An open letter to Trump administration political appointees

An open letter to Trump administration political appointees
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Dear Trump administration appointees:

A few years ago, I was in your shoes. Like many of you, I am tremendously proud of my time as an appointee. Whether on my sixth trip to Afghanistan or attending the end-of-mission ceremony in Iraq, I believed, down to my core, that the long hours I put in were in the best interests of the United States and its citizens.

You may be inclined to ignore what I have to say simply because I served in the previous administration. If so, that’s a shame, especially in a liberal democracy founded on Enlightenment values of rational, open discourse.


Indeed, it would be an understatement to say that political tribalism is ripping apart the very fabric of America.

But at a moment when others shrink their social circles to include only like-minded thinkers, I am drawn to understanding what turns people into staunch supporters of policies that I vehemently disagree with. It should come as no surprise, then, that many of my closest friends are conservatives.

And that is precisely the spirit in which I write to you — from the most junior Trump staffers to higher-profile appointees.

Let’s cut to the chase. You and I both know that you have doubts about President Trump’s leadership. How could you not?

But what sparked that gnawing apprehension?

Was it a former Trump appointee and lifelong Republican – perhaps not unlike you – delivering a blistering rebuke of Trump’s immoral, vindictive and destructive impulses?


Was it former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisBiden's is not a leaky ship of state — not yet Rejoining the Iran nuclear deal would save lives of US troops, diplomats The soft but unmatched power of US foreign exchange programs MORE’s scathing denunciation of Trump’s proto-authoritarianism that set off the first alarm bells for you? Was it Admiral Mike Mullen’s refusal to stay silent in the face of Trump’s disdain for certain Americans’ right to protest peacefully? Was it General John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE’s stinging rebukes of the president? Was it General Martin Dempsey’s searing criticism of Trump’s readiness to deploy active-duty military units on American streets?

Perhaps it was Admiral William McRaven – the Navy SEAL who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden – torching Trump for dismantling the institutions that keep America free and democratic.

Or maybe Trump’s long history of insulting, degrading and demeaning women is beginning to weigh on your conscience.

You are undoubtedly also uneasy about the president’s verbal attacks on minorities, or the surges in hate crimes and deadly right-wing terrorism that followed in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election.

Your moral compass surely lies at the root of some of your apprehension. This is hardly surprising when, thanks to President Trump’s inept response to the coronavirus pandemic, a fellow American dies of COVID-19 every minute. By comparison, many of our European and Asian allies see fewer than 10 deaths per day.

Since you serve in a Republican administration, there is a good chance that you are a Christian. But by what possible interpretation of the faith could one justify Trump’s personal insistence on separating children from their families for months on end?

Or perhaps your growing unease is rooted in Trump’s attacks on the rule of law. Or the estimated 20,000-plus lies he has told while in office.

The president’s absurd promises, falsehoods and hollow bragging about the economy, in particular, must trouble you. Despite Trump’s repeated guarantees of 6 percent growth, the “Trump economy” never matched the Obama-era peak. Lies and empty braggadocio aside, pre-pandemic economic growth under Trump was roughly identical to the post-recession average under Obama.

Perhaps you are increasingly concerned that inequality – the single greatest threat to America today – is surging in the wake of Trump’s catastrophic tax cuts, which were fantastic for Wall Street but did little for Main Street.

Maybe the absurd notion that those massive tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy would magically “pay for themselves” gave you pause. Ditto for the $4.1 trillion in debt that the Trump administration – with help from congressional Republicans – racked up before the pandemic.

Perhaps you now understand that millions of manufacturing jobs – shipped overseas by Republicans and centrist Democrats in the name of corporate profit – are not coming back to America, no matter what Trump says.

Your unease could certainly also be rooted in Trump stacking his cabinet with some of the swampiest, most corrupt, self-interested officials in modern American history.

But your concerns could just as easily be rooted in national security considerations.

Maybe you, like any patriot, recoiled in horror when you learned that Trump allegedly begged China for reelection help. Surely you had a similar reaction when Trump allegedly gave China the green light to build concentration camps for millions of political prisoners. Or that he purportedly did favors for autocrats for personal gain.

Maybe alarm bells went off for you when President Trump – standing side-by-side with Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinPranksters trick Canadian lawmakers with fake Navalny aide: report Biden hopes to meet with Putin during June Europe trip Biden's Russia strategy needs to look past Putin MORE – took his word over that of the American intelligence and law enforcement communities. Or when he didn’t confront Putin over intelligence indicating that the Russians placed bounties on American troops.

Perhaps you were deeply disturbed when Trump allegedly extorted an ally at war for his own political gain; or when, on numerous occasions, he disclosed highly classified information to geopolitical adversaries.

Or, maybe – just maybe – the revelation that the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia posed a “grave counterintelligence threat” is weighing on you.

Perhaps you are deeply disturbed that the president’s son and closest advisers had no qualms about meeting someone with “extensive and concerning” ties to Russian intelligence with the expectation that they would receive “derogatory information” on a political opponent.  


You are probably mortified that Trump lied about his foreknowledge of Russian efforts to assist his campaign. Or that Trump’s campaign chairman briefed a Russian intelligence officer on the campaign’s political strategies and internal polling. That, after all, is what collusion looks like.

Ultimately, at this critical time in American history, you may want to take a moment to stop and think about your own future.

Will you look back on a tumultuous 2020, firm in the knowledge that you stood up for decency and honor? Or will you be left explaining to your children and grandchildren why you did not join a long list of conservative patriots who mustered the courage to speak out when they had the chance?

Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.