Miles Taylor, a whistleblower within the Trump administration, spoke about the importance of dissent and shared his own experiences Thursday on Zoom. The event, titled “Why Dissent Matters—Lessons on Leadership Culture from a White House Whistleblower,” was hosted by the Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics.
While within the Trump administration, Taylor said he worked as the chief of staff to the U.S. secretary of homeland security. In 2018, he published an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times criticizing the Trump administration. Taylor recounted coming forward as the author and the aftermath of the decision.
“I turn on the television and the president is at a rally in front of thousands of people,” Taylor said. “And he says the words, ‘bad things will happen to Miles Taylor’ and goes on a tirade about me. A dog whistle, of course, to his supporters that they should make bad things happen to me.”
One of the fundamental separations between Taylor and former President Donald Trump, according to Taylor, is their opinions on dissent. To explain his ideas, Taylor referenced former President Theodore Roosevelt, who said it was morally important to speak both pleasant and unpleasant truths about the president.
After he submitted the anonymous op-ed, Taylor said Trump tweeted “TREASON?” in reference to him.
“Those seven letters say all you need to know about the man under which I was serving at the time,” Taylor said. “He believed any dissent and any criticism of him was treason. I saw this inherently [differently].”
Before further explaining his own story, Taylor encouraged listeners to critique his decisions, saying this criticism is what dissent represents.
“I want you guys to listen to these examples—listen to the decisions I made and please question my judgment,” Taylor said. “Because I didn’t always make the right calls, but that is the spirit of dissent. You should question the decisions I’ve made.”
Taylor said that before joining the Trump administration, he worked with former House Speaker Paul Ryan on what he called the “Trump inoculation plan.” According to Taylor, the plan hoped to stop Trump’s election or provide a conservative government plan so the administration would not be governed completely by impulse.
Taylor discussed his difficult decision to join the administration.
“I had no interest in going to serve Donald Trump,” Taylor said. “I revered John Kelly. The opportunity was to come in and be General Kelly’s national security adviser. The option was to stay on the sidelines and critique this administration from the outside with what small bullhorn I had at that point in time, or I was convinced by John’s team, come in and try to help keep this place in check.”
Taylor said one of the turning points for him while working for the former president was Trump’s reaction to former Senator John McCain’s death. Taylor said he received a phone call saying that Trump wanted all of the flags that had been lowered to half-staff in McCain’s honor to be raised. Though Trump was talked out of this decision, Taylor said this was a crucial moment for him.
“This was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Taylor said. “A bad man hell-bent on using the powers of his office to dishonor a good leader—it was an example, a microcosm of all the worst things that were happening in the Trump administration.”
Taylor said he left the administration when he realized dissent from the inside was no longer working and decided to write a book titled A Warning under a pseudonym. When he feared Trump was going to win reelection, Taylor said he came forward as the author.
He also said he worked with the largest group of past Trump administration staffers to speak out against his reelection. When asked about the future of the Republican Party, Taylor questioned a return to the party’s values.
“Where do we go next as a Republican Party?” Taylor said. “How do we get beyond the extremism of Trumpism, and back towards the center, back towards the center-right party that’s rational, that believes in the values of free minds, free markets, and free people and not in a cult of personality?”
Featured Image by Maddy Romance / Heights Editor