I take it that, as a conservative, you will not quibble with the gender binary implied in my salutation, so I’ll just get to the point.
Most of you probably didn’t vote for Donald Trump in your primary. You may even have identified with #NeverTrump or #StillNeverTrump or #NeverEverTrump or #AlwaysNeverTrump, but you haven’t yet announced that you’re actually going to vote for his general election opponent, or, after the election, admitted that you didn’t vote for him. What happens if, in a calculatedly magnanimous gesture, intended precisely to appeal to (or reassure) people like you or people who respect people like you, Donald Trump offers you a post in his Administration?
If it’s before Election Day and you can’t imagine anything worse than a Trump victory, then your decision is easy. You graciously decline, because, as a conservative, you’re committed to the forms and formalities of decency, even if Donald Trump usually isn’t.
But suppose that the political calculus is more complicated: while you’re pretty confident that you know—and won’t like—what a President Clinton or a President Sanders would do, but you’re understandably less certain of what a President Trump would do. Might he actually listen to, and indeed follow, the advice of people like you? He has, after all, frequently reassured us that he’ll hire the best people, which ordinarily would imply that he’ll let those best people do what they do best.
Let me walk you through a couple of scenarios, beginning with an offer of appointment made before the election, made as a calculated political move to sway public opinion. Should you accept the offer of employment, or even let it be known that you’re considering an offer of employment, you’re lending your credibility to Donald Trump and his campaign. You’re helping him try to win.
It’s plausible to suppose that, as a candidate, Donald Trump will be Donald Trump. The brand, the persona, and the character are pretty well established. He is who he is. Regardless of what his “handlers” want, he will say all sorts of outrageous things that don’t reflect your views and, indeed, embarrass you. He loses the general election, so he never has the opportunity to show us how presidential he can be, once it really matters. If you lent your credibility to Trump before the election, and he loses (having run the campaign he’s likely to run), then it seems to me that you go down with his ship. Your name, your character, and your judgment are presumptively sullied by your association with Donald Trump. You can rehabilitate yourself—if Richard Nixon can do it, so can you—but it will take time. Of course, with Republicans out of power all over D.C., you’ll have lots of time to explain yourself to your peers serving on the minority staff of Congressional committees or working at think tanks like Heritage or AEI.
But let’s assume that Donald Trump somehow wins the general election. Perhaps being himself doesn’t matter because of the general awfulness of his opponent, or perhaps the combination of a more disciplined campaign than any of us thought possible and the emergence of a voting bloc that many of us thought unlikely yields a Trump victory. You’re in the Trump Administration. What then?
If you do your job and he takes your advice, great! The country will be better off than many of us expected it would or could be.
I think it more likely, however, that Trump will always, or at least eventually, be Trump. He will neither pay attention to the nuances of policy nor defer to those who do. He will shoot from the lip, er, hip. In addition to offending those he should offend, he will offend those he shouldn’t. His mistakes and misstatements won’t just cost him ratings points or an opportunity at financial gain, they’ll cost our people some of their hard-earned bread or our country credibility with friends and foes alike. His Administration won’t “make America great again.”
If you’re a conservative and a patriot, you probably owe it to your country to serve, if asked, in a Trump Administration. There’s a chance you can do some good, or at least prevent some harm. But if Trump remains Trump, there will likely come a time—perhaps sooner, perhaps later—when you will have no choice but to resign in protest. You will have done all the good you can do, and there will be no other way to try to prevent the harm that is being done. I’m not suggesting that you walk away after the first ill-advised statement or action, but when there is the proverbial “long train of abuses and usurpations,” it seems to me you likely have no choice. To be sure, you’ll be replaced by someone worse, but at that point the only reasonable and righteous course will be resistance. You will have done what any honorable man or woman would have and could have done.
Let me repeat: You have no obligation to lend Donald Trump your credibility in the course of the campaign, but you do have an obligation to serve, if asked, after the election. Devotion to your country and your principles requires that of you. But the same devotion requires that you resist when you can no longer influence.
I have to say that I’m glad I’m not in your shoes, but I’m glad you are.
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