According to two sources familiar with the situation, as well as written communications … the White House Presidential Personnel Office (PPO) is still in the process of vetting candidates for job openings in various parts of the federal government, positions that the White House intended to fill by early next year.
I’ve been out of a job since May, and the White House is hiring. Never mind that the incumbent president, Donald Trump, lost reelection on November 3. Never mind that Trump is judged widely to be the worst president in U.S. history. Never mind that, as I ponder my own career prospects, Trump’s attempting a harebrained coup d’état.
The Donald refuses to concede the election, and he’s merrily firing anybody he suspects of believing his loss wasn’t fake news. Personnel chief John McEntee (who lost his previous job as Trump’s “body man” because of gambling debts that imperiled his security clearance) warns White House staffers: I catch you looking for a new job, you’re out on the street. And now The Daily Beast posts a dispatch under the sublime headline, “Trump White House Still Vetting for Job Openings for a Second Term That’s Not Happening.”
Some might see in this a deleted scene from The Death of Stalin. Others might see a constitutional crisis. I see an opportunity to resume drawing a weekly paycheck.
“Thank you for your interest in serving in the Trump administration,” reads the website for “non-career positions”—that is, jobs for political appointees (as opposed to civil service jobs for aspiring Deep Staters). “Are you a U.S. citizen?” A routine question on every job application; it feels a little fraught here, but yes, I am. Under “optional information” I enter my race (white), gender (male), and birth date. Partisan affiliation, I’m surprised to see, is optional, too. I take that as my invitation to leave it out.
“Please describe why you hope to be a part of the president’s administration.”
Hmm. I must tread carefully here. I am engaged, of course, in a stunt to amuse readers, but I don’t want it to be a deceitful one. “I look,” I explain, “at the caliber of appointees in this administration—Stephen Miller, Kayleigh McEnany, Mark Meadows—and feel this is an environment in which my skill set would stand out.”
My cover letter mentions “four decades’ experience in Washington as a journalist, at The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere.” No need to flag the two liberal journals of opinion where I worked, nor straight-news outlets like The New York Times and Politico that the White House personnel office will likely judge enemy territory.
“Journalism is an occupation that’s conditioned me to maintain extremely low expectations about job security,” I conclude, truthfully. “But if the president succeeds in challenging the results of the 2020 election, I feel this could be a job I could hold for 10 or 20 years.”
Next, I’m asked to check off the departments, agencies, or boards where I wish to work. I check everything, because I’m writing on a short deadline and I want to maximize my odds of getting a quick tug on the line. But an error message tells me, “You cannot select more than 100 items.”
What a time for the White House personnel office to play hard to get! Even forgetting that Trump lost, the “A” team turnover since the start of his term has been 91 percent, and the serial “A” team turnover (jobs that have turned over at least twice) has been 39 percent, according to Kathryn Dunn Tenpas of the Brookings Institution. This is, after all, a president who once tried (unsuccessfully) to trademark the phrase “You’re fired.”
Turnover will likely accelerate if the courts allow Trump to get away with a little-noticed executive order issued on October 21 that greatly expands White House control over hiring and firing executive branch officials who hold “confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating” civil service jobs. The malign spirit of this new assault on the independence of career employees is captured nicely in the new job category’s official designation, “Schedule F.”
When I say it should not be especially difficult for me to score a gig at the Trump White House, I don’t mean to sound conceited. It’s not that I fancy myself any great shakes. I just figure any rat volunteering to board this sinking ship should expect a warm welcome. Remember Baruch Korff, the ass-kissing Orthodox rabbi who told Richard Nixon he’d be “sinning against history” if he resigned? (Never mind that Nixon was a wicked antisemite.) Consider this my bid to be a secular Rabbi Korff.
So I dutifully go back and whittle down my list of 100-plus jobs and press “Submit” a second time. This time I receive not an error message but thanks for helping to Make America Great Again.
While I wait for my cell phone to start ringing off the hook, I log onto the job-search site LinkedIn and see a listing for “Food Taster.” But it’s a gag, posted two days earlier by a mischievous software engineer named Anthony Mandra.
I pick up the phone and call Mandra. He tells me he hoped to elicit some funny replies, but with unemployment a whisker below 7 percent, the first six applicants zoomed past the obvious jokes (“Your job will be to make sure that the Commander in Chief can survive four years with his second in command”) and submitted real résumés in deadly earnest.
Next, I click on to the White House website. The Council of Economic Advisers, I see, is recruiting “senior economists,” and as it happens I published a book eight years ago about income inequality. But they want you to have a doctoral degree in economics. That seems a bit rich, considering Larry Kudlow, the recovering alcoholic and cocaine addict who pulls down $183,000 as director of Trump’s National Economic Council, doesn’t even have a master’s degree.
How about secretary of defense? In the Trump Cabinet, this position is akin to teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts, with a new Pentagon secretary showing up every year. (The last two weren’t even confirmed by the Senate.) Trump is just now scouting a fourth defense secretary, having fired Mark Esper for resisting him on dispatching troops against Black Lives Matter protesters.
My qualification? What if I were to tell you that Michèle Flournoy, reportedly the front-runner for the job in the Biden Cabinet, went to my high school? If Trump named me, he could boast truthfully that his SecDef was three classes ahead of Biden’s choice. While I romped at the beach on Senior Ditch Day, Flournoy, a lowly frosh, had to attend geometry class! But when I enter “secretary of defense” on the Defense Department’s job portal, it sends me a list of other Pentagon jobs that appear to be civil service rather than political and don’t meet my salary needs.
It’s much the same at job portals for the FBI and CIA, whose directors have also displeased Trump and are expected to be fired in coming days. Their jobs are not listed. I could perhaps apply to be a “targeting officer” and “find opportunities to disrupt terrorist attacks, illegal arms trade, drug networks, cyber threats, and counterintelligence threats.” That sounds very much like graduating from getting people in trouble, which is what I do as a journalist, to getting people killed. But starting pay is below $60k, so clearly they want someone younger.
Now it’s 24 hours in, and still I’ve received not a single phone call or email from the White House. Do I cast my pearls before swine? (Don’t let’s be rude and answer that.) Signing up for White House job alerts from Indeed.com yielded me not a single email. Granted, applying for jobs during the Covid-19 crisis consists mostly of sending online applications into the silent void. But I thought the White House was serious about staffing up for 2021 and beyond.
Perhaps it is, and I’m just not cutting it. Or maybe, as is true so often with Trump, his claim to be staffing up for a second term is mere bravado. Maybe after McEntee locks the door, sweeps for tiny hidden recording devices, and switches off the lights, he’ll say out loud that he isn’t any longer in hiring mode.
Maybe if I want to work for Donald Trump after January 20, I’d do better to apply for a job at his real estate company. There’s even less job security there, but the pay is better.