By Ed Diokno
Views from the Edge
In 2011 Ruman Ahmed got a job of a lifetime. Straight out of college, she joined the Obama administration. “My job there was to promote and protect the best of what my country stands for,” she writes in a piece in The Atlantic. “I am a hijab-wearing Muslim woman — I was the hijabi in the West Wing — and the Obama administration always made me feel welcome and included.”
The 2015-2016 presidential campaign changed the climate of the country, says Ahmed, the daughter of immigrants from Bangladesh. She felt the Muslim American community was under attack.
As Obama left and Trump’s people began moving into the White House, since she wasn’t a presidential appointee, Ahmed felt her job with the National Security Council wasn’t in jeopardy. She thought she could work with the incoming administration, as her peers had done with previous administrations, regardless of party affiliation.
She lasted eight days. When the President signed the executive order banning and restricting travel from seven Muslim-dominated countries and stopped accepting refugees, she felt she had to leave.
She told her boss, Michael Anton, who came in with Trump, why she was leaving:
“I told him I had to leave because it was an insult walking into this country’s most historic building every day under an administration that is working against and vilifying everything I stand for as an American and as a Muslim. I told him that the administration was attacking the basic tenets of democracy. I told him that I hoped that they and those in Congress were prepared to take responsibility for all the consequences that would attend their decisions.:
Anton looked at her and said nothing.
It turns out that Anton wrote an article under a pseudonym on behalf of the Trump campaign that was widely disseminated among conservative websites. In the article he wrote that Islam is an inherently violent religion that is “incompatible with the modern West,” defended the World War II-era America First Committee, which included anti-Semites, as “unfairly maligned,” and called diversity “a source of weakness, tension and disunion.”
The article is also interesting because it gives us a glimpse of how the Trump White House was operating in an environment of chaos. The Monday after the inauguration, “I walked into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, with the new staffers there. Rather than the excitement I encountered when I first came to the White House under Obama, the new staff looked at me with a cold surprise. The diverse White House I had worked in became a monochromatic and male bastion.”
“This was not typical Republican leadership, or even that of a businessman. It was a chaotic attempt at authoritarianism,” Ahmed writes.
Ruman Ahmed was part of the National Security staff that advised President Obama. Official White House photo
I wonder how many government employees are facing the same dilemma that confronted Ahmed and how many are arriving at the same conclusion.
Certainly, the underreported “revolt” within the government runs deep. Some workers have chosen to go underground and work from within the government. With alternative websites springing up set up by disgruntled government employees who have been told to stop using social media to share information about climate change, scientific and medical research and breakthroughs, I suspect the feeling of distrust against Trump and his political appointees runs deeper than we think.
Ahmed’s resignation is only the tip of the iceberg.
America is far from perfect. There is much that still needs to be done, to fight for — but we have to admit, the country has made mighty strides in the past 60-70 years during which we learned to take care of our elderly, ensured that retirees are not living in poverty and that all people have access to affordable health care. However, as the Trump administration begins to flex its muscle – the Muslim ban is only the start and The Wall has taken on metaphorical status – and we see the progress we’ve made in civil rights, equality and opportunities being attacked or undermined, we all need to ask ourselves the questions: Where do I stand? What can I do to express my outrage; to change things; to make a positive difference?
As Ahmed concludes in her article:
“Placing U.S. national security in the hands of people who think America’s diversity is a ‘weakness’ is dangerous. It is false.
“People of every religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and age pouring into the streets and airports to defend the rights of their fellow Americans over the past few weeks proved the opposite is true –– American diversity is a strength, and so is the American commitment to ideals of justice and equality.”