On Nov. 6, 2019, I sent the last email I would ever send using my Google corporate account. My coworkers and I had been expressing concerns about the hiring of a former Department of Homeland Security chief of staff, Miles Taylor. According to internal DHS emails obtained by BuzzFeed News, Taylor played direct roles in the defense of a version of the Muslim travel ban and child separation policies. His hiring raised serious concerns for us about workplace safety, especially for Muslim, Latinx, and immigrant workers who, along with many others, chose to express their worries and question leadership via the corporate network. In response, the company censored us by deleting emails, memes, and questions from the corporate network, ironically claiming in part that they caused a hostile workplace for Taylor. In my email, I explained that expressing these concerns about the workplace seemed to be protected by labor law; by deleting them, Google appeared to be violating those laws. Within 30 minutes, I was locked out of my account and put on administrative leave. A few weeks later, Google fired me and three other workplace organizers. Because we were fired without notice on the week of Thanksgiving, the press called us “the Thanksgiving Four.”
So imagine my surprise to read Taylor’s Washington Post op-ed excoriating Donald Trump for, among other things, precisely the policies he worked to defend while at the DHS that caused so many at Google (and in Congress) to object to his hiring. Taylor is now supporting Joe Biden for president and has even taken a leave of absence from his policy role at Google to support the Biden campaign. Given that Taylor and I now strongly agree on one of the most important decisions Americans will face in the coming months, I was originally hesitant to comment publicly. Despite our many differences of opinion, I can respect Never Trump Republicans such as George Conway because they have consistently condemned the Trump administration for an almost unending list of failings.
But I cannot help viewing with great cynicism the timing of Taylor’s jumping from a now-sinking ship on whose crew he enthusiastically served for more than two years.
I see Taylor’s very public change of heart, and Google’s willingness to indulge it, less as an act of moral courage than as a simple attempt to distance himself from a role that suddenly seems likely to be more of a liability than an asset to his future prospects. Not only did Taylor decline to repudiate his former role when his new coworkers objected a year ago, he still does not do so now. Instead, he prefers to simply ignore his integral part in the very actions he now professes to find objectionable, as if he were a passive observer. In interviews, he has claimed not to have been at DHS when the family separation policy was developed. But his own emails prove that not only was he there prior to its enactment, he even helped prepare its roll out — in an email to former DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in the days before the policy was announced, he sent her talking points with the Orwellian title, "Protecting Children Narrative."
I certainly agree that “four more years of [Trump] are unthinkable.” However, as former Trump officials seek to distance themselves from complicity in the administration’s many violations of morals, ethics, and decency, I note that Taylor and those like him admit no guilt, display no contrition, and offer no apologies. While he enjoys time off from a golden parachute position in a policy role at a tech behemoth to pen op-eds and film TV commercials, perhaps as much to rehabilitate his public image as anything, where is the sense of responsibility or regret? The impression left with the astute reader is that Taylor does not believe he did anything wrong. Taylor, once again, is looking for a soft landing.
I am not ready to accept with open arms the many former administration officials who, over the next two months, will no doubt try to chart a similar path to a post-Trump career. If Taylor really believes that policies like Muslim bans and the caging of children are wrong, why doesn’t he apologize for working to perpetrate them, and why did he do that work in the first place?
I do not know if any of the countless thousands whose lives were destroyed by these policies could ever forgive Taylor for his part in their suffering; I cannot speak for them, and I can only hope that those who survived will one day be able to come forward and tell us exactly what they went through and how it affected them. Compared to what Taylor did at the behest of Trump, the harm my coworkers and I have suffered by Taylor’s actions is comparatively small, but nonetheless he harmed us, too.
Like he did in his role at DHS, Taylor is again crafting a narrative, one in which he is another of Trump’s victims, but he and others who played a part in the atrocities of the Trump administration cannot be absolved of their past simply by supporting Biden’s bid for the presidency. If they truly are asking for our forgiveness, they will first need to admit that what they did was wrong, and say those words that Trump himself surely never will: “I’m sorry.”
Laurence Berland, a former Googler, now primarily devotes his time to community volunteering and labor organizing. He is cochair of the Coworker Solidarity Fund Alphabet Committee, a member of the Congress of Essential Workers, and a candidate for the board of San Francisco Pride.