It is always fun watching the left rediscover dissent. During the Clinton years it was bad. During the Bush years it was elevated to “the highest form of patriotism.” During the Obama years it was bad and it was racist. Now we’re a little over a week into the Trump presidency and we’re again discovering the sacred nature of dissent.
Yesterday a the White House news briefing Sean Spicer was asked about a message circulating in the State Department’s “dissent channel” opposing Trump’s travel ban.
First a word about the “dissent channel.” It is a way for State Department employees to disagree with a policy:
Recognizing that our members are thoughtful professionals who may find themselves in honest disagreement with a policy matter or may want to share an alternative point of view, AFSA encourages Foreign Service employees to utilize the Dissent Channel in expressing constructive dissent. As defined under 2 FAM 072, the Dissent Channel “is a serious policy channel reserved only for consideration of responsible dissenting and alternative views on substantive foreign policy issues that cannot be communicated in a full and timely manner through regular operating channels and procedures.” It may not be used for conveying disagreement with non-policy matters such as personnel issues. The Dissent Channel is available to all regular or re-employed annuitant employees of the Department of State and USAID. Contractors of these agencies are not entitled to use the Dissent Channel.
The Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff (S/P) is responsible for management of the Dissent Channel. Upon receiving an incoming Dissent Channel message, S/P is tasked with distributing copies to the Secretary, the Deputy Secretary, the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, the Executive Secretary, and the Chair of the Secretary’s Open Forum. If the author of the message is employed by an agency other than State (e.g., USAID), S/P will also distribute a copy of the message to the head of that agency. The S/P Director may also distribute the Dissent Channel message to other senior officials in the Department. The S/P Director is responsible for acknowledging receipt of a Dissent Channel message within two working days, and for providing a substantive reply normally within 30-60 working days.
The FAM clearly mandates that those utilizing the Dissent Channel will not be subjected to reprisal, discipline action or unauthorized disclosure of its use. Any statement in an employee’s evaluation that alludes to or directly references use of the Dissent Channel is strictly prohibited. Anyone engaging in retaliation or divulging the source or content of dissent channel correspondence will be subject to discipline action.
You really need to read the thing because it is a monument to the failed diplomacy and state-craft that most Americans have come to associate with the State Department. It is tendentious (not allowing “200 million” people from failed states or from state sponsors of terrorism into the United States is not going to hurt us). The general thrust is that if we don’t let them in, they’ll get mad and then God only knows what they will do. This is actually a damned good argument for banning these people and a terrible one for letting them in.
This is Spicer’s reply:
“These career bureaucrats have a problem with it?” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, told reporters. “They should either get with the program or they can go.”
“The president has a very clear vision,” Mr. Spicer said. “He’s been clear on it since the campaign, he’s been clear on it since taking office — that he’s going to put the country first.”
“If somebody has a problem with that agenda,” he added, “that does call into question whether or not they should continue in that post.”
Too long ago, back, as they say, when I weighed 155-lbs, had a full head of hair and thought beer was food, I was
privileged blessed to command a rifle company under the most incredible boss I’ve ever had in my life. He would tell us strong-willed young captains over and over, “Guys, I will never ask you to like a single thing I tell you to do. You are free to disagree with my decisions. But once the decision is made I will damn well require you carry out that decision with all your energy.”
Dissent is not disloylty. Dissent is disagreement rooted in loyalty. In any organization there are going to be a lot of folks who think current policy is wrong and there is a better way but organizations don’t work well when everyone gets to decide what the policy is.
Spicer is completely right. The president has no expectation that 100% of the career employees at State agree with him. What he has the right to expect is that once the decision is made that these people either work just as hard to make the policy succeed as they would for their favorite policy. If they can’t do that they should have the basic honesty and decency to say, “I can’t do that, I’m out of here.”