​Is engineering a moral endeavour? Does good engineering require as a pre-condition, good morals? This may seem a rather odd question, but it is has been explicitly raised by some resignations from the National Infrastructure Advisory Council this past Monday. Eight of 28 members of the NIAC resigned, many of them former Obama appointees. Here’s what the letter said (in part):

“The moral infrastructure of our nation is the foundation on which our physical infrastructure is built”.

And this:

“Your actions have threatened the security of the homeland I(sic) took an oath to protect.”

The letter accused Trump of paying “insufficient attention” to the nation’s cyber vulnerabilities, and especially accused him of not supporting efforts to ensure that America’s electoral system is viewed as critical infrastructure. It also listed the president’s reaction to Charlottesville, and the administration’s withdrawing from the Paris Climate Deal.

What this letter does is shift our understanding of the term ‘infrastructure.’ Under this new, fairly radical view, policies that are not progressive (which nowadays means that you’re therefore a white supremacist, climate-change denier) will undermine the nation’s power grid, electoral systems, homeland security, and perhaps even damage America’s bridges and highways.

Is this true? Does infrastructure depend on morals? Specifically on currrent left wing views of economics, and society? And even science?

America’s transcontinental railroad was planned, legislated and had key construction goals achieved during and after the Civil War. And was completed as the Jim Crow system of apartheid was being put together.

Speaking of apartheid, the famous tourist attraction called the Blue Train that runs from Pretoria to Cape Town was built during the 70’s with much of the engineering done in-house because of growing restrictions and sanctions on the apartheid regime in South Africa. Nelson Mandela sat in a cell while passengers enjoyed the apparently splendid scenery.

America’s highway system was initially conceived and built during the 50’s and 60’s when segregation was still in place, or civil rights were still being fought for in the South and elsewhere. And the satellite system that powers communications around the world, was intially a military response to the Soviet Union. And the interenet was a way to maintain to communications between various government departments and the military, in a post-nuclear attack America.

Various infrastucture projects were built with slave labor (real or indentured like Chinese laborers).

So you can get infrastructure done with violent, discriminatory policies in place. Should you get engineering done in conjunction with values that embrace tolerance and diversity? Hard to argue with that. But the resigning members of the NIAC seem to be saying that because they find President Trump’s morals objectionable, they cannot advise or participate in managing America’s infrastructure.

If you take their objections a step further so they fit with much of the hard left post-Charlottesville commentary it’s easy to take the next step and say:

You cannot participate in infrastructure projects if you’re a Republican, because that means you’re a Nazi. And then the final step (solution?) is to say:

You cannot govern if you’re a Republican. Say like in Mexico at the height of the PRI. Or Argentina in any one of it’s Peronista periods. Or even in Eastern Europe a generation ago. Or in modern communist China. If your views are not politically acceptable to us, you will not govern. So while Trump may use populism as a style, those who wish to use one-party state rule are in fact Trump’s most vocal opponents.

And that’s where they want to take things.