It’s no secret to anyone who’s been hanging out with me since the 2016 election season that I think Donald Trump is dangerous to our democracy. We hear a lot about the dramatic stuff — the staff shake-ups at the White House, the way he insults and mocks everyone from Gold Star parents to FBI agents to leaders of his own party, the myriad ways he objectifies or ignores women (starting with his own daughters!), his unholy avarice and greed, his appalling entitlement and craven self-interest. Many of my friends and I have marched, protested, sat in, rose up, called our congresspeople, become activists, assembled, texted, signed petitions, taken to the streets. We have, in our own ways, been civilly disobedient.
I am the daughter of two civil servants. My father was a career accountant for the Bureau of Reclamation, Department of the Interior. When my younger sister was approaching junior high, my stay-at-home mother took a job as secretary at the Veteran’s Administration. Shortly thereafter my dad retired and became an ahead-of-his-time “house husband,” preparing meals and doing the laundry and driving kid taxi for my sister and her tween friends. His penchant for taking short cuts through parking lots and coaxing the VW Beetle to maximum performance earned him the nickname Hot-Rod Hartley from the giggly ice skating crowd.
Many of my parents’ lifelong friends were also career government staffers. I grew up with their kids and we shared our lives and lifestyles. What I know about civil servants — civilians who dedicate their career lives to the daily doingness of the multitudinal work of federal, state or local governance — is that they often fit a profile. They are loyal, upstanding citizens who value security and stability. They prioritize providing a safe, stable middle-class existence for their families. They tend to take comfort in knowing what is expected of them as well as knowing what they can expect from others up and down the line. They are hard-working, honest, intensely loyal. They respect authority and the chain of command. They may or may not have strong political affiliations, but they do not politicize their work. Presidents come and go; they serve the Office rather than the man sitting behind the Oval Office desk.
My parents were appalled at the idea of civil disobedience, which caused for some ramped-up conflict in my rebellious teen years. They prized civil obedience.
If they were alive and working today, my parents would struggle every single day with the chaos and discord and disrespect that is everyday life at the highest levels of government. They would worry endlessly about whether their jobs were secure, whether their agencies would be gutted, whether top-down leadership–perhaps even their bosses–would be fired or forced out. They would agonize over whether their children’s future was safe, whether their retirement pensions would be stable, whether their workplaces would become conflicted. They would still arrive early at their jobs every single day, put their heads down, stay focused and do all the good they could–and they would live under constant worry and stress as they watched everything they held sacred in American government come under assault.
So here’s to the civil servants, the government employees who spend dedicated decades keeping the gears of our country oiled and turning. Here’s to the ones who are by nature obedient and undramatic. Here’s to the ones who silently suffer, who faithfully respect their leaders even when the President of the United States capriciously acts without any regard for their well-being or welfare. It’s very seldom that I am actually glad that my parents are no longer alive, but the reign of Trump makes me grateful that they never had to know this particular indignity.
Valentine’s Day will be the 75th anniversary of my parents’ wedding. I dedicate this blog to them and to all of the “rank-and-file” who practice civil obedience through their largely unacknowledged service to every one of us.
Your thoughts on civil obedience?
PS: Twelve hours after I published this, today’s Washington Post headline reads: “Budget provides no raise, targets retirement benefits for federal employees.”