So this is where we are, just under two weeks into the presidency of a man who has never had to report to a boss or a board, who likes to imagine he gives all the orders, who fires or sues those who complain:
An acting attorney general, Sally Yates, fired and accused of betrayal because she told her Justice Department subordinates not to defend President Trump’s order closing the nation’s borders to more than 200 million legitimate foreign travelers, because it targets Muslims.
A State Department where more than 1,000 career employees have publicly and lawfully dissented from that order, which they fear will weaken, not strengthen, the nation’s defenses against would-be terrorists.
A Pentagon that thinks the order will needlessly alienate vital allies in conflict zones like Iraq where Americans and Iraqi Muslims are together resisting ISIS.
And all across the government, in the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and even the Interior Department, a universe of federal employees rattled by directives on regulations and hiring, shaken by rumors of cuts in basic science involving energy, health and climate change, and wondering where the next edict will come from.
And of course a press secretary, Sean Spicer, with a belligerent message not just for the State Department dissenters but for any federal employee worried about Mr. Trump’s rule by decree: Get with the program or get lost. Mr. Trump’s supporters thrill to see him pumping out executive orders and memorandums aimed at turning his campaign pledges into action — building a wall, killing trade deals, gutting Obamacare and barring Muslim refugees. Yet in doing so he has not only flouted traditional policy-making machinery but, in some cases, opened the way for legal challenges.
He has issued more than a dozen orders and memorandums, often without significant review by Congress or federal lawyers, and always with little regard for the agencies responsible for overseeing the outcome. None of the relevant departments and agencies — State, Homeland Security, Defense, Immigration and Customs Enforcement — were asked to weigh in on creation of the Muslim ban, which was written largely by Stephen Bannon, late of Breitbart News, and Stephen Miller, a former aide to Senator Jeff Sessions, Mr. Trump’s nominee for attorney general, whose role during the campaign was whipping up the xenophobia at rallies before Mr. Trump took the stage. Indeed, nobody in the White House thought to call most of these officials until Mr. Trump was signing the order on television.
“This gang shoots, and then they look around to see what they’ve hit,” said a former senior government executive who’s been fielding agency complaints. “There’s a danger not just of unintended consequences, but of significantly dangerous consequences.”
In similar fashion, the executive order inviting the Canadian company TransCanada to reapply for a permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which President Barack Obama had killed, came without consultation with the State Department, which worked on the issue for years. The order on dismantling Obamacare rattled congressional Republicans, who were recorded in a closed-door retreat last week arguing over the re-election perils of stripping Americans’ health benefits without a replacement. An order freezing federal government hiring sought no input from federal agencies on how such a freeze would affect services and no guidance as to whether its exemption for military personnel included veterans, who make up nearly one-third of the civilian work force.
When he isn’t beating up on the press, Mr. Spicer denigrates civil servants as “career bureaucrats,” and in the case of the State Department dissenters, invites them to “question whether or not they should continue” in their jobs, suggesting disloyalty to the official line. Yet what these employees are doing has an honorable history, dating back to the Vietnam War, when the “dissent channel” was established with the express purpose of encouraging unorthodox thinking. It has been used in recent years to voice disagreements over policies in Bosnia and Syria.
During Ms. Yates’s Senate confirmation in 2015, Senator Sessions asked her, “If the views a president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or deputy attorney general say no?” Ms. Yates replied, “Senator, I believe the attorney general or deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution.” She did that, and Mr. Trump made her pay for it.