Like captives in a hostage video blinking in code, officials in Donald Trump’s cabinet seem to be trying to send us signals.
On Tuesday came details from Fear: Trump in the White House, the latest administration colonscopy from Washington Post eminence grise Bob Woodward.
In it, cabinet officials are seen crafting workarounds to scuttle the most impetuous of Mr Trump’s diktats.
Economics czar Gary Cohn is reported to have swiped a memo ending a trade deal with South Korea off Trump’s desk so he couldn’t sign it.
Defence secretary James Mattis ignores a Trump order to kill Syrian president Bashar al-Assad after a poison gas bombing.
Chief of staff John Kelly is reported to rant that Mr Trump is an “idiot” and that working in the White House is “crazy town”.
The self-serving anecdotes (Mr Woodward doesn’t name his sources, but “breadcrumbs,” as one DC scribe called them, point in the direction of Cohn and other officials past and present) could be seen as the price of good reporting.
That some in the White House were enduring Mr Trump out of a sense of duty was a background noise.
But this sense of national sacrifice became more explicit hours later with the extraordinary publication in The New York Times of a first-person account, written by an anonymous high-ranking administration official, depicting the “resistance” within the Trump White House.
“Many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations,” the official wrote. “I would know. I am one of them.”
Make no mistake, this is no coincidence; Woodward’s book and the New York Times account are the beginning of a new narrative meant to explain, or absolve, those working in the White House.
They will no doubt put even more pressure on the embattled White House.
Whether or not to accept these rationales is another matter, as is the more important issue of what this means for the country.
The Times piece is particularly riveting, and disquieting. The anonymous scribe says they want the administration to succeed, and agree with tax cuts, military spending and deregulation.
But they describe Mr Trump as “amoral” and without principle, given to endless rants and “half-baked decisions … that have to be walked back.”
None of this is new, and it is backed up in spades by anecdotes in the Woodward book. But the Times scribe wants us to feel for these “unsung heroes”, to take “cold comfort … that there are adults in the room.”
That’s hard to do, when the writer acknowledges that they and other officials considered invoking the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, a complicated process that allows for the removal of an incapacitated president.
“But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.”
However intended, this is truly dangerous thinking.
US history is full of appointed officials, working at the behest of a president, who had an outsized impact on American life.
But the idea of a band of unelected staffers running the country is antithetical to democracy.
Who elected you?
Where do you get off suggesting you know best how to proceed in spite of a president you acknowledge is incapable?
This let’s-wing-it route is preposterous, rooted in the duplicity and dishonesty that Mr Trump flaunts daily.
The combined effect of the Woodward book and the Times essay is to elide the original sin these administration officials committed.
They came aboard the Trump White House knowing, in varyingly intimate degrees, the extent of his mendacity, racism, ignorance and narcissism.
To absolve them now, they walk out of the White House labelled as nothing more than fools, no more astute at judging character than Omarosa Manigault Newman, the ridiculous, once-obsequious Apprentice contestant-turned-White House-adviser who had a convenient epiphany when she was fired earlier this year.
If these ‘patriots’ really think Mr Trump is a danger, they should pull off their masks and seek guidance in the Constitution.
They should rely on the institutions they claim to be protecting and employ the tools of the Founding Fathers, who anticipated the occasional rogue, fool or tyrant making it to the White House.
It would be a painful and long ordeal, but it would cleanse the country in ways that self-regarding essays and anecdotes never will.
In the meantime, should you see a member of the Trump administration on television in the coming days, count how many times he blinks.
He might be trying to tell you something.