You Must Serve Trump

Of all the conservatives who opposed Donald Trump during his campaign for the presidency, his most vehement opponents were the men and women who had served in past Republican administrations, and particularly in the departments of state and of defense. One hundred and twenty-two Republican foreign policy hands signed a letter denouncing Trump as a menace to American values and world peace.

.. George W. Bush’s C.I.A. director, Michael Hayden, suggested that Trump was a useful idiot for Russian interests. Both neoconservatives and realists — Robert Kagan and Paul Wolfowitz, Brent Scowcroft and Richard Armitage — indicated that they would vote for Hillary Clinton.

.. If they fear how Trump might govern, can they in good conscience work for him?

The answer, for now, is that they can and should — and indeed, precisely because they fear how Trump might govern, there is a moral responsibility to serve.

.. For the next four years, the most important check on what we’ve seen of Trump’s worst impulses — his hair-trigger temper, his rampant insecurity, his personal cruelty — won’t come from Congress or the courts or the opposition party. It will come from the people charged with executing the basic responsibilities of government within his administration.

.. So to the extent that Trump’s approach to governance threatens world peace, that threat can be mitigated by appointees with experience and knowledge, and magnified if their posts are filled by hacks and sycophants instead.

.. But here the Republican Senate has a crucially important role to play. Trump cannot appoint cabinet officials without the approval of many senators who opposed or doubted him throughout the campaign — from Mike Lee and Jeff Flake to John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

.. If a Trump presidency lurches into naked authoritarianism — abusing executive authority in unprecedented ways, issuing immoral or illegal orders to the military — then there will be an obligation not to serve, but to resign.

And the gray area between these two obligations will create a lot of territory in which Trump appointees could succumb to moral corruption, justifying their toleration for enormities on the grounds that “the greater good requires me to stay.”