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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Keep Calm and Carry On: Loyalty Among Federal Employees During Chaotic Times

Civil Society
Contentious Politics
Political Participation
Jaime Kucinskas
Hamilton College
Jaime Kucinskas
Hamilton College

With the election of President Donald Trump to the Presidency, the media and allies of the President have noted resistance both outside of the government and within it by the “deep state.” Yet, most scholarship suggests that during leadership transitions, civil servants are instead remarkably compliant, seeking to avoid conflict and its potential consequences. Our research on careerists living and working through the first year of the Trump administration offers support for this prior scholarship; we find that agency employees throughout the federal government have evinced a remarkable level of quiescence in the face of the chaotic and challenging changes wrought by the new administration. Contrary to media accounts and despite a number of troubling, unusual red flags noted with regards to the Trump administration, most career bureaucrats have not embraced a strategy of resistance. Instead, they have engaged in a strategy one might best describe as cautiously “wait and see,” hoping that in small ways, they can still have a positive impact. In adhering to legal and normative workplace restrictions on political engagement, most avoid conflict and voicing their perspectives. Instead many privately morally reflect on the ethics of their position, and some choose to leave. A small minority commits to voicing oppositional perspectives, out of loyalty to the mission of their agencies and the American public.
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