President Trump in the Oval Office

President Trump in the Oval Office Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen

How to Serve a President You Don’t Like

If you work in government, you have the opportunity to make a positive difference—no matter who sits in the Oval Office.

It is no secret that the vast majority of Washingtonians dislike our current president. Maybe there's some secret poll going about and the proportion is less than awful—perhaps it's 75-25 opposed, instead of 98-2. But here's a quick newsflash, in case this fact isn't clear: By default in every administration, some federal employees will be "yuge" proponents of the winning candidate, and others will truly dislike the person. They may even think the president is the worst thing ever to happen to the country and does not deserve to be in office.

But you do not have to like the president to serve well, to make your agency more functional, and to deliver great service to the American public. When President Obama took office in 2009, it was a very happy moment for me as a citizen, at the time. But even when my feelings changed—and over time they did change sharply—I was still able to serve, and serve well. Because whatever program I was working on, it had little or nothing to do with the president and everything to do with the citizen. The more effectively and efficiently I contributed, and helped others to contribute, the better we served the taxpayers, who too often are forgotten in all the discord.

Many conflicts in government really are about ideological differences and beliefs that are fervently held. Others are about personality differences. Still others have to do with money, status, and power. Many are a mixture of all of these.

But most federal employees aren't having these power struggles. Quite honestly, they're just getting by, maybe trying to learn something along the way, trying to contribute what they can. They want to take care of themselves and their kids; they want to hang out with their friends and live normally in what feels like an increasingly unstable world.

Most civil servants, at least, can serve a president they don't like. But if doing you job under this president means violating your personal beliefs and principles, then I would argue it's incumbent upon you to find another place to work outside of government. To me, there is a seditious quality to remaining in government while working covertly to thwart the administration.

But even if you do not like President Trump and you do not agree with his policies or his approach to things, you can function well if you focus on the taxpayers. Ask yourself:

  • What can you do to explain what's going on, respond to questions, make it easier to access information and services taxpayers are entitled to, and decipher the byzantine ways of the government?
  • What can you do to make it easier to work with your agency?
  • What can you do to increase your agency's accountability, its adherence to process and its mission?
  • Who can you partner with in other agencies to do a better job? Look for free resources for leadership training; track down the experts in subjects you need to know about. Find out how you can access technology support without having to use a vendor.
  • What kind of social media campaigns can you build to educate the public about the benefits your agency brings to local communities and nationwide?
  • What can you do to make your agency’s data available so private citizens, researchers and business can access it and use it?
  • How can you help the media provide accurate information about your agency and its mission?
  • How can you rebrand valuable programs that may have been championed by a prior administration, and are therefore overlooked or minimized today? Perhaps you can reach out and educate new appointees about the importance of the work and the opportunity for them to leverage it as a pillar of their own success.

Let's be a little entrepreneurial here. Times change. Even if you do not like the current administration, you may serve a president you like better at some point down the road (or you may find the next one is someone you love to hate even more). The point is, the civil service isn't about liking or disliking any one leader. It’s about the effective, disinterested oversight and management of the organizations that deliver critical services to citizens. If you work in government, you have an opportunity to make things better.

Copyright 2018 by Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of her employer or any other organization or entity.