Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Trumpism’s hidden casualty

Republican extremism is endangering the very idea of the professional, disinterested public servant.

Imagine you are offered a job. The pay is not as much as you could earn elsewhere, but it seems like meaningful work.

Then you learn that the CEO does not actually believe in the mission of the organization. He attacks its employees in public. His supporters even accuse employees of being engaged in one nefarious plot after another.

Would you still want that job?

This is the quandary facing the next generation of public servants in America.

It is the legacy of Donald Trump and Trumpism. Even if Trump never again holds public office, his anti-statist conspiratorial politics dominate contemporary Republicanism. This is bad news not just for public employees who have become targets in an increasingly scary culture war. It’s bad for the rest of us, too, because the services public employees provide will decline in quality. As loyalty to the regime becomes the key criterion for hiring, it will grow harder to attract good people into government.

Suspicion of government has defined Republican politics for decades, but the post-Trump strain is different. The current moment reflects something more than skepticism about state power. Instead, MAGA anti-statism rejects the idea that disinterested, nonpartisan public service is even possible. By presenting public officials as an existential threat, Republicans justify capturing and aggressively using state power in radical ways, deprofessionalizing the public service as it does so.

The attack has ranged wide and deep. Nearly every Trump speech is peppered with references to the “deep state” in law enforcement. A staggering number of elected Republicans call into question the legitimacy of our electoral apparatus and the people who run it. Right-wing activists have targeted teachers and school librarians for doing their jobs. Elected officials haven’t been immune — politicians and their families have been targeted by a rise in violent political speech and, indeed, by violence itself.

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