“It was worse than a crime; it was a blunder” best describes the “resistance” by civil servants against the Trump administration.
What the resisters don’t understand, or don’t care about, is the damage they do to themselves and the institutions of government they claim to defend.
1. They undercut their own authority. “Resistance” plays into the hands of every anti-government activist, like Cliven Bundy, who can now challenge any government official by demanding to know if the official’s actions are executing the laws and policies of the government of the day or an act of resistance that will embroil any citizen who complies. The smart activist would challenge the orders of the civil servant and embark on a wide-ranging discovery process that will get him a lot of headlines and funding but will undercut good government.
2. They diminish themselves in the eyes of the public. Civil servants take an oath of office that includes, “I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.” Who wouldn’t want to cherry pick the oaths to abide by or the orders to follow? That’s not an option in the military or the private sector, but some public employees now think it’s their right.
3. They may be breaking the law. Some feds are reportedly using encryption apps, such as Signal, “to organize letters, talk strategy, or contact media outlets and other groups to express their dissent,” no doubt on government time. They have apparently forgotten the example of a very prominent government official who paid dearly when her covert communications system was exposed.
4. They are taking sides. The civil service is ideally apolitical but may not look that way to the half of the country that voted for President Trump. Coming on the heels of the IRS’s interest in conservative and Tea Party groups, this may solidify the image of the civil service as the “political service.”
5. Their playbook will one day be used against them. Once they take the step from professional civil servants to political actors, they won’t be able to walk it back. They’re the resistance today, but they may be The Man tomorrow, and how will they deal with an insurgency in their agency aided and abetted by sympathetic media and Hill staff?
Those feds may have concerns, but they can be expressed in the voting booth or in internal channels. And there’s always the option to resign and go public. But the French Resistance scenario, romantic as it may be, is not in the interest of the public they claim to serve.