Trump’s Handling of Tillerson’s Firing Showcases His Harmful Views on Staff Members, Key Government Posts, and Leadership
The US Secretary of State is one of the most important positions in the US government for a variety of reasons. Not only is the Secretary of State the top US diplomat, he is the representative of the US President to the world. Most nations and international governing institutions have their own US diplomat, but the Secretary of State is both a messenger and adviser with direct access to the President. Those in the position of Secretary of State are also seen as serious contenders for the Presidency. Grooming an individual for a Presidential run will often start with an appointment to the State Department’s highest office. Consequently, the sudden departure of Secretary Rex Tillerson and nomination of Koch brothers loyalist Mike Pompeo has far reaching implications that go beyond the future of US politics and diplomacy.
First of all, Trump’s firing of Tillerson via a tweet, whether Tillerson actually learned about it from a preceeding phone call with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly or from the tweet, was bad form. The significance of the position demanded a face-to-face encounter between the President and the Secretary of State. Trump had plenty of nice things to say about Tillerson, but his handling of the firing demonstrates a lack of respect and loyalty to his staff, which undercuts morale and loyalty. Although the President did not speak with Tillerson, he later claimed his decision resulted from Tillerson’s divergent views on a number of issues. In all likelihood, it was Tillerson’s perceived public disagreement with the President and alleged “moron” comment about the President that contributed the most to his downfall.
Publicly undermining the leadership of the President is, of course, enough to justify the termination of a political appointee, even if Mr. Trump’s chaotic and divisive leadership style seeks to foster disagreement, as well as confusion, among advisers. That said, the President should have engaged Tillerson on a regular basis to work through the disagreements and frustrations they had with each other, especially since Trump is a particularly frustrating person to work with. Not only is it the most professional and courteous approach, it is the most constructive approach. At the very least, the President should have asked Tillerson to the White House in order to discuss their issues and his removal. The handling of Tillerson’s firing, as well as that of Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein, undermines relations between the President and his staff.
With that in mind, the Secretary of State is not simply a mouthpiece for the President. The Press Secretary plays that role. The Secretary of State is supposed to be the President’s top adviser when it comes to foreign policy issues. It is, of course, the Secretary of State’s job to relay the President’s foreign policy agenda to his staff and ensure it is faithfully carried out, but the Secretary of State is also supposed to regularly offer the President opposing viewpoints and policy options. Given President Trump claims he fired Tillerson for doing just that, the decision is fairly discerning. It is well-known that Donald Trump favors personal loyalty to him above all other qualifications, thus Tillerson’s firing is terribly discerning.
Trump’s willingness to fire, reassign, or promote subordinates based on their performance can be seen as a positive. In politics, the fear of looking incompetent often leads public officials to maintain the status quo and retain under-performing officials. Given Presidential terms are only four short years, Trump’s lack of paralysis can be a very helpful thing. On the other hand, the apparent reasons why Mr. Trump retains and terminates particular subordinates are questionable. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration appears to prioritize loyalty to the himself above all other qualifications, which means he is likely firing and retaining the wrong subordinates.
The former CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson was a controversial nominee for Secretary of State, especially since he lacked foreign policy experience and expertise. An engineer, Army officer, lawyer, and former Tea Party Congressman, Tillerson’s replacement Mike Pompeo has even less experience on the global stage and even more controversial political views. Just as Pompeo catered to the interests of his political backers, i.e. the Koch brothers, he has been a “yes man” for Trump at the CIA. In other words, he is highly unlikely to disagree with the President, which is what Trump wants. It is, unfortunately, not what he needs. The President, as well as the Vice President, has a serious deficit of expertise and experience when it comes foreign policy, thus he needs an adviser who will disagree with him.
In the Trump Organization, “doing your job” meant pleasing Donald Trump. Performance is based on Trump’s personal satisfactions with an individual, not a job well done. Obviously, Donald Trump is not the only businessman to embrace such a subjective, emotional, egocentric, and largely dysfunctional approach to business, but he became the US President. Because Trump offers an incentive for his subordinates to stroke his ego and cater to his whims, he has trained them to support anything that will buy them favor in his eyes and avoid anything that will place them on his bad side. In other words, they want him to hear what he wants to hear and silence anything that he does not want to hear.
“Yes men,” who simply regurgitate the good ideas of other people and the bad ideas of their bosses, may be highly sought-after and well paid, but they blind leadership to problems. A president’s job is to fix problems, so a president needs a support team that helps him recognize a problem before it becomes a problem, not cozy up to it. The President would be wise to surround himself with those who are willing to correct him when he is wrong and offer him constructive criticism. The Secretary of State is an important position, which is why Trump’s treatment of the Secretary of State is so important. How he treats the Secretary of State reveals his views on his staff members and critical positions in government. Trump’s handling of Tillerson’s dismissal and Pompeo’s appointment suggests there will be far more dysfunction in an already dysfunctional government.
Read old posts