Prior to the 2016 presidential election, T.J. Lunardi talked with his husband about the possibility of leaving his government job behind. It wasn’t too serious of a conversation, as Lunardi did not believe Donald Trump would become president.
LUNARDI AT HIS NEPHEW'S MARINE BOOT CAMP GRADUATION
“[We] had the hypothetical what-if discussion: ‘Could I in good conscience continue to work in the executive branch if he were to become president?’” the 39-year-old said. “It was one of those mental exercises that you do because you don’t think it’s actually going to happen.”
After Election Day, Lunardi, a native of Overbrook who later moved to Broomall, said he did a “really great deal of soul-searching” before finally deciding he could not work under Trump’s administration. On Jan. 19, the day before Trump’s inauguration, Lunardi wrote a letter to Secretary of State John F. Kerry announcing his resignation.
“With deep regret, I must resign from my position as a Supervisory Special Agent of the Diplomatic Security Service,” Lunardi wrote in his letter. “I cannot in good conscience serve in the Department of State under the incoming President, a man I believe to be a threat to our constitutional order.”
Lunardi had most recently been serving in Kyiv, Ukraine. He served in the State Department for nearly 18 years, two of which were spent as president of the agency’s LGBT organization, another two in which he coordinated then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security details and another preparing security briefings for top-level officials, including the president.
Lunardi said he knows government officials “who are good people and of good conscience” who have done things such as deny legal counsel to refugees from the seven banned countries under Trump’s executive order. He said if they were “to step back and saw somebody else do it, they would find it morally abhorring.”
“That’s what I worry would have happened had I stayed: that I would have fallen into that trap.”
Lunardi cited Trump’s overall violent and angry rhetoric among the reasons for his concern over Trump’s leadership. He said his LGBT identity helped him better understand the consequences of Trump’s leadership.
“This was a decision I made as an American who happened to be gay, not as a gay man who happened to be an American,” Lunardi said. “If I were straight, white and male instead of gay, white and male, I would hope I would make the same decision. I think that all of the experiences I had being part of a minority community that had suffered discrimination before just made me more sensitive to what was coming. That said, there is no way in hell I’m going to let us go back to where we were.”
In his letter, Lunardi mentioned his hopes to be “proven wrong” and that Trump “will govern wisely, lawfully and with respect for the Constitution — all of it, and not simply the parts convenient to his purposes.”
However, Lunardi said Trump so far has reinforced his original beliefs.
“In the moment, he has continued to confirm — at least for me and for many others — all of my worst fears of where he and those around him wanted to go and how they were willing to abuse otherwise constitutional powers,” Lunardi said.
Lunardi said he will never see eye to eye with Trump when it comes to policy but noted, “That’s fine.” He added it is OK for people to disagree in a democracy as long as everyone stays within the confines of the constitutional system. While Lunardi said part of him still hopes Trump will govern according to these standards, even if not, he is still retaining some optimism about the country’s future.
“Maybe out of this, we [will] come out better and stronger, more reflective and more committed to the values that we almost lost,” Lunardi said.
When it comes to how his coworkers are dealing with his resignation, Lunardi said most have been understanding but there have been a few who think he is “overreacting or being overdramatic.” He also said there were a few individuals who pulled him aside to tell him reasons why they could not leave their post, such as having children in college or being close to retirement.
“One thing I made clear from the very beginning was this is my personal decision based on my own conscience,” Lunardi said. “I’m not telling anyone else what to do. It’s an individual decision that everybody has to make for themselves. The only thing I’m asking anyone I care about is make it. Don’t just move on inertia. Think it through and make that decision.”
Lunardi’s last day in the position will be March 4, which the self-confessed “history geek” pointed out as the original date for the presidential inauguration.
“I’m planning to go into a position where I’ll continue servicing the American people, just not in the way where I’m subjected to orders from the president,” he said of his future goals.
Additionally, Lunardi hopes his resignation will fuel discussion among other government officials concerned about the current administration.
“The most important thing to me has been to make a conversation happen and to make all of the really good people in government — who I know personally and who I know are there — to have a moment of moral reflection. I think that’s the final and ultimate check that will keep us from sliding into the worst of the worst,” Lunardi said. “I appreciate the chance to talk about that and to hopefully continue that conversation.”