David Schizer, until recently dean of Columbia Law School, has just interviewed for the position of Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Tax Policy in the Trump administration.
I don’t know Schizer, and I don’t exactly have a starry-eyed view of Columbia Law School, but I’ll confess this still sort of shocks me.
I spoke with a friend who had a career rather than a political appointment with a a federal agency, and who quit after Ronald Reagan put a particularly noxious (but not utterly unqualified — how far we’ve fallen!) fellow at the head of the operation, and he turned out to be every bit as terrible as people feared he would be. I asked my friend what he thought of people taking political appointments in the Trump administration. His view is that this is OK as long as the person goes in ready to resign if necessary (Since my friend actually quit a great federal job on principle I’m inclined to have considerable respect for his views on such matters).
His argument is that you can’t just have completely incompetent hacks running everything, so voluntarily taking a mid-level political appointment under Trump, as Schizer is trying to do, is at least defensible, as long as you realize you may well have to quit.
Whether or not you agree with this view, should it apply downward to at least fairly high-level career appointments? (obviously condemning the average federal employee for keeping his or her job is untenable). For instance if you’re already an AUSA or a federal public defender should you quit rather than work for Trump?
What about people who don’t currently work for the feds? If your dream is to be an AUSA or the like should it be held against you that you took a job in the Trump administration? (FWIW I will definitely be holding this against such people, should they in the future try to get any job where I get a say in the matter. This includes people who clerk for judges appointed by Trump, etc).
In hypothetical fantasy land at least, you can apply this logic upward as well. Is it OK to take an actual cabinet-level position as an act of self-sacrificing triage? (I assume this is how Mitt Romney rationalized his participation in a little humiliation ritual that didn’t end up working out, as they say in the Mafia).