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This American Life

The Revolution Starts At Noon

Some people are super-stoked for the political changes that are coming. Others, less so.

Prologue.

Ira Glass

When I reached Eric Pahls three weeks ago, he was on the road. In fact, it was his second day on the road, headed from Kansas, where he's from, to Washington, DC.

Eric Pahls

I am in the mountains of southwest Pennsylvania-- or hills-- right now, so I hope I don't lose you.

Ira Glass

I'd say that part of the drive is so incredible because suddenly you really are not in the Midwest.

Eric Pahls

Right. The houses get older and the land gets a little more diverse than it was.

Ira Glass

Yeah. There's hills suddenly.

Eric Pahls

Yeah. Right. Not flat, I guess, in other words.

Ira Glass

Yeah. And describe the scene. Explain who's with each other right there in the truck.

Eric Pahls

Yeah, we are in a GMC pickup with a U-Haul trailer on the back of it. My dad's driving. My younger brother's in here, as well.

Ira Glass

And explain why you're going to DC.

Eric Pahls

I'm going because I am the press secretary for an incoming congressman.

Ira Glass

Not just a press secretary, the 22-year-old press secretary, fresh out of college, for a first-time congressman who's never held elective office himself, Republican Roger Marshall of Kansas' first district. Eric got the job since Roger Marshall was a long-shot candidate, a doctor. And Eric was his press secretary for the campaign. Eric's previous Washington experience? Intern. In a way, the two of them are like Donald Trump and many of his appointees. They're newbies to politics now thrown into the biggest political swamp in the country.

On the road, Eric's been getting advice from his dad on how to stick to a personal budget. He's not making that much money in his new job. And he's been trying to get his father and his brother to listen to some very old music-- Kris Kristofferson; The Eagles; Fleetwood Mac; oh, and Elvis.

Eric Pahls

And I know that becomes a little more cliche young Republican, but Crosby, Stills, and Nash--

Ira Glass

Dude, that's Democrats' music.

Eric Pahls

That's right. Yeah, they were like '68, outside-the-convention music.

Ira Glass

Back in the U-Haul, there's furniture that he just bought from Ikea for his new tiny studio apartment; a recliner from home that he brought, despite his mom's objections; and ties-- lots of ties.

Eric Pahls

I didn't realize I had that many ties till I went to pack. I would say probably 30 to 40 ties.

Ira Glass

Oh, wow. You own more than I do.

Eric Pahls

Well, last Christmas I asked to be a member of the Tie of the Month club.

Ira Glass

Now, I'm no expert on being a press secretary, but from seeing them on TV, it just seems like you could get by with like four ties-- blue, red, blue stripe, red stripe.

Eric Pahls

Right. I get really self-conscious about wearing the same tie like more than once in a couple weeks. I also just really like ties.

Ira Glass

Eric is very aware that's he's going to be working on Capitol Hill during a historic moment in our country, with a president who's all about disruptive change and a Republican Congress that's out to prove what it can accomplish.

Not that Eric agrees with the new president on every issue. He doesn't want to build a wall and he comes from a big agricultural congressional district, so he likes our current trade deals. Hes likes the TPP. But he's an idealistic young conservative, the kind of Republican fanboy who was thrilled when he met Bob Dole and John McCain and Jerry Moran. And if you're asking yourself, who's Jerry Moran? Well, then that is exactly my point. He's excited to see his team poised for big things.

Eric Pahls

The Republicans, for all my lifetime, have been fighting for an opportunity such as this. And it obviously did not come in the package that most of us thought it would come in, but it's here. And here's our big audition and we best not screw it up or it's going to be another lifetime, if we even get another chance.

Ira Glass

Well, today on our program, it's inauguration weekend. And after this insanely divisive and bitter election, we seem to be heading into these next four years with some people super stoked for what's about to happen and others horrified and frightened. Today's program reflects that. We're going to hear from both groups. And given the mutual animosity between the two sides, we have worked extra hard to find Republicans to put on the air who Democrats would find interesting to listen to and maybe even kind of like, and to find Democrats who Republicans would find interesting to listen to and maybe even like. You can be the judge of how well we did.

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act 1.

Ira Glass

Act One, Mean Come True.

Thursday night in the same room where the annual White House Correspondents' dinner is held was the DeploraBall. The crowd was in a mix of inaugural formal wear-- gowns, heels, minks-- plus tons of young people in jeans and T-shirts-- red "Make America Great" hats everywhere, of course. It's not unusual for people at any inaugural ball to congratulate themselves for electing the president. These balls are for donors and fundraisers and organizers, after all.

At the DeploraBall, people made the case for themselves this way. Jay Boone and Conor O'Hagan explain to our producer Zoe Chace, using a curse word, by the way, that we did not beep here in the podcast. The crowd at this ball--

Jay Boone

We did it. We memed him into the presidency.

Zoe Chace

You memed him?

Jay Boone

We memed him into power. We shit-posted our way into the future.

Conor O'hagan

It's true. This is true.

Jay Boone

This is true because we directed the culture.

Ira Glass

Directed the culture, he said, through social media-- making snarky memes for Twitter and Facebook, creating a climate, disseminating a rolling, trolling message over months and months. Zoe explains what they're talking about and how they all ended up in this room.

Zoe Chace

This is a place where being called a troll is a compliment. And the best trollers from Twitter are the celebrity guests. Kat Niedermair explains the original concept for the ball like this.

Kat Niedermair

A meeting of the trolls. A troll con. It would be a gathering of some of the most triggering personalities. There would be a video playing or projected of all of the top memes of the election.

Zoe Chace

Kat is a small, twitchy, 22-year-old girl-- big eyes, enormous glasses, stringy blonde hair, online marketer/anarchist/libertarian/punk kid. She spends a lot of time on Twitter. Everyone at this ball pretty much got to know each other online, in Twitter chat rooms, on Reddit threads like "The Donald," online forums like 4Chan and 8Chan. There was much to discuss and analyze and joke about in these corners of the internet during this election. Like when those Podesta WikiLeaks came out, thousands of emails to and from Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, this was the army that weaponized that information for political warfare. They wanted to get that information out.

Kat Niedermair

I wasn't one of those people who was reading every WikiLeaks, but a lot of my friends were. I knew a batch would drop. Someone would download them. Many people would download them. Many people would read through them. And then there was a bit of an industry created. You've got a few different types of people that you'll find in the Twittersphere. There are the researchers. There are the compilers. And then there's the meme magicians.

Zoe Chace

The meme magicians?

Kat Niedermair

Yes. The meme magicians. They are the ones who are able to translate what the people who are spending 18 hours a day reading through the emails.

Zoe Chace

Here's how it works. This is an email from the chairman of Hillary's campaign to other people on the team about potential vice presidential picks.

Kat Niedermair

So this is from Podesta from March the 17th, 2016. "Let me know if there are people you would like to see added or removed before we begin the process. I have organized names in rough food groups." And from there, the food groups begin. The first group is Javier Becerra, Julian Castro, Eric Garcetti, Tom Perez, Ken Salazar.

Zoe Chace

It's a group of Hispanic people. Then it's a group of women, mostly white women. There's a group of black people, a group of rich people.

Kat Niedermair

Mm-hmm.

Zoe Chace

Yeah.

Kat Niedermair

Yeah.

Zoe Chace

And Bernie Sanders.

Kat Niedermair

And Bernie Sanders.

Zoe Chace

One of the meme magicians, this guy Triggerbait, turned that into a meme. Simple, just a picture of the food pyramid with little emojis of black people at the base, Hispanic people and women right above, rich people at the top. He included a link to the original email. Kat's job was to collect stuff like this and spread it around. Like before a presidential debate, she'd put the word out.

Kat Niedermair

Because we need memes. Need more memes.

Zoe Chace

The great thing about the Podesta emails in particular, she says, is they got everyone working together. A bunch of the Twitter trolls swarmed together on the same quest.

Kat Niedermair

That's kind of the funny thing about trolls. If they don't have a thing to do, then they're going to be trolling either way. But if they've got a mission with a clear focus, it meant that the trolls were trolling, but they were all trolling in the same direction, sort of.

Zoe Chace

Right. Around these emails.

Kat Niedermair

Yeah.

Zoe Chace

And when Trump's campaign was at its lowest point, after the AccessHollywood tape came out and Republican leaders were abandoning him, the deplorables swooped in to the rescue. Some of the most popular trolls on Twitter came up with this MAGA3X hashtag. That's Make America Great Again three times. Do three Trump things every day. Hold pro-Trump flash mobs. Get three Trump supporters to the polls. Retweet three Trump-related memes.

This did reach a lot of people, including deplorable Wiggleman-- Phillip Wiglesworth offline. He's a vet living in Florida. He voted for Obama in 2008. He'd started this election as Trump-curious. He got caught up retweeting all these nutty memes and jokes till he became a hardcore Trump fan. Basically, he's the 3X in MAGA3X.

Phillip Wiglesworth

There's a nice, really funny YouTube video. Let me find it in my favorites here really quick.

Zoe Chace

This is one of his personal favorites.

Phillip Wiglesworth

His YouTube name his SocialistMop. And he did a video on Hillary Clinton and James Comey. And he put James Comey's press conference to music with auto-tune.

James Comey

(AUTOTUNED) Good morning. I'm here to give you an update on the FBI's investigation of Secretary Clinton. What I'm gonna do is tell you what we're recommending, but first let me tell you what we found. 110 emails, 52 email chains have been determined to contain classified information--

Zoe Chace

Deplorable Wiggleman came to the DeploraBall to commune with like-minded retweeters. He wasn't the type to comb through WikiLeaks himself. He just laughed at what came around. He'd started following some of the leaders of the MAGA3X team-- Mike Cernovich, Jack Posobiec-- over the summer. By September, he was fully in. He changed his name, took a movement name. His old Twitter handle was Harleytime1.

Phillip Wiglesworth

I made it Deplorable Wiggleman when Hillary called us deplorable. The Twitterverse grabbed hold of that moniker and we owned it. And I think that's why she lost.

Zoe Chace

Because she said the word "deplorable"?

Phillip Wiglesworth

Mhm. I personally-- yeah. Yeah, definitely. She also called Bernie supporters, what? Basement dwellers? Oh, my goodness. Is she trying to lose votes? That's what it seems like.

Zoe Chace

On election night, he waited up till it was clear Trump had won.

Phillip Wiglesworth

I got out. I put my flag on my motorcycle, and I went and rode around town for a couple hours at 2, 3, 4 o'clock in the morning. Got myself some McDonald's for breakfast then came home and went to bed. To counter Michelle Obama, it was the first time in a long time that I felt hope for our country. Really felt hope for our country.

Zoe Chace

I don't need to tell you that lots of people felt the opposite on election night-- despair, fear. Trump's America doesn't necessarily feel like a welcoming space for everybody. Deplorable Twitter does not, either. This pro-Trump corner of the internet can be super racist. It includes people who call themselves alt-right, or white nationalists.

Zoe Chace

It seems like, in a way, some of the deplorable internet, the trolling internet, was creating a space to say racist stuff.

Kat Niedermair

So the more that it offends and the more that it triggers, the more they'll say it.

Zoe Chace

Kat says it doesn't mean they're actually haters. They're making a point. We go over this one guy's tweets, Baked Alaska. Big Twitter personality in this world. He does stuff like retweet white supremacist David Duke.

Zoe Chace

But he tweets out hateful things.

Kat Niedermair

Are they really hateful?

Zoe Chace

"I can't wait till you're deported," "deport you." That is hateful.

Kat Niedermair

Yeah, I guess. I think he's joking, though.

Zoe Chace

Yeah, but--

Kat Niedermair

I know, I know.

Zoe Chace

You kind of like that stuff?

Kat Niedermair

Uh-- no. I mean, yeah. I don't know. I like trolling. I enjoy trolling because I think that things should be talked about. I think that trolling encourages that. But I don't know. I mean, I think that if you're saying that actually at somebody, then-- I mean, it depends on the context.

Zoe Chace

We go back and forth. I tell her, I don't get why you'd make hateful jokes like that. Ever. She says, it's making a bigger point about free speech and political correctness. I'm like, this is creating an environment where an actual guy came to DC and, at the end of his speech, called out, heil Trump.

Kat Niedermair

He was trolling.

Zoe Chace

But why is that a joke?

Kat Niedermair

Because you can't say it. Because it offends people. That's why it's a joke.

Zoe Chace

It offends people, but it also has consequences, right? Like when people said heil Hitler, there were these big consequences. They just don't care about the consequences?

Kat Niedermair

Not really. But they also-- he said "hail Trump" because he thought it was funny, because it's like not really quite "heil," but it's like very close. I see a lot of the kids online are either LARPing-- Live-Action Role-Playing-- or just seeking to offend because they want a reaction.

Zoe Chace

I wonder if that's what Trump is doing, playing a role to get a reaction. Is Trump LARPing? Trolling? Is he saying what he actually believes? Kat thinks Trump's been trolling since the beginning.

Kat Niedermair

He was completely trolling the Republican establishment.

Zoe Chace

Little Marco, Lyin' Ted, inviting Bill Clinton's rape accuser to the presidential debate-- he offended his way to the top. Or as Kat puts it, Donald Trump trolled his way into becoming the President of the United States of America. That's why they like him. He's one of them. The greatest troll who's ever been.

And the DeploraBall, Kat tells me, that's the place for the trolls of Twitter to celebrate the troll-in-chief.

[CROWD CHEERING]

Ira Glass

Zoe Chace is one of the producers of our show.

Act 2.

Ira Glass

Act Two, Dreamers Get Real.

So President Trump has said from the beginning that he would get rid of DACA. DACA is short for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It's the executive action taken by President Obama for the DREAM Act kids who were brought to the United States when they were children. Under DACA, they got to register with the government, and, in exchange, they didn't get deported. Suddenly they could get work permits, which was a big deal. President Trump could end DACA immediately in his first week.

But after the election, he seemed to backpedal a little on DACA and said in interviews that he would, quote, "work something out for DACA recipients." So since the election DACA recipients have not been sure what to think. Of course, they're worried. If DACA is rescinded, their names and addresses are in a government database. The government knows where to find them if it wants to end their protections and deport them.

Reporter Seth Freed Wessler has been talking to several DACA kids since the election, and he's found some who were thinking about their options.

Seth Freed Wessler

A few weeks after the election, Kenia and her brother Henrri started planning a trip to El Salvador, where they were born. They haven't been back in 12 years. And at this point, they're total New York kids. She's 22 and studies film, and she looks like it. She wears black, has chunky glasses. Henrri's 21. He's a music major, plays classical guitar. Preppier than his sister.

Kenya says that the threat that Donald Trump could just rescind DACA, that she might have to go back to being totally undocumented, or even be deported, it made her wonder.

Kenia

I'm thinking, could I make my home somewhere else? Can El Salvador become home? If I migrated to a country and thought of it as my home before, can I do that again? Can I just go somewhere else?

Seth Freed Wessler

She and her brother wanted to go back to El Salvador, for a visit, just to see what it would be like just in case they had to go back someday.

Kenia

That's the only thing I really have control over right now. I don't have control over Trump becoming president. I don't have control about the decisions he's going to take. But I do have control in seeing my family right now.

Seth Freed Wessler

Most of her family is still in El Salvador. In November, their grandfather had a stroke. It seemed like he could die soon. He'd pretty much raised them before they left for America. Kenia and Henrri really wanted to see him. And they found out that people with DACA can apply for this special permission to leave the US and come back in, but you need a really good reason to leave, like a family emergency, which they now had with their grandfather. Here's Henrri.

Henrri

Knowing that he's sick right now and who knows how long he has does scare me. I want to see him as soon as possible. I'm honestly scared for his health.

Seth Freed Wessler

In the weeks after the election, a lot more DACA recipients applied to travel abroad than usual-- four times as many according to a couple of lawyers I talked to.

In December, a few days before Christmas, Kenia and Henrri were granted permission to travel. Pulling it off wasn't going to be easy. The whole thing was going to cost them more than $2,000 between the plane tickets, the documentation to re-enter the country, which was $360 each. They just recently re-upped their DACA status. That was another $495 each. Plus, they're missing three weeks of work, Kenia as a waitress at a restaurant and Henrri as a waiter at a catering hall. It's a big hit. They're paying their own way through school, living pretty much week to week in their parents' house on Long Island.

Their parents thought the trip was a good idea.

Kenia

My dad always says, Kenia, don't worry. You can go back to El Salvador. You can work at an airport or a hotel somewhere where they need bilinguals.

Seth Freed Wessler

And when you hear that idea--

Kenia

I'm like, oh, hello no. I'm like, well, that is not the life I pictured for myself. But for them, they see us as having opportunities. But again, they're thinking of survival. They're not thinking of dreams like the American-- you know how we think.

Seth Freed Wessler

The next time I talk to them, just after New Year's, they were in El Salvador for the first time since they left as kids. I called them up on the phone.

Kenia

Hello?

Seth Freed Wessler

Hi, Kenia. Are you guys recording yourselves? So we are, actually, but--

Kenia brought a bunch of her film school equipment to record herself with and to document their trip.

Seth Freed Wessler

So where are-- like where are you sitting right now?

Kenia

We're actually sitting in a tree.

Seth Freed Wessler

What do you mean you're sitting in a tree? Like in a tree?

Kenia

Yeah. There's this small tree by the house, so we're just sitting here to get clearer sound because of the signal.

Seth Freed Wessler

How far off the ground are you sitting right now?

Kenia

How many feet is like that branch?

Henrri

That branch? It would be like five feet.

Kenia

Yeah, like five feet. Like my height.

Seth Freed Wessler

When Kenia and Henrri arrived at the airport in El Salvador, they got off the plane.

Kenia

And then I see a lot of faces. And I'm like, yo, they look like they're my family, but I didn't know who they were. And then I see papita barely standing like in the middle of the crowd of people who were waiting. And I'm like, papita!

Papita! [CRYING]

Seth Freed Wessler

They hadn't expected to see their grandfather. He was still pretty much bedridden. But the family had pooled their money to pay for a microbus so he could get there to greet them. Kenia rushed through the crowd of people to hug him.

Kenia

And he's like so little. I remember this tall, big man with a sombrero. And his face looks so old in the beginning that I was like, I'm surprised I'm even holding him right now.

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

OK. So today is day three of our trip to El Salvador. We're recording from bed again.

Seth Freed Wessler

Every night, they'd record their impressions and there was a lot that was different from their hazy kid memories of El Salvador. Their grandmother still made coffee. The hammock where their grandfather used to lay after a hard in the cornfield was still there. But other stuff wasn't like they'd thought.

Kenia

Like we're amazed at how beautiful El Salvador is. We remembered it, but we didn't remember completely, and it's so beautiful. The whole time we were coming up here, we're like, I want to stay. I want to stay. But then you sit down with everybody and you have a conversation and gang talk is a lot of it. You can't escape that conversation of violence.

Seth Freed Wessler

When they were little, the gangs had mostly been confined to cities, but now they'd reached little towns like theirs. Before the trip, Kenia had been careful not to ask her relatives for too many details about the violence. She was afraid to know. But being there, it was impossible to escape.

They kept hearing this one story about their cousin Daniel. Daniel gave a friend a ride on his motorcycle to a nearby town one night. It was a little later than Daniel felt comfortable. Normally nobody goes out after 8 o'clock. He told the story to Henrri as a warning. Henrri says Daniel was on his way back home and a group of guys signaled him to pull over.

Henrri

They forced him to stop there with the motorcycle. Once they had that, they started taking his stuff. He had a blue shirt on. I'm not sure if maybe that's some symbolism here for gangs, as well.

Kenia

I think it was red.

Henrri

It was blue. I don't know. Well, it was either a blue or red shirt. I'd have to make sure on that. But they took his shirt. They took his wallet, all his money. And then the next thing that they asked them for was for his papers, like the license and all that stuff, because that's how they see what town people are from.

Seth Freed Wessler

The license showed that Daniel was from Los Achiotes, their rivals. Once they'd robbed him, it seemed like they might let him go.

Henrri

But he heard that another guy who was just like, he's from the Achiotes. We know we hate those guys. Why are you going to leave him alive? So then at that point, the other guy that was about to let him go grabbed him, told him to get on his knees, and pointed a gun to his head. And right when he was about to kill him, this other car just came out of nowhere and shone his headlights onto them.

Seth Freed Wessler

Everyone stood still for a second, long enough for Daniel to reach into his pocket and grab the keys to his motorcycle. He ran to the bike, picked it up, and took off.

Henrri

But as he was riding away, one of them got a big rock and threw it at him and hit him in the back because they were hoping to take him down and then kill him with that. And he said that, as he was driving away, he overheard them shouting, we're going to get you, and we're going to find you, and we're going to kill you with that. I'm just super freaked out. This is unbelievable. And just like, damn. The only reason he got out of there was because he got lucky.

Seth Freed Wessler

Daniel had actually lived with them in the US for years when they were little. And in a lot of ways, Daniel is who Henrri and Kenia might be if they did end up back in El Salvador. He owns his own construction company, has a nice house, a family. By any standard, he's made it.

But it's just a fact. El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world. A recent survey of Salvadorans found that 40% wanted to get out of the country. Now Kenia and Henrri could see why. This is from one of their late-night recordings.

Henrri

I feel like as time passes I do love it here and everything.

Kenia

It's like a romantic little dream you have of living here in peace.

Henrri

If we could live in peace, then yes. I would say definitely. But that's the thing. You do one wrong thing and you don't get a redo.

Kenia

Yeah, things are super hard here. Beautiful, beautiful place, but life is damn hard.

Henrri

It's tough.

Seth Freed Wessler

When Kenia and Henrri really tried to imagine what their lives would be like in Los Achiotes, they started seeing all these other problems. Where their grandparents live is really isolated. There's nothing to do, no internet. Everything's expensive, but there's no work.

Kenia

By the way, the closest movie theater here--

Henrri

It's in the city.

Kenia

It's in San Salvador. That's two hours away, bruh. Two hours away. I can't go right now and watch a movie anywhere here. Insane. I gotta change that. I mean, where are the sponsors? We gotta get some film festivals out here.

Henrri

That'd be amazing.

Kenia

ASAP.

Seth Freed Wessler

But Kenia says she probably couldn't make a living doing film here, or documentaries, or photography. And the university she looked into didn't have a film department. And Kenia feels like her chances of making it here are even more difficult because she's a woman. She's watched women stand behind while men did all the talking. At a party with her relatives she was chatting with her aunt.

Kenia

Her son is just chilling with his girlfriend and whatever, and she's like, oh, he must be so cold. Take a coffee for him. And I'm like, what? He has legs. Like they have to always-- my aunt always feels like she has to protect her little boy. This is how women are here with men. They have to, I don't know, be like the mom. Even as a partner, they're being moms to them. And that makes me uncomfortable.

I think visiting is great, and I love it, but I don't know if I could do it for a long term. Henrri and I have been talking about it and I think it comes down to, if I had no choice left, I would definitely make the best life here. But right now it's so much easier in the United States because I'm already ahead in a world that I really under-- at least I understand more than El Salvador.

Seth Freed Wessler

So if DACA ends, they probably won't move to El Salvador. They'll try to make it in the US like every other undocumented immigrant-- working off the books, worrying they could get deported at any time. Kenia says she hates her choices, but the crappy option they know seems better than the crappy option they just checked out.

They're back in New York now. They were allowed to stay overseas till January 20, which happened to be inauguration day. They came back a few days earlier just to be safe.

Ira Glass

Seth Freed Wessler. He writes frequently about immigration.

By the way, even if the president decides to get rid of DACA, Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Dick Durbin have announced legislation that would keep DACA protections going for people like Kenia and Henrri. A few other Republicans have signed on-- Jeff Flake and Lisa Murkowski. The bill has not been formally introduced.

Act 3.

Ira Glass

Which brings us to Act Three. Act Three, Law and Border.

So let's turn now from DACA kids to a group that you would expect would be pretty stoked for the new president, Border Patrol agents. Their union endorsed Donald Trump last March. He's the first presidential candidate they've ever endorsed during the primaries.

Stephanie Foo went to Texas to see how they're feeling.

Stephanie Foo

Before I tell you what bugged Chris Cabrera about his job under President Obama, let me describe him for you. Chris has been a Border Patrol agent since 2001. He's 43, has chewing tobacco tucked under his lip, and a tattoo of army airborne wings on his arm. He used to be a paratrooper. And he likes the action part of his job. It's like playing hide-and-seek, he says, except you're always it.

But he also sees it as a humanitarian job. He keeps his son's old toys in the back of his truck for when he picks up children crossing the border. He's rescued migrants who were dumped in the Rio Grande River by smugglers. Like a third of all Border Patrol agents, he's Latino himself, which is something he gets flak for.

Chris Cabrera

I've even had it from some of my in-laws. How could you do that to your own people?

Stephanie Foo

Like over Thanksgiving or something?

Chris Cabrera

Maybe not Thanksgiving, but just out there barbecuing or something. I tell them, look, I can do my job with compassion. I know I can do my job the right way. I said, but if I wasn't there, who's to say the guy that fills my shoes is not going have the same level of compassion that I do?

Stephanie Foo

But anyway, back to the thing that drives Chris nuts about his job. In the last two weeks of the Obama presidency, he takes me out to this spot, one of the busiest places people cross the border. 500 people most days, he says. We're maybe half a mile from the Rio Grande, the border between Texas and Mexico.

Chris Cabrera

Yeah, I would say here not too long from now somebody will come through here.

Stephanie Foo

Is there a time of day that they usually come?

Chris Cabrera

Usually around now. Yeah, see? You got some footprints right here.

Stephanie Foo

Oh. They're small. They look like kid's prints.

Chris Cabrera

Yeah. Look at that. I mean, that one's new right there. That one's real fresh.

Stephanie Foo

Chris isn't on duty right now, just wandering around in a Detroit Tigers T-shirt. And it's getting pretty hot out, so we walk back to his pickup to sit and wait. We're in his car for seven minutes and 37 seconds when it happens.

Stephanie Foo

Oh, my god. There's three people coming down the road.

Chris Cabrera

It looks like we've got a group of four.

I'm calling it in. Yeah, this is Cabrera, mike 207. I'm off duty. I'm down here record--

Stephanie Foo

It's a young man and his teenage sister, and an older man and his teenage son. They have to have seen our car, but they don't run or hide. The travelers amble right up to us. Chris goes up to say hi.

Chris Cabrera

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Stephanie Foo

The older man speaks for the group. They've just arrived from Guatemala. Chris asks the men where they were going.

Chris Cabrera

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Older Man

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Chris Cabrera

Si.

Older Man

Para Atlanta.

Chris Cabrera

Atlanta?

Stephanie Foo

Chris says, I'm Border Patrol.

Chris Cabrera

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Older Man

Ah, Border Patrol?

Chris Cabrera

Si.

Stephanie Foo

Chris shows the man his badge, and the man looks relieved. He sighs, rests back on his heels. Chris asks him if he'd like some water.

Chris Cabrera

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Stephanie Foo

The man giggles bashfully, showing off some missing teeth and says, that'd be nice.

Older Man

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Stephanie Foo

Then the Border Patrol rolls up and hops out of their vans, clipboards in hand. They say hello and then hand the family plastic evidence bags, asking them to put their belongings inside them. The whole confrontation is surprisingly non-confrontational. The Border Patrol agents are joking around, asking kindly if everyone in their group made it.

I expected the travelers to look weary and dusty from a long trek, but the girl is wearing these silver rhinestone-covered sandals with pink socks underneath. Her socks are clean. Just on the other side of the border is Reynosa, a major Mexican city, and the man says they took a bus there. So they probably just walked here from the nearest stop.

I asked the girl if she's OK. She smiles at me and says she is. She looks nervous, but not afraid. I ask her why she's crossing. Her brother answers for her.

Brother

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Stephanie Foo

He's saying that the gangs in Guatemala wanted his sister to join and because of that she felt her life was threatened. Bingo. This group is seeking asylum, which is why they were so glad to see Chris. Before they send migrants over, coyotes tell them to look for the Border Patrol.

In the last few years, there's been a big increase in people fleeing from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, seeking asylum, mostly from gang violence. It shot up from around 8,000 adults in 2012 to at least 68,000 in 2016. Chris believes that a lot of these migrants have been handed a script by coyotes who tell them to say what this group said, that the girl would be killed if she went back home. Those are the magic words, and they work to get her entry into the country.

And this is the part of the job that bugs Chris. It means he isn't doing what he signed up to do-- protect the border.

Stephanie Foo

You're like the welcoming committee.

Chris Cabrera

In a sense, yeah. We're a welcoming committee.

Stephanie Foo

That's your job.

Chris Cabrera

Yeah.

Stephanie Foo

That must be frustrating.

Chris Cabrera

Yeah. You're figuring, what's my job come to? I'm releasing 80% of the people that are coming through.

Stephanie Foo

Not releasing right away. There is a process. Some will be detained for weeks or longer, vetted in various ways. But the reality of the situation is you can only get asylum for a few very specific reasons. You have to be persecuted for your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Most of these Central Americans probably don't qualify. Over the last five years, 80% have been rejected and deported after their hearings.

So the girl who said the gangs were after her, she probably wouldn't get asylum. But she is entitled to a hearing to see. So she'll be taken to a detention center, processed, and eventually released. She'll be assigned a court date, but because the system is so backed up, that date can be more than six years from now. And during that time, Chris says, she and the others can disappear into America, get work permits. The kids will enter school. They'll start a life.

Lots of people don't show up for their court date. They join the 11 million undocumented people living in this country. It's catch and release, Chris says. He and I and another border agent watch the four of them get into the van to be taken away.

Stephanie Foo

So how long will it take for them to get to Atlanta?

Chris Cabrera

They'll be in custody, what? 24, or-- I'm sorry--

Border Patrol Agent

72 Hours.

Chris Cabrera

72. And then they'll hit the bus station. By this time next week, they'll probably be enrolled in school somewhere.

Stephanie Foo

The way Chris sees it, while agents are tied up with asylum seekers, there are all these other people coming over the border that they don't have time to chase-- a lot of Mexicans and other people who aren't claiming asylum. And then there are the straight-up criminals trying to cross the border. The Mexican cartels smuggle drugs and guns.

Chris Cabrera

I mean, I want to get back to doing what we do and chasing and catching the bad guys, the ones that are trying to do harm to our country or bring drugs and put them on our streets. That's the ones we want to be going after. That's the ones we want to be stopping.

Stephanie Foo

But instead, you're like--

Chris Cabrera

Making bologna sandwiches. Granted, it's a necessary job, but I'm sure you can train somebody to do that for a lot less than what you're paying us.

Stephanie Foo

It's not like President Obama has changed the rules to allow in a flood of asylum seekers. Those rules have been the same for years. But Chris believes Obama's been too forgiving with undocumented immigrants in general-- not just at the border, but also the ones who are already living in our country. His administration issued all sorts of guidelines saying immigration officers shouldn't go after pregnant women, seriously mentally ill people, high school or college students.

In 2012, Obama created DACA, which of course benefited undocumented kids who came to the US. And in 2014, he pushed for DAPA, which would have allowed undocumented parents to stay in the country if their kids were legal residents.

To Chris, all these policies send a message to Central Americans. Come to the United States. Walk across the border. It's fine.

Chris Cabrera

Any time you're relaxing the rules, relaxing the laws, it causes some type of surge. They know that we're releasing people. They know that. They know the system is flawed. People started letting their relatives know back home, hey, I came through. I said this. They let me through. So more people kept coming.

Stephanie Foo

Chris and the other guys from his union have complained about all of the problems they're facing to their bosses. They've testified at Senate hearings. Nothing ever changed.

So imagine you're Chris, feeling ignored, and one day you turn on the television and the border is the centerpiece of a presidential campaign.

Trump Supporters

Build the wall! Build the wall! Build the wall!

Chris Cabrera

It was interesting. Granted, I think that's kind of like a symbolic thing-- "build the wall" that they chant. Nobody knows what's going to happen with the wall, but just for the fact that we have that support nationally as far as Border Patrol agents--

Stephanie Foo

Oh, you didn't see it as like, I'm stoked about the wall. You were like, oh, look at all of those people who support me.

Chris Cabrera

Yeah. I think they're realizing that what we have is a real job and it's a difficult job, and we're actually on their radar.

Stephanie Foo

Chris doesn't even think a continuous wall is practical. There are walls and fences along 704 miles of the border, including along parts of the Rio Grande right near here, and, Chris says, people find a way around them.

Chris Cabrera

We put an 18-foot wall up. The next day, we had 19-foot ladders all over the place. It got so bad. There were just ladders everywhere-- behind the station, stacked up as high as you can reach. After a month, they said stop bringing the damn ladders in.

Stephanie Foo

The Border Patrol felt like Trump was speaking directly to them. Actually, he did speak directly to them.

Shawn Moran

Our first guest is a best-selling author, Emmy-nominated television star, business mogul, and real estate tycoon. He is also the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Donald J. Trump. Welcome to The Green Line, Mr. Trump.

Donald Trump

Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Stephanie Foo

This is The Green Line. It's a podcast that's hosted by a bunch of Border Patrol agents, including Chris. All of them are union reps or officials in the union. Border Patrol agent Shawn Moran and Thane Gallagher were interviewing Trump, and he was telling them things they'd never heard another presidential candidate say before.

Donald Trump

When I'm-- if I'm elected, I have to say, because I have to be modest, but if and when I'm elected, I'm going to be relying very much on the professionalism of the Border Patrol to tell us what to do. They know better than anybody. They know better than any consultant you can hire. We'll be meeting and we'll be talking, but I just want to tell you I have you 100% in my mind, and I have your back. Believe me.

So I have no doubt that you folks are going to be able to do a fantastic job. I hope you agree with me. Do you agree with me on that?

Shawn Moran

We do.

Thane Gallagher

We do.

Stephanie Foo

Chris wasn't hosting that day. He was listening at home. He thought the two hosts that were handling it sounded a little giddy.

Chris Cabrera

Like two little star-struck girls just met Justin Bieber or something. Here you have the potential next leader of the free world coming on your show and talking to you-- and on top of that, he's Donald Trump. He's Donald Trump. He's a billionaire. That's big stuff.

Stephanie Foo

Trump even met up with the Border Patrol guys, in person, not on the air, a few times during his campaign, including with Art Del Cueto, one of the other hosts of the show. Here's Art.

Art Del Cueto

Doing this for quite some time, we run into a lot of people when we explain what we do and explain all the issues that we have, and a lot of time these individuals, it almost seems like they're off in another voyage waiting to ask the next question. But every time that we've sat down and spoken to Mr. Trump, every time he would sit there, listen to our answers, and thoroughly ask follow-up questions. So you could tell he's really in tune and he really is paying attention.

Stephanie Foo

On election night, a bunch of the Border Patrol union guys were in New York at Trump's victory party. Here's Art.

Art Del Cueto

Even on his acceptance speech-- when he was done with his acceptance speech, he walked off the stage and he does his rounds of shaking people's hands and high-fiving, but he took the time to stop where I'm particularly standing. He looked at me, pointed, he right away recognized who I was, and he said, here are my guys. These are my guys. He came over. He shook our hands. And he said, get ready to go to work.

Stephanie Foo

Chris was there that night, too. Unlike Art, that was the first time he'd met Donald Trump.

Chris Cabrera

He was kind of interesting, but--

Stephanie Foo

[CHUCKLES] He's kind of interesting.

Chris Cabrera

I don't get too bent out of shape. I just kind of, hey, how you doing? Shake a hand.

Stephanie Foo

You don't seem that excited about shaking the president's hand.

Chris Cabrera

Yeah, I know. I mean, he's the president. I'm sure I'll probably get to meet him again.

Stephanie Foo

Right. He's not that excited because, as far as Chris is concerned, that was just their first hello. He knows that he, or his guys anyway, will be sitting down with Trump and talking very soon.

Ira Glass

Stephanie Foo is one of the producers of our program.

Coming up, civil servants who do not like President Trump tell us stuff they are not telling their new Republican bosses about how they might quietly try to subvert his goals from inside the bureaucracy. That's when we come back from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today's program, "The Revolution Begins at Noon," stories for the inauguration of Donald Trump as president.

Act 4.

Ira Glass

We've arrived at Act Four of our show. Act Four, You're Still Fired.

It seems like so many people of the country have extreme feelings about this inauguration day. They're either incredibly excited or incredibly fearful about this new president. But one place that we found lots of people sort of in the middle was Indiana at the company that makes Carrier air conditioners and furnaces. You may remember the first campaign promise that President Trump fulfilled-- he did it even before he took office-- is when he convinced that company that makes Carrier air conditioners and furnaces from moving hundreds of jobs to Mexico.

Sam Black went and checked in with the workers who make those products and found lots of people in the middle and, interestingly, even among the people whose jobs were not saved, lots were still feeling hopeful about Donald Trump. Here's Sam.

Sam Black

The workers I met who voted for Trump, whether their jobs were saved or not, most of them were pretty lukewarm about the new president. Not hardcore "make America great again" types. One white man in his 50s told me that Trump's comments about women made him ashamed to be a man, but he voted for him anyway. A black guy in his 30s said he'd walked into the voting booth planning to go for Clinton, put his pen to her name, but then thought he couldn't trust her and changed to Trump.

Then there was Georgina. She says she was initially for Bernie Sanders all the way, but in November she went for Trump.

Sam Black

Were you excited when he was elected?

Georgina

Kinda.

Sam Black

Georgina's been working at the same factory for 25 years. She makes just over $16 an hour plus benefits, enough to live a decent life in the small town of Huntington, where her company, UTEC, is the largest employer. She's 48, raised three kids, and has 10 grandkids.

Her employer, UTEC, is the sister company to Carrier. It makes the circuit boards that go into Carrier air conditioners and furnaces. She really likes her job.

Georgina

As far as factories go, that is the easiest work that you will ever find. Ever. I mean, it's air conditioned and it's got good heat. It's clean. You can wear white to work and not worry about it.

Sam Black

Carrier became part of the presidential campaign about a year ago when the company announced it was closing its Indianapolis plant. That same morning, UTEC, where Georgina works, called all the workers into the cafeteria. Same deal. 700 people would lose their jobs.

Georgina

It was devastating. People were crying. Everybody was just stunned and very, very quiet. And once he said that, honestly, I don't know what was said after that. I have no idea because so many things were racing through my head.

Sam Black

10 months later, after Donald Trump won the election-- you may have seen this-- he went to the Carrier plant in Indianapolis to announce he'd made a deal.

Donald Trump

I want to thank Greg Hayes of United Technologies because when I called him, he was right there.

Georgina

I waited to see how many jobs were saved, whose jobs were saved. I got excited, and I was sitting on pins and needles.

Donald Trump

--is it's so great. So many people in that big, beautiful plant behind us, they're so happy. They're going to have a great Christmas.

Sam Black

Here was Trump's bargain. In exchange for a $7 million tax break, Carrier would keep about 800 jobs in Indianapolis. More than 1,300 jobs would still go to Mexico, including Georgina's.

Georgina

And when I realized, yeah, then I got a little upset and then disappointment.

Donald Trump

These companies aren't going to be leaving anymore. They're not going to be taking people's hearts out.

Georgina

Then watching all of them celebrate--

Donald Trump

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Georgina

That was a little depressing. It was hard to watch. Yeah, I was sad.

Sam Black

Georgina says that what bothered her was that Trump acted like he accomplished more than he did. And it felt like it was all about him, a publicity stunt, a victory lap at her expense. He could have at least mentioned the workers he didn't help.

Georgina

Acknowledge us-- not just us, but the ones at Indy that you didn't save, and these other factories that are all shutting down, not just us. Acknowledge them.

Sam Black

That would have meant something to you.

Georgina

It would have. I don't think that I would have thought that it was just for good press then. I would think, he's really going to try. He's going to do the best he can for everybody.

Sam Black

Georgina told me she thinks Trump's deal mostly benefited the company, which pocketed millions and still laid off 1,300 people. Another worker put it this way. Imagine getting fired by a company with billion-dollar profits and then finding out that your tax dollars are picking up their tab. It's like you're subsidizing your own layoff.

But despite all this, Georgina still holds out hope for the new president. In his campaign, Donald Trump talked about putting 35% tariffs on companies that send jobs offshore. Georgina hopes that was more than just a campaign promise. And in fact, after she and I talked, Trump brought it up at his first press conference.

Donald Trump

The word is now out that when you want to move your plant to Mexico or some other place and you want to fire all of your workers from Michigan and Ohio and all these places that I won for good reason, it's not going to happen that way anymore. You're going to pay a very large border tax. A major border tax on these companies that are leaving and getting away with murder.

Georgina

I think that Trump really does want to help keep the jobs in the US. And I don't know yet. He might be the best president we've ever had. I have no idea.

Sam Black

Georgina doesn't remember any other presidential candidate even bothering to talk about workers like her, except Bernie Sanders.

On inauguration day, Georgina was at work. She could be laid off as early as April. Her plan? Go to night school, get trained for administrative work in a hospital, making less than she does now.

Sam Black

How do you expect you'll feel watching him being inaugurated as president?

Donald Trump

Hopeful, because I want him to prove me wrong, that he is going to try and save these other people's jobs. Not ours. I know that's not going to happen, but there's other places that are talking about leaving and maybe he can save those.

Sam Black

But the truth is, Georgina says she rarely thinks about the man she helped elect. Maybe once a week when someone at work jokes about his latest tweet.

Ira Glass

Sam Black. He's a documentary filmmaker in New York.

Act 5.

Ira Glass

Act Five, Debate is Not Allowed During a Vote.

So for the Democrats, what is life about to look like without control of the White House, House, or Senate? Well, one little preview happened earlier this month at around 1:00 in the morning on the Senate floor. It was the vote that would start the process of dismantling Obamacare. Democrats knew they would lose, but for the next few years things are going to happen that they do not like and are powerless to stop. All they could do that night was try to make a statement while voting no, though the other side controls even how much of a statement they get to make. Here's an excerpt of how the vote went down.

Clerk

Mrs. Gillibrand.

Kirsten Gillibrand

I vote no on behalf of all the women who need health--

Presiding Officer

Senator is not exempt. Debate is not allowed during the vote.

Clerk

Mrs. Gillibrand, no. Mr. Schatz.

Brian Schatz

I vote no on behalf of people who need mental health care.

Presiding Officer

Debate is not allowed during the vote.

Clerk

Mr. Schatz, no.

Presiding Officer

Gentleman from Illinois.

Dick Durbin

On behalf of the Downstate hospitals of Illinois, I vote--

Presiding Officer

Debate is not in order during a vote.

Clerk

Mr. Durbin, no. Ms. Klobuchar.

Amy Klobuchar

Because there is no plan in the alternative--

Presiding Officer

Debate is not allowed--

Amy Klobuchar

--I vote no.

Presiding Officer

--will be in order.

Clerk

Ms. Klobuchar, no.

Presiding Officer

[INAUDIBLE] order. Debate is not in order during a vote.

Debate is not an order during a vote.

Debate is not in order during a vote.

Clerk

Mr. Kaine.

Tim Kaine

When I was sick, you visited me--

Presiding Officer

Debate is not allowed during a vote. The Senate will be in order.

Clerk

Mr. Kaine, no. Ms. Heitkamp.

Heidi Heitkamp

On behalf of the thousands of--

Presiding Officer

Senator will suspend.

Heidi Heitkamp

--people who receive health care in my state and rural hospital--

Presiding Officer

Debate is not allowed.

Heidi Heitkamp

--who know not how they're going to get her health care--

Presiding Officer

Senator will suspend.

Heidi Heitkamp

--if this passes without--

Presiding Officer

Clerk will begin a roll vote.

Heidi Heitkamp

--without a replacement, I vote no.

Presiding Officer

Senator will suspend.

Clerk

Ms. Heitkamp, no.

Presiding Officer

Is there any senator in the debate-- in the chamber that wishes to change their vote or vote? On this vote, the yeas are 51. The nays are 48. The concurrent resolution is agreed to.

Act 6.

Ira Glass

Act Six, Office Climate and Climate Office.

So any new president gets to appoint over 4,000 people to various positions, but most of the people in those big buildings in Washington DC are not those 4,000 people. They are civil servants. Most of them stay in their jobs from one administration to the next, whoever's in power. Not all of them. Our producer David Kestenbaum spoke with a couple of civil servants in DC who were deciding whether to stick around.

David Kestenbaum

Laura works at the Department of Energy, one of the agencies that seems like it might change dramatically under the new president. She asked us not to use her real name and to have an actor do her voice, even though she knows that's probably overkill.

She says as a civil servant you're supposed to keep your politics and your job separate. Your job is to enact the policies of whoever's in power, Democrat or Republican. But the first day back after the election it was hard to keep her politics to herself.

Laura

I've never cried at work before. When you cry, you can't hide the fact afterwards-- at least for me, my face gets really red. So I had a meeting or whatever. I just had to be like, sorry, I just had a moment. And then everybody else was like, yeah, we did, too. It's not just you.

David Kestenbaum

I don't want to get into too much detail, but your job is climate change-related?

Laura

Yes.

David Kestenbaum

How many people at DoE do you think are unconvinced that humans are causing global warming?

Laura

I don't know anyone at DoE who thinks that.

David Kestenbaum

Do you think it's literally zero?

Laura

Probably zero or close to zero.

David Kestenbaum

It looked like that number would rise by at least one. Rick Perry, Trump's pick to run the DoE, had written in his own book that he thought the science showing humans were contributing to climate change was a, quote, "contrived phony mess."

As you may have heard, Trump's team sent a list of questions to the DoE asking, among other things, the names of people who had attended UN climate change meetings. Democrats saw it as a kind of witch hunt.

Rick Perry now says his views on climate change have changed and that he didn't approve of the questionnaire. But after the election, Laura spent a lot of time wondering, should I stay in this job? What would it be like? What if the new bosses ask me to do something I just think is wrong?

David Kestenbaum

Like what if there were some report or something and someone asked you to take out all the references to climate change?

Laura

Well, we already did that.

David Kestenbaum

You already did that?

Laura

Yeah, we have.

David Kestenbaum

Laura says she and a bunch of other people have been going through all their internal documents that describe ongoing projects and just scrubbing them, deleting the parts where it says, "and here's how this will help us combat climate change." Laura didn't want to talk specifics, but you could imagine a satellite for monitoring climate change and saying, think of it as a weather satellite instead. This renewable energy program? Now it's a jobs program.

Most federal projects have a bunch of reasons for their existence. Why draw attention to something by putting the words "climate change" in the description?

David Kestenbaum

Did it feel sad to take it out?

Laura

No.

David Kestenbaum

Because you thought, this is a way we can get by?

Laura

Yeah, exactly. That was my thought. As long as it's getting done, it doesn't matter what we call it.

David Kestenbaum

Laura's entire time at the DoE has been under Obama. She's never been through a change of power before. That first day after the election, there was this big all-staff meeting at the DoE. That made her feel a little better-- not because it was emotional, but because it wasn't. It was professional, just like, here's what happens next.

Laura

I think what made it OK was it was very matter-of-fact. Like, the transition team is going to come in in the next few days. They didn't. They came in like several weeks later.

David Kestenbaum

When the transition team did arrive at DoE, Laura went on what felt like a kid detective mission to try to see the invaders. She knew they were on the fifth floor, so she went up there with a friend. They tried to play it cool, had to do a couple laps because they missed the room the first time. But there it was.

Laura

It literally said on the door, "transition team." And I elbowed my friend, and she was like, I saw it. It wasn't like something was hidden or something, but I felt very like, oh, wow. There it is.

David Kestenbaum

Somehow seeing the office make you feel more reassured?

Laura

Yeah, because the name was on the door. It's one of these things. It's like, well, they're not trying to hide anything. They're just there doing their job.

David Kestenbaum

I talked to this other government worker who we'll call Karen. Karen's a relatively senior person. She served under a Democrat and a Republican. Karen says a bunch of younger coworkers have been coming into her office, closing the door, and saying, do you have a minute to talk? It's like she's become a therapist. Some of the people are trying to figure out what to do-- stay or leave. If you stay, at least you can try to steer things. Or you can fight.

And by fight, I mean that in the most bureaucratic way possible. Government moves very slowly, which is a pain when you're trying to get things done. But if you're trying to stop something from happening, it can be used to your advantage.

Karen

Withholding information is one way you slow things down. The bureaucracy is large. There's a lot of paperwork, a lot of steps, and people that have been in government for a long time understand all those steps really well. So some of those tactics may be used to make things go a lot slower.

David Kestenbaum

One government worker told me he knew some people who were really good at this. It's like the dark arts of civil service. You can refer things to the general counsel for legal review. That takes time. You can also try to hide things.

One relatively senior official who recently left government has been advising those who stayed behind to just lay low, keep any controversial stuff under the radar. Karen knows that trick.

Karen

It's not like you can come into the government and, with the click of a button, find everything you need to know on any topic we've worked on for the last 15 years.

David Kestenbaum

So literally, there might be like programs or documents or things that are just so well hidden that they'd never find out about them?

Karen

You could say that.

David Kestenbaum

Are people talking about doing that kind of stuff?

Karen

I think people don't know yet how they will react because they are waiting to see if what they are predicting may happen does come to pass.

David Kestenbaum

But if it does?

Karen

There are definitely some career civil servants that will not ever give in, and I think there are definitely some career civil servants that will toe the line. But I think the people that know how the system works have used these tactics within many administrations.

David Kestenbaum

Sounds kind of wrong. It doesn't seem like the right thing to do.

Karen

I think when you've worked on something for a long time and you've devoted your entire career to it and you believe it is the right thing to do, people will do their jobs. But when they think that what they are doing is harmful to citizens or the country in the long run, I think they will stand up for what they believe in the bureaucratic ways that they can.

David Kestenbaum

Karen is not going to be doing any of that. I imagine that's true of most people. They'll either do their jobs like good civil servants or they'll just leave. Karen is leaving. It didn't take her long to decide. She knew almost immediately, on election night.

Karen

I remember saying to a close friend, wow, I'll be departing from my job in January. And I'm a career public servant. [SOBS] I'm sorry.

David Kestenbaum

Laura, at the Department of Energy, took longer to make up her mind. Senior people there-- Democrats-- were urging people to stay under Trump. Don't leave, they said. We need good people here. If you leave, you don't know who will replace you. And you don't know how bad it'll be. Maybe it'll be OK.

It was that questionnaire that sealed things for her, the one that made the news and asked for the names of people who had attended UN climate change talks. Laura wasn't in the office when the news broke. She heard about it by email from a friend in another part of government.

Laura

Well, she was like, this doesn't look good, basically. And I was like, on the contrary, this is kind of funny.

David Kestenbaum

It seemed like such an amateur move. The DoE, by the way, refused to provide any names.

Laura

That just seemed like a scare tactic to me, and I didn't want to reward that sort of brazen attempt to get people to leave the agency. I'm not leaving.

David Kestenbaum

Are you thinking like, I can last four years?

Laura

I think I can last four years.

David Kestenbaum

Could you last eight?

Laura

I probably wouldn't stay for eight, no.

David Kestenbaum

What are you doing for the inauguration?

Laura

Probably hanging out with my friends in a bar.

David Kestenbaum

Watching it or avoiding it?

Laura

Not watching it. I've already seen enough of him to last a lifetime.

David Kestenbaum

Well, she's going to be seeing more of him, as she knows.

Laura

We have these pictures hanging up in every office of the president, the vice president, the secretary of energy, and they're all going to change.

David Kestenbaum

You're going to have a picture of Donald Trump in your office?

Laura

Yes. And Mike Pence and Rick Perry and whoever the undersecretary is.

David Kestenbaum

How do you feel about that?

Laura

I don't know. At least-- I mean, like-- that's like-- [SIGHS] it's just a reminder of the world we live in every day. I think you can bury your head a little bit and try to keep doing what you're doing, but there are people you answer to and that picture makes you remember who they are.

David Kestenbaum

We looked into it. The portraits of Obama and his officials were scheduled to be removed on Friday at noon, the exact time Donald Trump took the oath of office. We were told the pictures would be disposed of respectfully. In my mind, there's a big dumpster somewhere with all of the photos in it, like an actual dustbin of history. The frames do get saved and reused for the new portraits. They're going to be going up in the next few weeks.

Ira Glass

David Kestenbaum is one of the producers of our program. The actor who performed Laura's quotes is Jen Davis.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by David Kestenbaum. Our production staff includes Susan Burton, Zoe Chace, Dana Chivvas, Sean Cole, Neil Drumming, Karen Duffin, Emmanuel Dzotsi, Stephanie Foo, Chana Joffe-Walt, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Robyn Semien, Matt Tierney, Nancy Updike, and Diane Wu. Research help today from Christopher Swetala and Michelle Harris. Music help today from Damian Graef.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks as always to our show's co-founder Mr. Torey Malatia. He does not understand why the president's motorcade has to cause so much traffic whenever he's driving around New York heading to Trump Tower.

Kenia

Like, he has legs.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

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