When the 'government' fights back

Donald Trump's team does not seem to believe in the theory that it is hard to succeed when people want to see you fail.

    More than 900 state department employees have signed a protest memo against Trump's travel ban [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]
    More than 900 state department employees have signed a protest memo against Trump's travel ban [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

    I'm currently sitting in a very bland waiting room. The walls are white, the carpets grey, cable news plays quietly in the background as I sit in the standard-issue uncomfortable chair.

    I'm seven people away from getting my "hard pass" for the US state department. It basically just means I can walk around more freely inside the building. It means unlike in the White House, I can talk to people more freely. I expect many of the employees will have a lot to say.

    Donald Trump couldn't be more different from Barack Obama, but there is one thing that I can't help noticing they have in common. In the early days of both presidencies the men exuded a kind of confidence that was almost palpable. It's not just the leaders, but their teams projectong a sense of empowerment bordering on hubris.

    Remember Obama, in a meeting with Republicans who were in the minority in both chambers of Congress, famously told them: "Elections have consequences". That didn't last - the messy handling of the healthcare law meant the president would never again have his party in full control of Congress during his two terms.

    Trump and the Republican leaders of Congress are plowing down the opposition as they move to undo much of what Obama put in place. In doing it, they are changing the rules to confirm Cabinet nominees and proceeding with executive orders regardless of massive protests against them.

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    Some of the strongest protests against the president's executive order banning immigrants and anyone coming from seven Muslim-majority countries are coming from career foreign service officers.

    More than 900 of these state department workers just sent a cable to their leadership calling the ban misguided and dangerous. The response from the White House spokesman was basically, get on board or get out.

    Some government workers will undoubtedly quit, unable to reconcile their beliefs and working for Trump. I suspect the vast majority will hold on to their jobs. It's very hard to fire civil servants who are not appointed by the president. Can the president and his team force them to get on board? No, they can't, but they can push them to do everything in their power to bring down the administration and its policies.

    I was talking to a scientist who works at the Environmental Protection Agency a while ago. She is horrified that the man picked to lead her agency has sued to stop most of the climate-protecting regulations the agency has pushed into place. Think about it, this is a person who has dedicated her career to understanding the science behind climate change. Do you think she is just going to "get on board"? She isn't. She told me she is going to fight behind the scenes to slow down her new bosses' initiatives until they fire her. I've had similar conversations with many federal workers in several agencies.

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    This should be especially concerning to the Trump administration when it comes to the Central Intelligence Agency. During his first stop as president of the United States, Trump went to CIA headquarters and used their sacred memorial wall as a backdrop. He used his television appearance to brag about his election, his popularity and the number of times he's been on the cover of Time magazine. We've seen this braggadocious behaviour before from the president, at a campaign stop, not in front of a wall where each star anonymously marks an American who has died in the line of duty. It is sacrosanct for many, if not all who work there.

    As a general rule, most politicians find it is a good idea to avoid angering the intelligence community. They have the power to find out things about you and everyone around you. That information can easily end up in the press.

    One of my biggest frustrations covering the White House under George W Bush and Obama was the lack of people willing to leak to the media. Most of the people that worked there were what I called "true believers". They loved their boss and therefore were very protective of secrets. So far it appears the Trump White House is leaking like a sieve and it hasn't even started at the agencies yet because he doesn't have most of his cabinet confirmed.

    Whenever I mentor young journalists, I always tell them one thing. My first rule is don't be mean to anyone. That doesn't mean that you can't be tough on the people you're interviewing, but in general just be a nice person. I tell them that because I believe it is the right thing to do, but it also has a side benefit. I can't tell you how many arrogant, mean people in the media I've watched rise to great heights only to become arrogant and mean to the people around them. It has, without question, always come back to bite them, resulting in a spectacular fall from grace.

    Karma exists. It is a lot harder to succeed when people want to see you fail. That is a lesson that the Trump White House apparently doesn't believe applies to them - at least not in how they are talking to the government workers that actually make the "government" run. We'll see how that works out in the long run.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News



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