Career civil and foreign service employees in the U.S. government woke up last week to the prospect of having to work for Donald Trump. What are all these (publicly discreet) professionals actually thinking right now? We have a small glimpse.
Those who make careers out of public service know that political parties go in and out of power. Even so, the idea of having Donald Trump as a boss was a gut check for many. We obtained the following email, which a State Department official working abroad sent to some colleagues last week, after the results of the election became clear. Though it is only one voice, it is illuminating.
Although you signed up to be foreign service officers no matter which party took power (and there undoubtedly would have been a time when the Republicans held the White House), you didn’t sign up for the ignorant, misogynistic, homophobic, racist and fascist bullshit that Trump promulgated during his campaign. Stay true to your values; no job is worth violating basically held beliefs. If at any time you feel like you would breach your values, you should get out of the government.
That said, your presence — and that of the vast majority of FSOs and civil servants who also appreciate the diversity of humanity — could help anchor a Trump administration. You have experience and knowledge, and you can find yourself in a position where you can explain why potentially misguided policy won’t work. Find safe topics and areas where your thoughts overlap with the administration, and hunker down in those embassies and positions for the term. [...]
The Iraq War under Bush was a disaster, and I struggled to reconcile Iraq, Guantanamo and waterboarding with my own values, and for the most part, I didn’t deal with them at all. I expect Trump will also have similar catastrophes (though at least he seems to recognize the Iraq War for the disaster that it was) that we may have to defend to the public. That’s not easy, and in fact can be painful. It’s strange and a little claustrophobic for Democrats under any Republican president, just as it has been for Republican FSOs under Obama. Colleagues will dodge any direct political expression until they know you well; conservatives will sycophantically praise the Administration; some FSOs will abandon their beliefs to flatter political appointees and jockey for promotion. You will likely be extremely careful what you say to whom, and feel people out until you’re comfortable enough to express yourself. But be mindful that many of your colleagues share your pain. You have likeminded friends everywhere in the State Department, as you saw from our glum faces at the election breakfast.
Finally, stay out of Washington as much as possible. It’s far more political than the embassies.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around what happened last week, but I intend to continue to work in the State Department for at least the next four years. Unless anything happens that compels me to quit.
If you are a U.S. federal government employee who would like to share your thoughts on the prospect of working for a Trump administration, email me.