MOST resignation statements are anodyne falsehoods designed to paper over whatever disagreements led to them. That is how Gary Cohn’s sounds at first. “It has been an honour to serve my country and enact pro-growth policies to benefit the American people, in particular the passage of historic tax reform,” said Mr Cohn in a statement issued by the White House on March 6th, before signing off with expressions of gratitude and good wishes for the president. Read that sentence again, however, and what it does not say speaks volumes.

Mr Cohn, who was head of the National Economic Council and Donald Trump’s top economic advisor, was always an awkward fit for this White House. Like the Queens-bred, Manhattan-bound Mr Trump, he is an ambitious outsider: an electrician’s son from Cleveland who became president and COO of Goldman Sachs. Mr Trump, who promised to drain the swamp and won the presidency after an openly nativist campaign, then stocked his administration with Goldman Sachs alums, including Mr Cohn, whom Mr Trump’s more fervent supporters derided as “Globalist Gary”.

Mr Cohn, who is Jewish, nearly quit last August, after Mr Trump referred to the Nazis who marched through Charlottesville as “very fine people”. But he told the Financial Times soon afterward that he felt a patriotic duty to remain at his post, and vowed, “I will not allow neo-Nazis ranting ‘Jews will not replace us’ to cause this Jew to leave his job.”

He also stayed to help drive through Mr Trump’s tax reform. In an administration hostile to expertise and stocked with nationalists, Mr Cohn was the voice of business. Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary (also a Goldman Sachs veteran, but one who never rose as high as Mr Cohn), always seemed happy to go on television and shower Mr Trump with praise. Mr Cohn did not; he was there to work. 

His main task was fending off the harms of protectionism. That pitted him against both the Trump administration’s nationalist wing and the president’s nationalist instincts. He held out for a while. But last week Mr Trump announced that he intended to levy hefty tariffs on imported steel and aluminium. Mr Cohn opposed them.

Tariffs and hostility to free trade are among the few issues on which Mr Trump has been consistent throughout his career. Once Mr Trump made clear he was forging ahead, Mr Cohn, as his statement suggests, knew that his scope to enact pro-growth policies had shrunk. How markets, which saw Mr Cohn as a stabilising force inside the White House, will react remains unclear; last August they plummeted on the threat he might leave.

At a press conference shortly before Mr Cohn announced his departure, Mr Trump pushed back against the suggestion that his White House was in turmoil. “Everyone wants to work in the White House, they want a piece of the Oval Office, they want a piece of the West Wing,” he said. On February 28th Hope Hicks, one of Mr  Trump’s longest-serving advisors, resigned one day after the president reportedly berated her for telling congressional investigators that she sometimes told “white lies” for him. Earlier in the month Rob Porter, a staff secretary, resigned after his ex-wives accused him of physical and emotional abuse. No White House in the past five has had a higher first-year turnover rate. 

Others may be on the way out. On March 6th CNN reported that Mr Trump has approved of the way Anthony Scaramucci, who lasted 11 days as White House communications director, has publicly bashed John Kelly, the chief of staff. H.R. McMaster, the national security advisor, is also reportedly close to leaving. Like Mr Cohn, Messrs Kelly and McMaster remain at their posts out of a sense of patriotic duty. Apparently that counts for little with Mr Trump, who seems to ignore their advice and sanction their public humiliation. 

Mr Trump says he likes conflict; he enjoys watching two opposing sides duke it out. The implication is that the better side will win. But that is not always true. For the past year, Mr Cohn battled the White House’s protectionists; they prevailed. Now the adults are running for the exits.