In the summer of 2016 I applied for and was offered a very cool low-level job at the Department of Justice. I’ve never written publicly about this before. I won’t say any more about what the job was, which office, and so forth, except to say it was a career appointment, not a political appointment, and I was excited by the prospects. We were looking at schools and towns in Maryland, contemplating the sad thought of uprooting ourselves from Boston, filling out extremely burdensome security clearance paperwork, contemplating the need to shut down this blog. Then the election happened, and a few days later I rescinded my acceptance. It wasn’t about Democrats and Republicans. I would not have taken that step in 2000 or 2004, or in 1980, 1984, or 1988. But it was immediately and abundantly clear to me that I could not go to work for Donald Trump.
I don’t claim I had any special insight. Everyone paying the least attention could see what I saw in the lead-up to the election. I wrote about it here often. Trump was a moral disaster, a danger to the Republic, a buffoon, a soulless egoist. Even today they say the country is still divided on Trump, and I still can’t figure out why everyone doesn’t see, or doesn’t admit to seeing, what’s as plain as the nose on your face. Nor do I claim any courage or special virtue: I had a stable job that I liked and that paid a lot more than government work. The reason I tell my small story is in order to say: I know a little about refusing to associate oneself with Trump, even in a small way.
In the last couple of weeks I think we are beginning to see that there will be a post-Trump future. As we have seen that there is no foreign policy decision too craven and dishonorable, no self-dealing too blatant, no domestic policy too cruel, no incompetence too jaw-dropping for this administration, and people who have worked for Trump and tried to curry favor with him are starting to turn, and we can imagine that in a few years there will be a wave of revisionist memoirs, “resistance from inside the White House” and that sort of thing. When that happens, what should we do?
I want to suggest that the opportunists who rode the escalator with Trump to the top, everyone from the Republican Senators to right-wing pundits to evangelical preachers, needs to pay a hefty political and personal price and needs to spend a long time—years, certainly—in the wilderness when this is all over. Not because that outcome will be satisfying, but because only the example they will set will dissuade the ambitious and unscrupulous from working for the next Trump when he or she comes our way. I am not talking about the rank-and-file Trump supporters who take their cues from their political elites. I’m not talking about the career civil servants who stayed on and did the best they could. But everyone who benefited personally or politically from the Trump phenomenon and who held their noses or looked the other way needs to pay the price. And the “Never Trump” Republicans who did not bow to pressure should be politically rewarded. Unless we kill Trumpism dead in the Republican Party, it will be back in 2020 or 2024. This is strong medicine, but I think the body politic needs it and the Republican Party needs it.