Even the people most fearful of a Donald Trump presidency could at least hope, back in November, that based on his resume’ he might know something about leadership.
Alas, that he doesn’t has become frighteningly clear after what was easily the worst week in recent presidential history. And the man who is all aimless ambition and juvenile hubris seems incapable of doing anything to stop the slow-motion train wreck that is his brief administration.
To briefly recap last week:
— Seven years of “repeal and replace” promises evaporate in a Senate vote that defied Trump’s bombast and Tweeting.
— Trump publicly harasses his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, with negative Tweets about his competence.
— Congress passes almost unanimously and against Trump’s wishes, tougher sanctions against Russia and takes away Trump’s power to lift them.
— Boy Scouts of America apologizes for Trump’s political-rally speech to 45,000 kids at their national Jamboree.
— North Korea fires another ICBM. No immediate presidential response.
— Russia boots U.S. diplomats, seizes a facility. No immediate presidential response.
— Trump suddenly announces in a Tweet the end of military acceptance of transgender people. Not consulted, Pentagon says nothing changes until there’s a real order.
— The special counsel’s investigation of Russian involvement in 2016’s election expands and Trump muses about getting a new attorney general to fire the chief investigator.
— Several Republican members of Congress warn Trump not to fire the counsel, one saying that would be “the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.”
— Trump brings in Wall Street buddy Anthony Scaramucci as director of communications with a remit to stop leaks. Scaramucci, with zero government experience, immediately asks a New Yorker magazine reporter to reveal a confidential source. Rejected of course, Scaramucci launches into a profanity-laced attack, on the record, against Chief of Staff Reince Prebius. And when the reporter writes about it, Scaramucci complains that he will “never again trust a reporter.”
— At week’s end, Prebius is out as chief of staff and Ret. Gen. John Kelly, a lifelong military man, is in. And, at Kelly’s behest, loose-cannon Scaramucci’s 10-day communications career is over.
So a few thoughts on leadership are in order.
Authoritarianism isn’t leadership, it’s bullying. Bullying subordinates requires only a title and an ego and should not be mistaken for leadership. A president outranks everyone in the executive branch, but that does not make him or her a leader.
Leadership involves articulating clear, consistent goals and empowering people to accomplish them. The people being led must feel they are part of that process.
Leadership involves identifying individuals’ strengths and weaknesses — importantly, including the leader’s own — and building upon those realities.
Leadership involves recognition that loyalty goes both ways; that respect and empowerment, when pushed downward, stimulate respect and support upward.
Leadership outside a president’s area of authority requires recognizing that strong, thinking people — in Congress, in the courts, in state houses and civilian organizations and businesses — have their own ideas that must be respected and dealt with, not dismissed. Peers are not servants to be ordered about.
Consider those concepts in the context of last week’s events and count how many of them were demonstrated.
Absent effective leadership, the primary national concern becomes not whether Trump can survive his first term, but how much permanent damage he can do to the presidency and the nation before it ends.
Davis Merritt, Wichita journalist and author, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org