Everyone is talking about the NYT op-ed by the Trump appointee who sees him/herself as protecting the US from a clear and all-too-present danger in the Oval Office. I’m on the road, so I’m late to the party, but here in very summary form is my two cents, taking the op-ed as true for sake of discussion.
- Underminig the boss is often a moral problem, but it is only a constitional problem if you do it wrong. Manipulating the boss is different from just ignoring the boss. Playing bureaucratic games to get your way is probably a Washington passtime than is older than the White House. Flat out ignoring the boss’s orders is subversive of the constitutional order, a violation of a duty of loyalty to the boss, and arguably a violation of every appointee’s oath to preserve and protect the Constitution of the USA– a document that for better or much worse has made Trump the President in law as well as in name.
- What if the boss is morraly terrible? Ignoring the boss could be a very hard moral issue in extreeme cases. Some ends do justify some means. If the issue were the preservation of the Republic, or preservation of many lives, I think our author would have moral (but not legal) justification for the behavior. If the issues are, as we get the sense they are, ‘mere’ policy – stopping Trump doing things that are very very stupid but not existential dangers – then the moral justification for the illegality and personal disloyalty is much weaker. Quitting and saying why might be a better course.
- I am reminded of Daniel Drezner’s piece on whether you should work for Trump, and especially Elliot Cohen’s “I told conservatives to work for Trump. One talk with his team changed my mind”. The warning signs were there from the first.
- It’s hard to read the oped without speculating unkindly about the author’s motives. If your goal really were to subvert from within in the interst of the survival of the Republic, why would you advertise that until after the fact? That op-ed is not going to make the job easier. It might be justified if the goal were to bring down this President (and bring in Mike Pence – an improvement how exactly?), but there’s nothing in the four corners of the oped to support that view. Rather, it seems to me like an exercise in ass-covering, a marker that some weasel put down for the future so that after the whole con collapses he/she can disclaim the taint that–if there is any karma or justice–will follow everyone who was part of Operation FUBAR for the rest of their natural life and beyond.
- I’m also reminded of what the late great Charles L. Black, Jr. said about how he thought a government official should deal with the hypothetical ‘terroris with an A-bomb’ scenario. The scenario was and is deployed to test intuitions about whether torture could ever be justified–what people who say torture is never justified would do if they believed the terrorists’ claim to have put the ticking time bomb in a big city. Read the fuller account, but the takeaway is that if you decide conscience requires an illegal act, you have a moral duty to turn yourself in right afterwards and face the music, whether it’s prosccution or pardons and a medal.Our op-ed writer is not following that model.
- And finally, remember this?