Leyth Swidan | SIPA Class of 2018
I had the privilege of working at the White House during the summer of 2013. My experience there taught me the true value of public service, and motivated me to intern at the State Department the following three summers. During my four summers in Washington, I believed in serving the greater good of humanity and the world, and I had faith in my republic. But not anymore. If you’re looking to make an effective and lasting impact on this country and change the world, you might want to look beyond the White House or any federal government agency.
Aspiring public servants with progressive values have been facing a dilemma since Election Day: to enter government service or not. I believed public servants with values and morals were needed now more than ever for the sake of our democracy, country, and future administrations. Despite Trump’s campaign rhetoric, which challenged the nobility of government service, I thought there was a place for idealistic individuals within the new administration. Perhaps I was mistaken. If the last three weeks have taught us anything, it is that we cannot support erratic and unethical policies by working for the Trump administration for the sake of “public service.”
The United States is currently in despair. It only took President Trump ten days in office to spark off massive protests in just about every city in the country – from New York City to Los Angeles – due to his hateful executive actions. Two weeks ago, more than 100 diplomats at the State Department signed a dissent memo opposing Trump’s executive order banning immigration. The White House’s official response of “either get with the program or go” suggests that public servants are seen as dispensable by the Trump administration. It is clear that public servants will have very little influence over what the administration prioritizes, as they execute reckless policies while concerns of public servants are largely ignored.
Now is the time to decide whether we will be part of the silent majority that serves in Trump’s government or if we will fight for the rights of those being marginalized. We must stay loud, keep calling, keep marching, and keep resisting. Critical organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and American Civil Liberties Union need people with relevant government experience, language skills and graduate degrees now more than ever.
At a time when confidence in our democracy is lacking, we need to move beyond creating rogue Twitter accounts for government agencies. This is the time to join in the rise of activism instead of supporting existing policies within government agencies. We need people to speak out publicly without fear of being reprimanded and make an immediate impact while standing on the right side of history. This is not to say that government work is not important; it is. Rather, it is to emphasize that fighting for what is right in this country, like being pro-choice, pro-LGBT equality and pro-immigration reform, must be a priority.
The Trump administration’s erosion of American civil rights and immoral executive actions that threaten immigrants, refugees, Muslims and the LGBTQ community stand in contrast to our most fundamental values. This abuse of executive authority requires our country’s best and brightest to counter the effects of Trump’s orders and fight for unity and justice based on values that truly make America great.
Some may fear that governmental departments will be filled with climate change deniers and other Americans who agree with Trump’s decisions if liberal public servants find other avenues for work. However, it has been clear that these government workers will play a very limited role in government regardless of their beliefs. Others would argue that public servants are needed for their respect for democratic norms and that there is a moral responsibility to serve because of fear of Trump’s unconstitutional policies. This would be true if we had a president who was fit to serve the country. Unfortunately, we do not.
Government workers lack agency to create change within the institution, especially within the current administration. And as we have seen, signing a dissent memo will only get public servants so far. Now is the time to turn our anger into action, and renew our faith in our republic and humanity. Take off those government ID badges and dust off those law books. We have much work to do.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Morningside Post.