Former Bush State Department staffer Eliot Cohen warns conservatives off of serving a Trump administration in The Washington Post.
The tenor of the Trump team, from everything I see, read and hear, is such that, for a garden-variety Republican policy specialist, service in the early phase of the administration would carry a high risk of compromising one’s integrity and reputation.
In a normal transition to a normal administration, there’s always disorder. There are the presidential friends and second cousins, the flacks and the hangers-on who flame out in the first year or two. There are the bad choices — the abusive bosses, the angry ideologues and the sheer dullards. You accept the good with the bad and know that there will be stupid stuff going on, particularly at the beginning. Things shake out. Even if you are just blocking errors, it is a contribution.
In the best of times, government service carries with it the danger of compromising your principles. Here, though, we may be in for something much worse. The canary in the coal mine was not merely the selection ofStephen K. Bannon for the job previously filled by John Podesta and Karl Rove, that of counselor to the president and chief strategist. Rather, the warning signs came from the Republican leaders excusing and normalizing this sinister character — and those who then justified the normalizers.
One bad boss can be endured. A gaggle of them will poison all decision-making. They will turn on each other. No band of brothers this: rather the permanent campaign as waged by triumphalist rabble-rousers and demagogues, abetted by people out of their depth and unfit for the jobs they will hold, gripped by grievance, resentment and lurking insecurity. Their mistakes — because there will be mistakes — will be exceptional.
Nemesis pursues and punishes all administrations, but this one will get a double dose. Until it can acquire some measure of humility about what it knows, and a degree of magnanimity to those who have opposed it, it will smash into crises and failures. With the disarray of its transition team, in a way, it already has.
My bottom line: Conservative political types should not volunteer to serve in this administration, at least for now. They would probably have to make excuses for things that are inexcusable and defend people who are indefensible. At the very least, they should wait to see who gets the top jobs. Until then, let the Trump team fill the deputy assistant secretary and assistant secretary jobs with civil servants, retired military officers and diplomats, or the large supply of loyal or obsequious second-raters who will be eager to serve. The administration may shake itself out in a year or two and reach out to others who have been worried about Trump. Or maybe not.
I hope that I am wrong. I hope that the administration will settle down and that I can cheer it when it is right and offer temperate criticisms when it is wrong. But the auspices here are disturbing.
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