What’s More Dangerous: Leaks, or an Incompetent President Unfit for Office?

The leaks are a symptom, not the disease
Opinion • Views: 28,611

When transcripts of Donald Trump’s calls with foreign leaders were published yesterday by the Washington Post, many people were disturbed that this information was leaked to the press, pointing out that it’s dangerous and destabilizing when a president’s private calls don’t remain private.

And now, our far right Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced a crackdown on leaks, threatening to begin subpoenaing reporters who publish leaked information.

But this is precisely the wrong lesson to learn from this incident. My take on it is much more in line with this one by Brian Beutler: Keep the Trump Leaks Coming.

The most immediate effect of the disclosures, though, wasn’t to recenter the national political debate on the question of Trump’s obvious unfitness for his job, but to prompt a separate debate over the propriety of the leak.

“Leaking the transcript of a presidential call to a foreign leader is unprecedented, shocking, and dangerous,” argued The Atlantic’s David Frum. “It is vitally important that a president be able to speak confidentially—and perhaps even more important that foreign leaders understand that they can reply in confidence.”

National leaders should indeed need to be able to trust that their discussions with one another will remain secure. But we are far from the point where foreign leaders assume transcripts of their calls with Trump, let alone future presidents, will end up on the front pages. Many have been quick to assume that this leak will have a chilling effect on U.S. relations with other countries, without stopping to ponder the likelihood that some foreign leaders might be relieved to learn that factions within the U.S. government are taking extraordinary steps to weaken this particular president.

If there are norms worth fretting over here, they aren’t the ones that govern whistleblowing, but the ones that should govern what U.S. political leaders do when the president is too incompetent to serve. It is because of their cowardice—their refusal to uphold norms they were elected and appointed to guard—that these transcripts leaked in the first place.

Are leaks like this dangerous? Maybe so. But in my opinion it’s far more dangerous that we have an incompetent, incoherent buffoon in the Oval Office — in an administration that’s increasingly dominated by extreme right wing military members. And that danger needs much more attention, because it’s destroying the standing of the United States in the world community and putting us all in very great peril.

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