Were one to ask an efficiency or management expert to settle on one adjective to describe Trump’s performance so far, he would probably opt for “tumultuous,” and he would not be too far from the target. The team Trump has assembled seems hardly equipped to produce a coherent management philosophy. It is no dream team able to withstand internal debates geared to solve complex political problems. Why is that?
For one thing, most CEOs and executives would advise against management by chaos accompanied by the berating of constituencies as an effective mode of running any kind of business.
In a little more than a month, the Trump administration has seen a key Cabinet secretary sunk by bipartisan opposition, a national security adviser asked to resign after misleading the vice president and potentially lying to the FBI, and a refugee and immigration travel ban hastily written then halted by courts. Also, a rambling news conference.
These questions arise: given that those mistakes were eminently preventable, is anyone able to say no to this president? How will the administration react to a real and unpredictable crisis? Is dissent allowed or are the only points of views permitted the ones that Trump wants to hear? Are there any checks to an impulsiveness characterized by the firing off of bizarre tweets declaring the media the enemy of the people? Is the White House really running “a well-tuned machine” as it claims?
Are there mechanisms in place to deal with an acute crisis? In that case, who would Trump bring in from the outside for help? Right now Trump relies on a small group of aides, his daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law Jared. What can be observed are diverse personalities jockeying for influence, chief among them Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Kellyanne Conway, and Rick Dearborn. There seem to be two competing groups with competing ideologies: the Bannon radical right-wing which wishes to pull out of trade agreements, strongly nationalistic, championing anti-immigrant sentiments, and the Priebus and vice-president Pence faction, on the right ideologically but more pragmatic and even more rational, focused on tax relief, cutting down regulations, reassuring foreign allies alarmed by Bannon’s far right nationalistic ideology.
Bannon’s former news organization has published an anonymously sourced piece alleging that Priebus is on his way out. It is no wonder that, faced with such a tumultuous spectacle, Vice Admiral Robert Harward refused the offer of replacement for Michael Flynn as head of the National Security Council.
If one looks at Trump’s business career, that seems to be the way he has run his business: by pitting one group against the other. That may work if each group represents a different area of expertise. They can offer a different perspective from that of the opponent. But it will not work very well if debates turn ugly and competing factions emerge. Then boundaries become hard and sub-groups become toxic.
This invariably happens when the boss on top does not welcome diverse points of view and favors sycophants who tell him what he wants to hear. Too many have seen Trump fire those who disagree with him, to feel safe in doing so. Take the example of acting Attorney General Sally Yates who declined to defend Trump’s immigration order believing it unconstitutional. She was right, of course in her civil disobedience, as confirmed by a panel of federal judges that came to the same conclusion and halted the order. She got fired anyway and Trump called the judges “so called judges.”
What Trump does not have the foggiest notion of, is that it’s not about searching for sycophants who tell the boss what he wants to hear, but about searching for truth and creating an environment that permits such a search, wherein all angles can be explored and discussed. That does not seem to be happening in the present White House, which is why some historians are giving us a year at best to turn this tragic trajectory around, or we might as well kiss goodbye to democracy and the Republic, as we know it.