For the last two years, Current Affairs has had fictional correspondents posted throughout the federal administrative agencies. Now, we collect their diary entries to show what life is really like for ordinary bureaucrats in the Trump Administration.
November 9, 2016
Avery O., 33. [REDACTED].
“If Obama loved us, truly loved us, he would have called a National Day of Mourning. Then again, if anyone loved us—truly loved us—Donald J. Trump wouldn’t have been elected President of the United States.”
I am mumbling to myself again. This always happens when my anxiety picks up. Thankfully, the metro station is almost deserted. Which, now that I think about it, is rather strange. It’s possible, but doubtful, that I simply missed the entire wave of commuters with whom I usually cross paths on our way downtown. There should be more ill-fitting suits and tennis shoes clustered around this Rhode Island Avenue sign. No, the wise bastards stayed home. Fuck it, I should have done the same. A gust of wind teases the government badge dangling from my lanyard. On the south end of the platform, a young man in a wool coat gently sways from side to side while staring at his phone. He looks up at me and smiles. Or smirks. I’m not sure of anything anymore. His eyes aren’t bloodshot and swollen like mine. Why does he seem fine? How dare he be fine? He must be one of them.
I compulsively refresh the Office of Personnel Management page. Whenever there’s a severe emergency that necessitates the closure of federal office buildings, such as a half-inch of snow, OPM tells us if we can forgo our hellish commute. Snow storms and hurricanes usually qualify—what about black holes? Weather reports say that Black Hole Don, a Category 5 Soul-Crushing Event, is imminent. Refresh, refresh… no dice. Steadily, my fellow federal workers march down our respective avenues—Connecticut, Independence, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York (though not the treacherous Pennsylvania)—until we reach our Offices.
Welcome to Day One.
January 18, 2017
Magda T., 67. Department of Veterans Affairs.
We’re putting on our best impression of coping. It’s been a slow week of unanswered emails punctuated by more unanswered emails (then additional unanswered emails following up on the first unanswered emails). A comically large American flag hangs in our supervisor’s office suite. The nail that held up the upper right corner must have fallen over the weekend. So for the last four or five days, the fabric has been drooping at half-mast. Our supervisor hasn’t been seen in days. He says he is in “meetings.” I am not sure I believe it.
We huddle over computers and gasp at the news. Funny how quickly we all become experts in American civics and Russian intelligence. We probably shouldn’t quit our day jobs quite yet though. None of our contingency plans pan out: not the one about the Electoral College voiding the results, and definitely not the one about Hillary emerging from the Chappaqua woods just in time to overthrow the tyranny.
Those who have only ever transitioned between Obama administrations worry. The eldest among us dispense advice where we can. “Things will be alright. We’re unionized. We’ve survived past Republican administrations. You will too,” I promise the newest hires.
I am lying. They are fucked.
January 20, 2017
Anonymous, 28—Department of [REDACTED].
As on all inaugurations, we get a holiday. A few of us bundle up and join other protesters at Inauguration checkpoints. If all goes according to plan, we won’t have to use the phone number for legal help that we hastily scribbled on our forearms.
Donning black from head to toe, we disappear for a few hours. It’s not that we enjoy being shoved rudely by riot police dressed for a military coup. But the only way we can counter the despair we feel about our town being taken over by people who hate us is to do anything that remotely feels like resistance today. When the day is over, we shrug off the faint smell of pepper spray on our clothes and the glass cuts on our skins. Our eyes peek out between our beanies and bandanas covering our faces, but not enough to stand out of the Bloc. Later, we ask around if anyone’s seen So-and-So. We check the jail records. We go home and drink away the adrenaline.
The next day, the streets are packed with a new crowd. First, the thousands of bodies stand around in the cold, immobilized in their mobilizing. Later, they spill from the National Mall into the city, discarding thousands of protest signs in their wake. Between coffee breaks, the crowd high-fives police officers in pink pussy hats. Our eyes roll until they have nowhere else to go.
By Sunday, we feel the strain of marching in our calves and in our shoulders. But this is just the warm-up. When the masses return to their hometowns, it’ll just be a few hundreds of us locals, gathering at the Upper Senate Park to chant against the industry hacks filling our agencies.
This is just the beginning, and we’re already so tired.
January 29, 2017
Katherine D., 31—Smithsonian Institution.
The purpose of this gathering becomes clear halfway through brunch. Clara is looking for absolution. I stuff my mouth with a waffle to avoid answering the question. Can ICE lawyers still be good people? And the subtext: Can we remain friends with Clara? The thought of breaking up wouldn’t even have crossed our minds before this brunch. Normally, we’d just share bagels and avoid the topic of work. But now it seems we have no choice but to confront the fact that Clara just became “the resisted.”
“Aren’t we on the same team?” she asks. We were last week at the Women’s March, at the Inauguration March too, and when we all voted for Hillary. We were when ICE answered to President Obama. I nod, though now I wonder: Should we have been? People called Obama the “deporter-in-chief,” so why was I so willing to look the other way then? But Clara says that it’s divisive rhetoric that got us in this mess in the first place. “We’re all Americans.” I’m supposed to believe that people like Clara can affect change from the inside. That between Clara—the sweet friend who baked me consolation lemon bars when my girlfriend dumped me the week of my birthday—and a soulless Trump hire, I should be thankful it’s her doing the job. But I’m skeptical. I try to change the subject, but Clara won’t let this go unless she can convince us all of her viewpoint. This is the plague of being friends with lawyers.
The immigration laws are what they are, she says. She didn’t create them! She just enforces them. In the same breath, she concedes that the so-called Muslim ban is bad. More waffling and backtracking. She objects to being called the C-word—complicit—for advising her agents on how to perform a proper immigration raid. How could she possibly have guessed any of her legal research assignments would be turned into this mess?
“Uh, how could you have not?” I ask, unable to stop myself.
Helen chimes in. Having represented a child in not one but two pro bono deportation cases (something she brags about to literally anybody who will listen), she knows that “it’s better when the lawyer on other side is a good guy.” Then again, Helen’s day job is busting unions at a white-shoe law firm. Birds of a fucking feather, if you ask me. Oh God, did I just say that out loud? (Judging by Helen’s narrowed eyes, the answer is yes.)
One of us asks if we even hear ourselves. All too late, we drop the subject. Grab our umbrellas. Tip the waiter. On our way out, take a picture and pretend “we should do this again sometime!”
February 10, 2017
Scott H. G., 40—Department of Education.
Though we do not see Betsy DeVos, our Heiress-in-Chief, very often, word is that we are the best purchase she’s made in years. Another rumor is that she takes a special elevator to her office suite just to avoid us, her grubby peasant underlings. It’s hard to feel sorry for her when protesters hijack her visit to a public school with neon signs. News photographs of her being ushered away like the precious cargo of capital that she is, have been making the rounds covertly this morning. How good it feels to laugh again.
To cheer ourselves up, we rewind C-SPAN to catch the parts where the Senators yell at her. Any question about her intent to protect transgender students continues to be met with silence and a constipated smile. Behind the scenes, we try to explain what it’s like to be a student who isn’t born into enough money to build several underground compounds for the looming revolution. Nothing sticks. We are met with silence and constipated smiles.
In a closed-door meeting, we watch in horror as her political appointee implies that most college women who report rapes are lying for pleasure. We avoid eye contact with each other, lest we should betray our rage. We present our data against charter schools. The more hopeful among us thought the new administration would, in its efforts to be contrarian, abandon Obama’s friendliness towards them. Soon, the disappointment settles in—the money will continue to pour in.
We invite a friend we haven’t seen in six years for drinks, hoping she’s still at the Post. Later, we erase searches about leaks from our search engines.
“Any good news?” my friends ask.
I pause to think… “Sorry,” I text back. “But let me know if you hear of any openings?”
April 1, 2017
Colton S., 37—Department of Interior.
Imagine being lucky enough to spend your childhood hiking up the trails on federal lands and swimming in the lakes around which they meander. That was me, as a kid! Now my job is to make sure that everyone else can enjoy our pristine lands, freely and for free. Or rather, it was. I’m not quite sure what our mission is anymore…
I only know three things about our Secretary, none of which are reassuring. One: that Zinke’s a self-parody of a wannabe cowboy with a soft spot for luxury travel on the public’s tab. Two: that he has a ferocious appetite for auctioning off our lands to as many of his friends as humanly possible before Trump unceremoniously fires him. And three: that he’s never stepped in a forested area without scheming to carbonize it into a moneymaking crater.
I ignore the latest bizarre email about the hunting video games that have apparently just been installed in the cafeteria. In the bathroom, I whisper to Rob, who is diligently washing his hands in the adjacent sink, that it must be some kind of April Fool’s. But then someone in the stall pipes up that no, they’re very real: and you get extra points for shooting the red quails. Even more for the ducks. Stall guy tuts. Two years to retirement, with a pension, if he can wait it out. Rob and I sigh like people who’ll never get to retire. Like everyone else, I cooperate, however reluctantly. Some of us clear his calendar for teleconferences with the Florida politicians whose coastal properties he will spare from his offshore drilling fantasies. Others reluctantly look up copyrights for coal photographs slated for the website. I ask his young aides for feedback on our research paper, but the science bores them. It is more fun to hand us a list of phrases the agency will be “retiring,” starting with “climate change.” One of them actually uses air quotes. Little does he know that we have heard his fellow appointee talk about climate change without the quotes.
Walls are thin here; and so are convictions.
May 15, 2017
Ernesto Y., 55. Department of Energy.
A few hours into his confirmation hearing, Secretary Perry finally figured out what kind of energy our department deals with. Unfortunately for him, it’s not the kind pumped out of Texas oil rigs. Ever since, he keeps asking if that means he can’t telework from his home state. Today, we once again remind him that we can’t actually tell him what to do. Our supervisor thinks the Secretary will eventually tire of referring to the dance routines he mastered for Dancing with the Stars as “the other rocket science,” but I’m not so sure. He seems taken with how smart his scientists are—or at least, taken enough to not fire us yet.
I sleep a little better at night knowing that he’s probably causing less damage at our agency than he did from the Texas Governor’s Mansion. We do not oversee executions here. We are, however, responsible for the security of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile. Incompetence does carry some minor risks.
November 21, 2017
Ayesha L., 34—Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Welcome to the Department of Comedy of Errors, formerly known as the agency that funds public and subsidized housing along with community development projects. Our Secretary Carson is the fun dad in the neighborhood—a man so adventurous that he accepted a nomination in spite of, by his own admission, knowing nothing about the subject. We don’t see him much. Sometimes it’s because he’s in the room, but so silent that no one notices his presence. Other times, it’s because he’s stuck in a public housing elevator for twenty minutes and no one notices his absence. When we do see him, his wife and large adult son lurk close behind. I wonder if either has a badge and what the title part could possibly say.
He’s a language disruptor, our agency Dad. Or at least, this is the only way I can explain his decision to call slaves “immigrants” in the prepared speech he made to us on his first day here. He does have a certain level of chill, which everyone could benefit from. So chill, in fact, that we can’t always tell that his eyes are actually open at any given moment until he blinks. (We wish he would blink more.)
On an unrelated note, can I just say how genuinely surprised I am with how well the Thanksgiving potluck is put together this year? If this party is any indication, Eric Trump was lucky to have our potluck planner plan his wedding. Too bad her skills aren’t actually transferrable to helping out public housing residents. But I’m enjoying it! (That said, I would give up an organ to know just how bad one must screw up to land in Trump’s least favorite agency.) We wait until his political appointees are out of earshot to take bets on which FHA excites him the least, between the Federal Housing Administration and the Fair Housing Act. Who are we kidding? There’s not a world in which this man knows the difference. And either way, most of our investigations are stalled for the next four years. Oh well. Guess I’ll just twiddle my thumbs and collect my five-figure salary until the next administration lets me get back to work.
November 27, 2017
Tabitha B., 36—Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
House of Trump has deposed the rightful Interim Queen, Leandra English, and stolen the throne from House of Former Director Richard Cordray. We wake up to a flurry of aggressive email missives urging us to respect the Usurper, and to immediately report any directives from the Interim Queen to the Priesthood formerly known as the Office of General Counsel. Rumors swirl that the Queen is petitioning the Courts, but none of us can say just how soon she will return to undo the dismantling of our seal and mission.
We resist passively, first by collectively unfollowing the agency’s Twitter account—now in the hands of the Usurper who has been using it as his personal photo stream. We refuse to touch any of the doughnuts that House of Trump purports to offer us, and make a mental note of the turncoats who dare eat them. We avoid the meet-and-greets for as long as we can. The lack of interest seems mutual. In one email, the Usurper tells us to suck it up if he never learns our names because he’s got triplets whose names he can barely bother with. Ha! Ha! This joke probably landed at some kind of Men’s Prayer Breakfast one time and now anyone who works for him is condemned to suffer it.
We refuse to open further emails from the Usurper. Most of them are leaked to the presses as soon as they hit our inbox and, in any event, the Usurper makes most of his edicts to the press before he talks to us. It’s a new era, he announces grandly, writing as though House of Trump has given him a lifetime appointment we’re unaware of. Our new mission from now on is to protect the Bank of Vampires from consumers, and the Loan Sharks from the little fish. As the Usurper tells us that we will do so with as few resources as humanly possible (unless the vampires and sharks order him otherwise), a little blood trickles from the corner of his mouth.
The Chamber of Sharks closes in with demented smiles. The vampire press erupts in cheers. Emboldened, they gather beneath the moon to sharpen with their best fang sharpeners, the ones they haven’t pulled out of their coffers since the Great Gorging of 2008. A feast is coming. We’ll be watching along with everyone else.
December 29, 2017
Taylor H., 37—Office of the Ambassador for the United Nations.
It’s an all hands on deck kind of day here, at the Office of the Ambassador for the United Nations of Us and Pretty Much Just Israel at This Point. I thought we would get away with an uneventful end of year. I made dinner plans with my wife. We got a babysitter. And I even made a therapy appointment for tonight. But news just hit that our Ambassador Nikki Haley was pranked into admitting that Russia intervened in an island that does not exist. Which means that for the next 72 hours, I, a once ambitious double graduate of Columbia, will be applying my law degree towards frantically scouring the internet and the large world map on the second floor for any city, state, or city-state that sounds close to “Bimono.” Bonus points if I can conjure up a remote connection to Russian politics. All to save a long-lost face.
I leave the same voicemail with both my therapist and my wife: “Better luck next year, maybe.”
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