The Importance of Working in the Trump Administration

And 11 other thoughts about how to handle life under The Donald.

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 16:   Business mogul Donald Trump points as he gives a speech as he announces his candidacy for the U.S. presidency at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015 in New York City.  Trump is the 12th Republican who has announced running for the White House.  (Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 16: Business mogul Donald Trump points as he gives a speech as he announces his candidacy for the U.S. presidency at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015 in New York City. Trump is the 12th Republican who has announced running for the White House. (Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)

Sometimes writing is easy, but sometimes it’s hard. I’ve been finding it particularly hard to write about the election results; Every time I sit down to write, I start second-guessing myself. I finally decided to just write down what I’ve been thinking, complete with ambivalence, second thoughts, and occasional contradictions. In no particular order, here are my thoughts, two weeks after the election:

1) It happened. It wasn’t just a dream. Barring some truly weird new development, Donald Trump, flashy real estate mogul and trashy reality TV star, is going to be America’s next president.

2) But maybe there will be some truly weird new development. Hillary Clinton got two million more votes than Donald Trump, and there’s a move afoot to persuade members of the Electoral College to honor the popular vote and cast their ballots for Clinton. There’s also an effort underway to request recounts in some states, particularly amid allegations of a Russian cyber campaign to monkey with the election results. It’s extremely doubtful that either of these efforts will keep Trump out of the White House, but we live in strange times. You never know.

3) Trump is scary. He’s poorly informed, petty and volatile, and his appalling reluctance to fully repudiate the white supremacists, anti-Semites and xenophobes empowered by his campaign is chilling.

4) But all things considered, I’d rather have all that nastiness out in the open. Ethnic, religious, and race-based hatred and intolerance are nothing new in American politics, but for decades, mainstream politicians from both parties have largely succeeded in denying their existence, framing those who insist on talking about such things as paranoids or malcontents. It’s horrifying to see the Ku Klux Klan and other far-right groups emerge from the shadows, but let’s not kid ourselves: They’ve been with us all along. With luck, their emergence into the daylight will shake up the complacent and inspire powerful new movements for justice and equality.

5) Let’s not dismiss all Trump supporters as hate-filled throwbacks. Some Trump supporters fit that description, but most don’t. Some voters held their noses and opted for Trump simply because they’re lifelong Republicans. Some voters decided they disliked Hillary Clinton even more than they disliked Donald Trump. Some voters were poorly informed, and are likely to get some nasty surprises from the candidate they supported. Some voters just wanted to throw a big rock in the general direction of Washington, and this year the rock was called “Trump.”

6) With luck, Trump won’t be able to do nearly as much damage as many people fear. Our political system was designed to put the brakes on any efforts to usher in rapid change, and President Trump will likely find, like every president before him, that campaign promises aren’t so easy to implement. Supreme Court justices can prove aggravatingly independent, and Congress often prefers conflict to cooperation, even when the White House is controlled by the same party that controls the Senate and House. Within the executive branch, cabinet members don’t always see eye to eye with the president; career civil servants and military officers can bury new initiatives in red tape. Beyond its borders, U.S. allies and adversaries get a vote, too: they can constrain America’s freedom of action by offering or withholding military, economic, and diplomatic cooperation. And four years is only four years.

7) Still, a president can do a lot of damage in four years. Wars can start, hatred can spread, economic hardship can destroy communities, and families can be ripped part by deportations. The most vulnerable Americans — minorities and the poor — can be hurt, badly, in four short years.

8) This makes it absolutely vital for all decent people currently working within the federal government to stay in place — and for responsible Republicans, especially those who opposed Trump, to go into the new administration (if they’re not blacklisted). Now, more than ever, America needs men and women with integrity to serve the public as federal employees. If Trump drives out all the good people in government, who will be left to speak out against foolish, dangerous, or mean-spirited initiatives?

9) But if you’re a civil servant, military officer, or political appointee, and you’re planning to stay in or join the Trump administration, you need to be thinking now about your personal red lines — and planning what you will do to make sure Trump doesn’t come close to crossing them. What would make you decide to resign? Renewed authorization of waterboarding and other forms of torture? The mass deportation of all the “Dreamers,” the undocumented young people who were brought to the United States as small children and have no other life to which they may return? A repudiation of the Paris climate accords? Think about these questions now — because if you don’t, you’ll wake up someday and realize that your personal red lines were crossed a long time ago, and you won’t like looking at yourself in the mirror.

10) That means you too, World. Even Donald Trump will discover that the United States needs friends, and America’s allies can help keep the country on the straight and narrow. If Trump makes noise about authorizing torture or repudiating U.S. treaty obligations, don’t be nice and diplomatic. Tell Trump and his representatives, in no uncertain terms, that there will be dire consequences if the administration goes off the rails — and be ready to use the withdrawal of military, intelligence, and economic cooperation as a tool to nudge the United States back into the role of semi-responsible superpower.

11) Everyone needs to stop asking, “What will happen in a Trump administration?” That’s a silly question, because no one knows (including, I’d bet, Donald Trump).It’s also the wrong question, insofar as it implies that the future is entirely beyond our control. Here’s what we should be asking ourselves, instead: What do we want to have happen in the next four years? And what can we do, now and tomorrow and every day after that, to make our hopes a reality?

12) So, ‘nuff said. Let’s get to work.

Photo credit: CHRISTOPHER GREGORY/Getty Images

Rosa Brooks is a law professor at Georgetown University and a senior fellow with the New America/Arizona State University Future of War Project. She served as a counselor to the U.S. defense undersecretary for policy from 2009 to 2011 and previously served as a senior advisor at the U.S. State Department.

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