It turns out that lots of federal government employees are ready to share their thoughts on what it is like staring down the prospect of working under a Donald J. Trump administration.
Here are some of the replies we received after we asked government workers to tell us what they’re thinking about having Trump as the new boss. We will share more of these in days to come.
From a federal government employee
I’m a lifelong Republican. I am (was) a Republican because I believe in individual liberty, personal responsibility, and the rule of law. I thought other Republicans believed in those things too. In retrospect, that was probably naïve. Apparently bigotry and strongman posturing are more appealing to the GOP base. The party nominated an authoritarian, buffoonish carnival barker.
Now he’s the President-Elect. I work for a big Department that will be tasked with implementing a lot of his more unsavory ideas. Normally the Hatch Act dissuades people from openly discussing their political opinions. But everyone I know at work is scared and confused.
Election night hit me hard. I usually stay up most of the night eagerly watching the returns come in. Instead, by 10pm, I was lying in bed with the lights off, staring vacantly at the ceiling until the sun came up. The morning commute on the Metro was eerily silent. I’ve never seen so many people openly weeping in public. Normally I’m a news junky, but I’m still unable to bring myself to check Twitter or my normal news outlets. That’s a sign of depression, right? The result of this election has taken the joy out of things I love.
I have my dream job now. I got into government service because I want to make a positive difference in the world. I don’t want to help this man. I’m at a loss.
From a scientist with the Bureau of Land Management
When I first read who won on the morning of the 9th, my initial reaction was an outsized one, much like everyone else who wanted Hillary to win. I thought for sure that the BLM would be abolished, my career crushed, all public lands would fall into the grip of private ownership, and that the denial of climate change would come to dominate environmental and economic policy for the next four years. Eventually, after a few days, that fear waned and I began to think more critically about what a Trump victory means for the environment. Trump has advocated a policy of eliminating essentially all environmental regulations in order to promote economic growth and energy independence, which has many people gravely worried. As someone who directly administers energy production on public lands, my thoughts over the last couple days have gone from extreme fear to analyzing how Trump could implement such a policy, and how effective it would be in accomplishing what he wants. As many people know, the market for oil is deeply depressed right now, and it’s not due to any domestic factors, or excessive regulations. Republicans like to preach about the free market—well, the free market is what is depressing the price of oil and making it difficult to make domestic production possible... The same line of reason can be applied to coal, which Trump has promised to make viable again. But how? Natural gas is pushing coal into irrelevance. Trump thinks removing the federal coal leasing moratorium and other restrictions will bring coal back, but leases and mines already exist in droves, and yet coal companies are going bankrupt as fast as all of Trump’s personal businesses...
Renewable energy has a real grip in the domestic energy market, and it will only increase due to increasing domestic demand. There are enough people demanding a break from fossil fuels, and none of those people are suddenly going to change their minds and want to go back to coal and oil now that Trump is in power. I oversee a couple geothermal power plants, and the BLM is very interested in expanding geothermal energy production on public lands, as well as solar and wind power. I still believe this is future, not only from a purely idealistic standpoint, but also from an economic standpoint. This is bolstered by the USA’s participation in the Paris Accords, which Trump would be quite foolish to try to back out of, if he even could.
It is easy to forget that there are layers and layers and layers of regulations and laws in place that would make stripping down most regulations extremely difficult. We had a Bush administration for 8 years doing their damndest to undermine the environment, and we still turned out okay. It will be quite easy for organizations to file lawsuits against Trump policy decisions in federal appeals courts (which will actually be a better place to hear cases than whatever circus of a Supreme Court he comes up with), especially because I believe that many of his policy decisions will be heavy-handed attempts that will have no legal foundation.
The mandates for the BLM and BOEM in particular (and the Forest Service to a lesser degree) require the production of energy on public lands, and we generate a ton of money for the Treasury. So there simply is no way that won’t continue to happen. And the way the coal and oil markets are going, there is revenue to be made in renewables. I get the feeling that once Trump is informed of the economics of it all, since he loves money so much, it might have an effect of temperance.
From a federal government employee
In the building I work in, like many government buildings, there’s a wall with a series of official photographs, beginning with whoever is in charge of that office or installation. To one side, positioned a little higher, is a picture of the next person up the chain of command, and then the person after that, through the relevant cabinet member, and then, finally, the president. For the last eight years, Barack Obama’s smiling, reassuring face has been the last portrait on the wall. The psychological effect - on me, at least - is profound. I look at it and it means something to me. It reminds me why I’m there, why I put up with the bullshit, why what I do is important, why it’s important that I do it well, and do it right.
In a couple months, there will be a different face on that wall. That’s what I keep coming back to. I know all the awful policy implications of Republican control of government. I dread the new priorities and initiatives that are sure to come down the pike. I quake with fear of the persecution that might follow. As a white male, I struggle to imagine what it must feel like for women to live in a country whose head of state is a confessed sexual predator, or for ethnic and religious minorities to live under a president swept into power by a white nationalist movement.
But for what it’s worth, as a federal employee, what I keep coming back to, what makes me physically ill, is that photograph hanging on the wall. The thought of walking down that corridor that used to make me feel proud and inspired and being confronted with . . . that.
From an overseas employee of the State Department
If you, as a Foreign Service Officer, want to blunt the harmful impact a Trump Administration could bring and mitigate the damage that could be done to America’s international standing, your best option is to come back to Washington. The reason is simple: Washington sets the policy. Staying overseas is a losing proposition, especially if it means that your ability to bring positive change to America’s foreign policy is wasted trying to explain the parts you object to in a way that still allows you to look at yourself in the mirror the next morning.
I have been in the State Dept for eight years (coincidentally, my first day in the Department was the day after Obama was inaugurated), and one thing I’ve quickly picked up on was the disconnect between DC and its Embassies, especially when it came to formulating policies. I have seen the frustration in our diplomats when a disagreeable policy was set in motion and the mad scramble that comes through a flurry of cables to argue against a policy change. That frustration will be amplified many times over if someone such as former UN Ambassador John Bolton is appointed to be the next Secretary of State.
So, what should a FSO do? Bite the bullet and come back to DC. It’s the only way you’ll make an impact battling the xenophobia, racism, and misogyny that threatens this country.
From an employee in the Department of Labor
As you might imagine, my office voted heavily Clinton and expected her to win. On the day after, for the first time any of us could remember, the supervisors bought everyone breakfast and sat down to talk with us. I’ve been there almost 10 years and this will be my third President (started in Dubya’s last term) and we’ve never done anything like this before.
My boss’s message can be summed up as “Don’t worry. He probably doesn’t even know we exist.”
It was a small gesture, to be sure. But it went a long way towards reassuring us that it will be business as usual. For most of us, all we want is: 1) Trump to realize that it’s a huge task to change anything; and 2) he doesn’t have the interest/attention span/knowledge to care and just leaves us alone. That’s how bad some of us fear he could be - we’ll take our understaffed, overworked status quo over the possible nightmare future.
From a USAID employee
By noon [the day after election day], that panic had turned into resolve. There were two main reasons:
1. On our shield, it says “From the American people”. It doesn’t mention anything about our leaders, specifically a certain misogynistic butternut squash.
2. If I leave, they’ll replace me with someone that will make it easy for them. And fuck them. I can’t leave because of a person. I can only leave when an action or directive is placed on me that I can’t fulfill because of my moral conscience. And until then, I’ll protest and voice my opinion. We may be cogs in a bureaucracy, but the cogs run the machine - and if we leave, we give up that surprisingly powerful position...
Until I’m given a reason to quit - specifically an order that jeopardizes the lives or livelihoods of the people we serve or the taxpayers who fund our work and expect results that achieve the objectives that we publicly state - I’m staying.
From an employee of the Social Security Administration
I will tell you that SSA employees like me are largely fortunate in that that most presidential elections have limited impact on work life.
For one, the Hatch Act requires that we maintain a politically neutral work environment and it is a great law. Nothing makes a work day less bearable than having to listen to an insufferable coworker ramble on and on politically about _________, amiright? (God bless Orrin Hatch for once.). Aside from personal disappointment and/or elation subsequent each election cycle, my job at SSA is to administer an essential social program. Some staff lose sight of that fact from time to time, but on the whole our folks are even-keeled. As administrators, we frankly get paid to put our personal feelings to the side during work hours.
Second, the larger issue to me is that I have worked through several administrations and, while the various Presidents have differed greatly on how they believed Social Security policy and rules should change, my agency is a budgetary and policy-addled juggernaut. No one is turning this puppy around on a dime, for better or worse. Social Security has plenty of issues, but it should also remain largely on course through the next administration.
Business as usual.
And a different perspective from an employee of Customs and Border Protection
I work for CBP. you know what we’ve had to deal with the last 8 years? How about being told not to do your job, to ignore the law and long standing best practices? We get to process and release bad actors on a daily basis, from several countries who don’t like us, because we have a president who feels that borders aren’t necessary. We also haven’t received a raise in 5 years, while illegal aliens, people who shouldn’t be here, receive free home, health care, food, and welfare. We have had our jobs held hostage for political reasons, worked without pay, and had our budgets slashed, all while being publically dragged through the mud and portrayed as the enemy. The Obama administration does not care about Homeland Security, they care about votes. They wanted to turn the USA into a super nanny state, with as many people on the govt dole, to stay in power permanently. As a straight, white, Catholic male, I check every single box of deplorability. Thank God this change happened. I’m more than elated Trump got elected, by white, brown, and black men and women. Hopefully we can return to a civil society where rule of law and self sufficiency are the order of the day.
If you are a US federal government employee who would like to share your thoughts on the prospect of working for a Trump administration, email me. Anything published will be kept anonymous.