Should You Work for a Criminal President?
President Trump’s most recent crimes — inciting a violent mob to maraud in the U.S. Capitol, leading to loss of life, and then praising the terrorists afterward — has led some of his most egregious enablers, including Bill Barr, Mick Mulvaney, Stephanie Grisham, and Lindsey Graham, to finally denounce him and / or resign from his administration. But their moves come way too late, after these individuals and their colleagues lied and facilitated Trump crimes and abuses for years. Their motivations for acting or speaking out now could stem from principle, but might also arise from hopes of preserving their reputations and future job prospects.
The current circumstance, though, compels a reconsideration of what well-intentioned individuals should do if, somehow, America elects as president a person wholly unfit for office. It’s a situation I hope our country never repeats, but given the state of our society and political discourse, it could easily happen again. And the question has clear relevance for the next 13 days.
There is a strong argument that capable and conscientious people were right to take key political appointee jobs at the start of the Trump administration and as the administration moved into subsequent years, even as Trump proved himself to be the most corrupt and vile president in our history. It could have been far worse for the country if Trump were surrounded only by people who were weak and damaged, like him. If there were only Steve Millers, Jared Kushners, Scott Pruitts, Betsy DeVos’s, and Sebastian Gorkas, without people (agree with them on the issues or not) like Jim Mattis and Gary Cohn. Same consideration for career government staff — it was good for the country that many stayed in their jobs, doing their best for the public interest.
Even for the last two weeks of the Trump administration, it is in the national interest for steady, capable, moral people to stay in office to try preventing Trump, in his final days, from further endangering public safety and national security.
But truly ethical people would have, from the start, refused to lie for Trump, or enable his abuses, as people like Barr and Mulvaney relentlessly did. The right thing would have been for people to do their best to constrain and prevent Trump’s abuses, and, failing that, stand up to Trump internally and then publicly expose and denounce his misconduct and failures, in the process resigning or provoking their firings. That would have created successive waves of public awareness and outrage. The effect would have been to build the case that Trump was corrupt, erratic, dangerous, and unfit for office, increasing public and internal pressure for impeachment and removal from office, or invocation by the Vice President and the cabinet of the 25th Amendment. That could have pushed out Trump mid-presidency — over his Russia obstruction, Ukraine crimes, financial conflicts of interest and misconduct, and perhaps other crimes and abuses we don’t even know about yet.