Bleeding Expertise

Drip, drip, drip…

No, I’m not alluding to the daily emergence of new evidence confirming the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia. I’m talking about the accelerating rate at which people who actually know what they are doing are abandoning this bizarre administration.

When the CEO of your company, or the Executive of your political subdivision, or the President of the United States is intellectually and emotionally unfit to lead, the people who work for that company or city or branch of the federal government face an uncomfortable choice: do they hang in there and try to make things work despite the dysfunction at the top? Or do they weigh their ability to do their jobs against the likelihood that their continued employment is simply enabling dangerous incompetence?

One long-time American diplomat who concluded that he had to resign wrote a column in which he explained his decision. David Rank had been a member of the U.S. Foreign Service since 1990. Most recently, he ran the U.S. Embassy in China.

This month, I resigned from the State Department’s Foreign Service, stepping down as the senior U.S. diplomat in China and ending a 27-year career. I served five presidents — three Republicans and two Democrats — and, like my colleagues throughout the Foreign Service, took pride in the tradition of loyal, nonpartisan service. I also took seriously my oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and the obligations that came with representing the American people.

When the administration decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change, however, I concluded that, as a parent, patriot and Christian, I could not in good conscience be involved in any way, no matter how small, with the implementation of that decision.

The job he held all those years was hardly what you’d call “cushy:” Rank had his close calls with bombs, guns and grenades;  his father died when he was on assignment in Taiwan. His mother died while he was in Afghanistan. He missed both the birth of his first child and his only son’s senior year of high school.

Government workers make those sacrifices because they believe in the importance of the service they are rendering.

Rank says he leaves with gratitude for his experiences, for his colleagues and for the opportunity to serve his country. But he also leaves with deep-seated concerns.

I worry about the impact my departure will have on colleagues who remain. Many of these colleagues, some with decades of contributions ahead of them, share my dismay not just at the decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement but also at the unraveling of 70 years of bipartisan foreign policy that has made the world and the United States safer and more prosperous. Rather than encourage them to follow my example, I hope my departure will send a message on their behalf so that they can continue to work within the system to make things a little bit better, a little bit at a time. That work will always be honorable work and, I suspect, will be more important than ever in the coming years.

I worry about the frequently politically motivated portrayal of those who work for the American people as members of some mythical elite, separate and suspicious. Such false characterizations drive talented Americans away from public service or discourage them from entering it in the first place. My experience has been that those who work for America look like America. For my part, I certainly never felt particularly “bicoastal.” I was raised in a decidedly working-class town south of Chicago. My wife grew up showing hogs and cutting corn out of beans. Like many of my colleagues, I am a product of a public education, from grade school to grad school.

I worry about the denigration of expertise at a time when a complex world demands it more than ever.

For my part, I worry about the loss of people like David Rank. And I especially worry, as he does, about the future of a country that sneers at knowledge and education as elitism, competence as snobbery, and uncongenial facts as “fake news.”

21 thoughts on “Bleeding Expertise

  1. Thank you for sharing this. Why why why are those around Trump not willing to unite and say? “Trump can’t do, isn’t doing his job?” It’s at that point I resent the irresponsibility of those using a toddler to do their dirty work, even if he wanted the job. Shame.

  2. If America survives, it will be thanks primarily to the career civil servants who show up everyday to do the people’s work.

  3. Unfortunately, elected officials aren’t removed for incompetence as they are in a business setting. The evidence is everywhere. When a voting majority elects incompetence, they get what they deserve.

  4. Relax. He is being replaced by a capable (of screwing everything up) wingnut Guv of iowa-Terry Eugene Braindead. Braindead’s qualifications are slightly better than Drumpf’s and neither speak Mandarin-unless we’re talking about oranges.

    Foreign service is certainly foreign to Braindead.

  5. I can think of very few things in one’s professional career as a highly skilled, highly educated public servant that is more disconcerting than waking up one morning and suddenly realizing that you’re now experiencing the old adage of ‘being caught between a rock and a hard place’.

    Whether a person’s professional public service career is at the Federal, the State, or the Local level, it matters little when the respective elected changes of command, issue ‘directives’, not requests but rather ‘directives’ that go against the very grain of one’s entire professional educational expertise.

  6. Marge Wood, to quote Shakespeare, “Pride which out of daily fortune ever taints the happy man.”( Coriolunus, Act iv)

    I truly believe those who went over the line to support #45 feel they cannot disengage and save face with their power broker underwriters.

    Note that I did not include their saving face, or anything else, from their constituents.

  7. Slightly off topic and just ever so slightly in alignment with Carrie’s post, I read one of those wonderful sentences that I wish I’d written, a sentence from the Boston Globe’s Opinion page, “If Trump is ultimately removed from office, it can’t happen soon enough for Pence, who always looks like he’s humming “Hail to the Chief” to himself whenever he walks into a room.”

    https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2017/07/11/mike-pence-looks-like-ready-pounce-presidency/1rB6nakDWJ4hxtTrz7ZCgK/story.html

  8. I fear even more for our country when seasoned professionals in government leave a spot for the current President to fill. It’s a real quandary as to whether Trump should leave important positions unstaffed – hobbling the rest of the staff who must do more with less – OR should fill those positions – often with people who have no background in the area to discharge departmental duties or who seek to dismantle the departments, laws, and rules assigned to them.

    At this administration progresses, I have slowly abandoned a presumption that this posture is driven by views that knowledge and education are elitism, or at snobbishness toward competence, or its daily attribution of uncongenial facts as “fake news.” As with all Presidents, I would like to give this president some benefit of the doubt that he is driven by good intentions – even that he wants to ‘make American great again’. But I’m slowly abandoning that view. While the President does indeed exhibit all the deficiencies noted above, I’ve come to conclude that most and perhaps none of his actions come from a desire to make America great again. His actions give numerous indications that they are intended and purposeful to leave America and Americans worse off than the way he found it.

    I no longer think the President is an unwitting dupe of the Kremlin. After a year of blistering news on Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other skullduggery, our President nevertheless returned from the G20 Summit hoping to work jointly with Putin on cybersecurity. REALLY? Visions of the big bad wolf offering cookies to Little Red Riding Hood come to mind. Wouldn’t Putin LOVE to know more about how we approach cybersecurity? Donald Trump floated that trial balloon or at least showed Putin that he would try to pursue a joint cybersecurity effort. But I seriously doubt even Donald Trump is that dumb. He shares Israeli intelligence with Russians emissaries that is too top secret to share even with most of our own intelligence community. He IS the Manchurian candidate – he’s just a lot more open about it. He is Putin’s agent and keeps telling us so in his own brazen, macho ways.

    The Russians hold considerable financial and perhaps informational power over Trump that continually puts him in a servile posture to Putin. Trump can never bring himself to insult Russians while he kicks both policy and rhetorical dust in the faces of our allies. It’s clear Trump knows HOW to be diplomatic — to Putin. He just chooses not to be diplomatic to all those Putin chooses to weaken.

    As the G-20 summit revealed, Trump also is weakening not just our alliances but America to the point that journalists and diplomats around the world now derisively reference the G-20 as the G-19 – WITHOUT the USA which our allies are learning to circumvent. It all has to make Putin a very happy camper.

  9. Nancy Papas:

    It’s good of you to offer such good-heartedness as giving benefit of the doubt, but the Trump show is really be led by the egregious troll, Steve Bannon. HE is the creep behind all the dissembling of our government. It’s no secret. He has stated that he wants to destroy the “administrative state” – whatever the hell that means.

    Trump is a con man. He has loyalists who were foisted upon him by the deals he worked with Russian and German bankers. His conflicts range everywhere. Therefore, he cannot be, nor ever will be a man of the people or the country.

    The recent attacks on education are clear indication that this “movement” is all about creating an oligarchical dictatorship. This is a coup we are watching. This coup is fueled by the very large money people who are taking advantage of the Trump phenomenon to complete the takeover.

    Remember, 62 million American voters voted for this idiot, while another 92 million voted for nobody. As someone in this thread said, “We deserve what we voted for…or didn’t.”

  10. @agingLGrl,

    Actually that wonderful sentence and that stellar example of a simile, “like he’s humming “Hail to the Chief” to himself whenever he walks into a room.” will go down in my personal list of great sentences. Not without surprise, the sentence brought to mind Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6UAYGxiRwU

  11. McConnell is now telling us that he needs to cut his fellow solons’ upcoming four-week vacation to two because, among other things, Democrats are slowing the process of affirming executive appointments. Hello, Mr. Leader! The reason why Trump has not had his appointments acted upon is because he has not made the appointments and has openly bragged that he will not fill many of the slots in government, apparently because he wants to put “big government” out of business (accord: Senator Cruz and Grover Nordquist). Senator McCon and Don the Con should get their heads and lies together so as to at least prevaricate congruently.
    It is obvious that this administration (if one can call it that) is in chaos, suffering from a total lack of leadership and vision, and that losing a dedicated public servant with the knowledge and experience of a Rank is just one of many. Note to Trump > Thanks, Don. What’s next after your withdrawal from the Paris accord? Will you withdraw from NATO and thereby invite your friend and fellow conspirator Putin to fill the vaccumm you have thus created in Western Europe? How far are you willing to go to humor your Leninist adviser Bannon’s penchant to install authoritarianism over democracy in this country while protecting yourself from a blackmailing Putin? Answer the question, and don’t tell us it’s Obama’s fault. You can take such diversionary tactics and stuff them up your, uh, nose! How about resigning so we can get to the next guy who is breathlessly awaiting your fall, a new president with Russian connections of his own?

  12. BSH and ALG: Many thanks! You nailed it without taking miserable inches of space to drone on and on. Carly Simon’s huge hit “You’re So Vain” is SO Trump, every word, every line!

  13. “You’re so vain” should be #45’s theme song. Fits Perfectly.

    But Pence? Ugh, he needs to go too, no thanks. gaaaaa

  14. As that Australian journalist [whose name, unfortunately, I do not presently recall] said, and I paraphrase: “when the American President is unable to be a world leader and set the agenda, others will step in and take over, most probably, Russia and China”. He was right. If Chump were smart, which we know he isn’t, he would be humbled to lead the likes of David Rank, instead of driving him and others away, like Sally Yates. Chump isn’t wise enough to even understand the depth and value of their knowledge and experience. Instead, he thinks he can bluff his way through the Presidency, like he has life, up to now. He thinks all he needs are personal loyalty pledges, so that when he screws up, they’ll cover for him. Or, as in the case of Comey, they’ll look the other way when Chump, Chump, Jr. and Kushner break the law.

    Auntie Em, please wake me up soon and tell me it was all a bad dream.

  15. “If America survives, it will be thanks primarily to the career civil servants who show up everyday to do the people’s work.”

    Bless you, Peggy Hannon, for this subject has been on my mind since the beginning of the so-called Trump “transition”. My years under Mayor Bill Hudnut were filled with heavy workloads, little training and much responsibility but…I always knew I was working for the City of Indianapolis, NOT a former preacher named Bill Hudnut. My thoughts have often gone to those rank-and-file (support staff who actually do the work handed to them to keep “the trains running on time”); If not for them there would be nothing done but Trump’s Tweets and the “alternative facts” spouted by Kellyanne, Sean and Sarah.

    I can’t speak to the Transition Team formed, reformed and formed again by Trump but Goldsmith’s small groups of clones would wander through our offices on occasion; asking no questions and reading no files. Easy to ignore, if we even noticed them creeping around. It was the onslaught of Goldsmith’s incredible lack of knowledge and understanding of running a city government that created the stress, anxiety and rampant paranoia. First order was to destroy all files and paperwork from the entire 16 years of the Hudnut administration – any ideas what Trump has done with 8 years of President Obama’s work and previous presidents? Next we were told to ignore all laws, rules and ordinances because they can be changed; operations changed but no law, rule or ordinance was ever changed. Trying to save vital files and documents (Circle Centre Mall, Monon Corridor, Canal Walk, etc.) and pass it safely to someone who could be trusted caused much stress. None of this was preparation for Trump.

    Specifically regarding those of us who were those “career civil servants”; physical illness was rampant. My primary physician said he had lost count of the number of City employees (in addition to myself) he was treating for stress. Another “career civil servant” had a friend who worked as an ER nurse at Wishard Hospital who said she had no idea how many patients they were treating who came in believing they were having strokes or heart attacks; all diagnosed as stress and anxiety. All city workers. It might make an interesting report to check Washington, D.C., and surrounding area hospitals for these statistics. All attention is given to the elected and appointed officials; thank you Peggy for thinking of those who are trying to carry on…and who are probably trying to find other jobs but can find no one wanting to hire former government workers. That was a major problem here and why so many of us tried to hang on to our income. Per my three doctors (two otological surgeons); my disability was caused by the stress which forced my minor inner ear disease for 18 years, to the breaking point.

  16. While there maybe a little temporary comfort in the fact that the level of incompetence in DC now is unable to accomplish anything, today’s thought shows the downside. We are losing what we need to recover when the nightmare ends.

    It’s easy to be fooled by the media by the steady parade of shiny objects that elected officials and the cabinet litter the landscape with, the real work of governance is done by professionals and their competence will be decimated by the current clown car of Trump/Pence plus syncopates.

    The recovery, if even possible, will take decades.

  17. “When the administration decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change, however, I concluded that, as a parent, patriot and Christian, I could not in good conscience be involved in any way, no matter how small, with the implementation of that decision.”

    27 Years is a long time. It’s amazing the administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change is the reason he left and sent him over the edge.

    After all,there’s a lot of other “things” which obviously he wasn’t opposed to….Such as our actions in Afghanistan,Syria,Libya,Honduras and Iraq. Invading countries via falsified evidence was obviously no big deal to the former diplomat. I bet there’s a well paying job waiting for him at the DNC.

  18. Btw, “collusion with Russia”?

    Still propagating BS? Always propagating DNC talking points.

    http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2017/07/httpswwwnytimescom20170710uspoliticsdonald-trump-jr-russia-email-candidacyhtmlhpactionclickpgty.html#comments

    Speaking of expertise….Here is the CV of the Blogger at the above link.

    Colonel W. Patrick Lang is a retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces (The Green Berets). He served in the Department of Defense both as a serving officer and then as a member of the Defense Senior Executive Service for many years. He is a highly decorated veteran of several of America’s overseas conflicts including the war in Vietnam. He was trained and educated as a specialist in the Middle East by the U.S. Army and served in that region for many years. He was the first Professor of the Arabic Language at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. In the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) he was the “Defense Intelligence Officer for the Middle East, South Asia and Terrorism,” and later the first Director of the Defense Humint Service.” For his service in DIA, he was awarded the “Presidential Rank of Distinguished Executive.” This is the equivalent of a British knighthood.

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