For complex historical reasons, Federal employees don’t get much love.
Republicans already had begun their war on expertise nearly 90 years ago, when they condemned the New Deal for being run by distant bureaucrats. Joseph McCarthy made a career accusing those bureaucrats of being Soviet spies. George Wallace demagogued that they were “pointy-headed intellectuals who couldn’t park a bicycle straight.”
This calumny has reached a peak with Trump. Federal employees are either denizens of the Swamp or agents of the Deep State conspiring with George Soros against Real ‘Murrica. Republicans have now reached the point where they think they can demolish the federal government, fulfilling Grover Norquist’s dream of making it small enough to drown in the bathtub.
Yet somehow Republican officials also believe their voting base will continue to get their Social Security checks delivered, their Medicare claims processed, and their doublewides promptly repaired by FEMA after they’re knocked off their cinder blocks by a hurricane or tornado. Magically, it seems, the work will get done without anyone to do it.
An honest, dedicated, professional, and apolitical civil service is a necessary adjunct to competent and humane governance. What happens when it’s rejected is evidenced by the number of COVID deaths in the United States that might have been avoided if not for the Trump regime’s sabotage of previous CDC guidance and denigration and the muzzling of government health experts.
History is a reliable guide to this contention. The German civil service of the 1920s, a hangover from Imperial Germany, was generally hostile to Weimar democracy. That's why it happily complied with Hitler’s orders to fire Jewish employees and “coordinate” (gleichschalten) its policies with those of the Nazi Party. Administrators, statisticians, and employees of the state railway cheerfully scheduled the delivery of human cargoes to the death camps. They became willing “desk murderers.”
The French civil service, riven by culture wars since the Dreyfus Affair, on the whole submitted readily to the demands of the German occupation, rounding up Jews and dissidents. Its avatar might be Maurice Papon, a career police bureaucrat whose opportunistic infamy did not end with the deportation of Jews to their deaths, but extended to torture and massacre during the Algerian War of the fifties and sixties.
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The Danish civil service, by contrast, generally retained its human decency and upheld national solidarity with the citizens it served. A higher percentage of resident Jews survived the war than in any other country the Germans occupied, partly because the civil service, in collaboration with the Danish people, helped them escape to Sweden.
We can count on a near-certainty that Trump will attempt, both before and after the election, to maintain a death-grip on power by foul means. It may come as an effort to use federal law enforcement to interfere with election preparations, balloting, and vote-counting. We have seen indications of this already.
If a loss at the polls is plainly evident, he may try to sabotage the machinery of federal agencies, destroy or alter documents to hide evidence of criminality, or retaliate against persons in or out of government. He may even use compliant armed agencies like ICE (which lately seems to believe it works for Trump, rather than the country), or mercenary groups such as those run by Erik Prince to launch an insurrection as prelude to a declaration of martial law.
Accordingly, Joe Biden must make a major speech directly addressed to all federal employees, including the military and those employed by U.S. corporations like the Postal Service. It must make these points:
- As an employee of the U.S. government, you are bound by your oath to the Constitution. You shall not carry out an illegal order under any circumstances, nor must you ever alter or destroy any document. If you are pressured to do so, report the names of the perpetrators to the Democratic staff of the relevant congressional committee of jurisdiction.
- You may of course be threatened with demotion or loss of your job for doing the right thing. Under my administration you will be eligible for immediate rehire to your old position, with no loss of seniority, along with back pay and benefit accrual as if you had never left. Your meritorious conduct will be noted in your personnel file, making you eligible for potential promotion. Whistleblowers who have already lost their positions by exposing the Trump regime’s malfeasance will qualify for the same treatment.
- You must never sign a nondisclosure agreement. On becoming president, I will declare these null and void in any case. The reasons they were required will be investigated. Your oath to the Constitution and whatever level of security clearance you may hold is already a sufficient bond of trust with the American people you serve.
- The Justice Department’s career legal staff, United States attorneys, and all who work for them shall not carry out any departmental directive that that is illegal, improper, unethical, or can reasonably be interpreted as attempting to corruptly influence any election. Instead, you should report such directives to the Democratic staff of the congressional judiciary committees. Carrying out such directives will not only result in immediate firing in my administration, but disbarment and potential criminal prosecution.
- Members of the military, active duty and reserve: you are citizen soldiers. Those who went before you fought for freedom at Valley Forge and Little Round Top. When they liberated the concentration camps, their very presence meant deliverance from evil. You are inheritors of that proud tradition; maintain your calling as guardians of the Constitution and the American people.
Therefore, Biden must there make the following clear in no uncertain terms: “We know exactly what you in the Trump regime are capable of; we will not be caught by surprise or react timidly. Those who keep true faith with the Constitution and the laws of the United States have nothing to fear; those who abuse their authority will receive swift and certain removal, punishment, and disgrace.
“And that includes you, Donald Trump. President Ford may have had other ideas about the criminal acts of his predecessor. I assure the American people my administration will uphold the words engraved on the Supreme Court building: ‘equal justice under law.’”