government officials working in the shadows to put country above party and protect the nation from a dangerous and unstable leader.
The overall sense is of a cabal of patriots who are in shock at what is happening around them (variations of “We all watched with a sense of doom” are peppered throughout) but are serious-minded and competent: They excel at stymying the president and yet, miraculously, evade responsibility for his administration’s moral failings. It is a portrait curiously at odds with much of what is happening in many departments under Trump. This is, after all, a government in which the Postal Service is barely functioning and the Department of the Interior is pushing Trump ads on its Instagram account. Taylor was offering a warning but also a reason to breathe easy: There are people working behind the scenes to make sure that Trump only fucks stuff up so much.
The biggest problem with both documents is that they had so little new insight. Taylor always privileged preserving his own anonymity over providing the public with relevant information. Taking every precaution not to be found out meant that he couldn’t actually write much that was interesting or informative. After all, if he were to take us inside the Department of Homeland Security, where he worked, then we would know that he worked at the Department of Homeland Security!
Now that we know that Anonymous was Taylor, however, it’s clear that there was extra motivation for obscuring particulars of his identity. Knowledge of Taylor’s involvement with the child separation policy would have jeopardized his growing status as a hero of the hashtag resistance, since he was actually complicit in the president’s horrific agenda.
Taylor condemns the administration’s immigration policies in ways that are now darkly ironic. “In the process of bungling border security, Donald Trump has obliterated America’s reputation as a nation of immigrants. This is a deeply Republican, conservative, classical liberal conception—that the United States is a refuge for those seeking a better life,” he writes. Later, things take an even more absurd turn: “Sadly, you hear little repudiation of Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric from his homeland security officials, who appear to be living in a dazed state of Stockholm syndrome.”
Taylor, it goes without saying, was one of these homeland security officials. He even helped launder the anti-immigrant rhetoric and sell the anti-immigrant policies!
Those who keep their heads down will live to regret it. Cautionary tales are plentiful. Go no further than the president’s homeland security leaders, who, in a sickening display of bad judgment, conceded to a policy that increased the number of children ripped from the arms of their parents at the US-Mexico border. It left a stain on their reputations, their department, and the country. It was a seminal moment of Trumpism gone too far and a lesson for others. Trump’s character rubs off on people who came into government to do what is right. Before long, they find themselves supporting and defending policies they never imagined they would.
One of the most disturbing aspects of this charade is the complicity of members of the New York Times op-ed page—though the primary offender, then-editor James Bennet, is no longer with the paper—and Twelve, a Hachette imprint, which published A Warning. Taylor’s employment at the Department of Homeland Security and role in the administration’s immigration policy were highly relevant to his critique. From a journalistic and moral standpoint, the Times and Twelve badly failed their readers. This was never someone who deserved anonymity. The public gained nothing from it. But Taylor has gained a great deal.
Even if he didn’t benefit financially—he didn’t accept an advance and said he would donate his royalties to nonprofits—he has arguably gained something more valuable. His anti-Trump efforts have rebuilt his reputation. Taylor now has a gig at CNN, despite having obscured his work in the administration and despite having lied repeatedly about being Anonymous, even directly to host Anderson Cooper. He spent two years working in the agency behind the Trump administration’s most disgusting policies. Now he gets to spend the rest of his life pretending that he was actually a hero of the resistance.