When a high ranking federal government official feels the government is about to take actions they deem negligent, harmful, or illegal, does it serve American democracy for the official to take personal actions to prevent the catastrophe? When a high ranking federal government official feels their elected boss is about to execute an action they know to be legal but practically wrong, does it serve American democracy for that official to take personal actions to prevent their boss from executing the action?
These are just 2 of the many questions raised by last week’s New York Times op-ed written by an anonymous high ranking federal government official, one who has self-proclaimed them self to be an active member of the resistance to our elected American President. The first question has an easy and obvious answer, it’s yes if the government official has the job authority then democracy is best served by the official doing what they are paid to do and prevent the catastrophe.
The second question has a complicated but in the end obvious answer as well. It is complicated because at first glance it appears to be merely a question of what we are all taught to do, meaning democracy is always best served when one does what they know to be the right thing. But a deeper examination of the question raises an additional question. Not all right things are as simple as black or white, what’s right can sometimes be in the eye of the beholder. So the additional question would be whose right thing best serves democracy, the government officials or the bosses??
Another complicating point is the fact that high ranking federal officials like the anonymous one, must take the following oath before assuming the responsibilities of their government position: “I, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that 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. So help me God.”
For some officials this oath might make the answer to the second question a clear cut easy response. Meaning because an oath to the Constitution is sworn too, and the official feels their boss is trying to execute an action, not in the best interest of the Constitution, then democracy is best served by the official preventing the action but in reality it is not. All government officials like the anonymous government official that wrote the op-ed, work for the executive branch of our federal government. Article II of the Constitution that the anonymous government official swore an oath too, gives the ultimate responsibility and vest all power with the President. In other words, the Constitution says that all federal employees take their marching orders on what actions to execute from the President.
The anonymous official writes in the op-ed “We believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic. That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office. The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making. Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets, and free people. At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright. In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic.”
While the anonymous official clearly states their good intentions are to “preserve our democratic institutions”, they are in fact doing just the opposite. Article II of the Constitution is clear about who gets the final say so on what actions the executive branch of the American government executes. As stated earlier that would be the President, so preventing his orders from being executed does not preserve democratic institutions it undermines them and American democracy.
No matter how wrong-headed the anonymous official feels President Trump’s initiatives are, the Constitution they both swore an oath too dictates the official must execute them. President Trump was elected by the American people to make decisions about what initiatives to execute. Therefore he is held accountable to and by the American people for those initiatives. The anonymous official was elected to nothing by the American people. By not executing President Trump’s initiatives they are not just defying his directions, they are defying and subverting the will of the American people.
Where does this subversion of democracy end and what kind of precedent does it set? What happens when the next President is doing the right thing but has a misguided official working for them? What will be the consequences of that misguided official based on the precedent being set by this current anonymous official, unilaterally deciding to defy an initiative that’s good for America? What would happen to the safety of America if for example the Director of the CIA decided not to conduct an intelligence operation the President ordered, based on their opinion that it didn’t “preserve our democracy”?
The only time it’s acceptable for an official to defy the President is if the initiative or what he orders them to do is a clear violation of the law!!! The official should resign or force the President to fire them, which he legally can do unless the official is classified as a rank and file civil servant. Non-appointed government employees, unlike the anonymous government official, are protected from being fired for refusing orders to commit unlawful acts by the Whistleblower Protection Act.
Instead of subverting American democracy the anonymous official should do the honorable thing like Seth Frotman, Elizabeth Southerland, and 4 members of a Homeland Security advisory council all did in agreement with the anonymous official that President Trump’s initiatives were wrong-headed for American democracy. They resigned their positions in the Trump administration. Their resignations not only demonstrated the same good intentions as the anonymous official, but their actions truly served to “preserve our democratic institutions”, something the anonymous official’s defiance of President Trump does not.
It is only fair to give the anonymous official the benefit of doubt that what they are doing, or the things they are not doing that President Trump has instructed them to do, is based on their good intentions and true belief that they are “preserving our democracy”. But unfortunately, their good intentions by defying President Trump and the will of the American people is the most dangerous good intentions to the extinction of American democracy!!!
Isaac Newton Farris Jr. is the nephew of Martin Luther King, Jr. and serves as Senior Fellow at the King Center. Growing up in one of the most socially and politically active families has given him a unique perspective on current events. Drop by his website for straight talk free of one-sided political spin.
Originally published at isaacnewtonfarris.com on September 11, 2018.