Leadership and leadership style among public officials are highly relevant topics for study and analysis in these days of political transition and turmoil. Executives, ranking officials and legislators are bringing differing and in some cases forceful and assertive approaches to leadership and policy-making, which can easily morph into bullying and targeting "enemies."
We see this most obviously at the federal executive level, where President Trump charges ahead at a torrid pace, with little apparent forethought and preparation. Confusion and unintended consequences abound, despite Trump's boasting about his leadership and management skills.
President Trump continues to demonstrate that he is a serial subject changer. And, as is becoming more evident, a frequent position changer.
Of course, this isn't limited to what happens in Washington. Some in positions of power want to impose their views and support favorites, locally, nationally and beyond. What we get is political/governmental overreach -- demonstrated in such egregious examples as channeling public funds to a few favored private beneficiaries -- often engineered by those most critical of government and government spending and with limited attention to equity and broader public need.
As for the chaos prevailing in the higher ranks of Trump administration, some suggest this is intentional strategy, that the scattered focus and impulsive actions are actually planned chaos.
Although the chaos may not be planned, or certainly not carefully planned, events and developments of recent days provide a laundry list of controversy and confusion -- the immigrant travel ban, the breach in relations with Mexico over "the wall," Trump's boasting and badgering in a phone conversation with the Australian prime minister, the bizarre comments about Vladimir Putin and Russia's role, stops and starts on health care -- to mention a few of the many examples.
With all this happening it leads us to some questions and observations about the qualities of leadership and what strategies may be involved.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee says the voters wanted a "disruptor" and that's what Trump is providing. Bud Cummins, who chaired Trump's highly successful campaign in Arkansas, says the new president is a "problem solver." Can these attributes be reconciled?
The dichotomy Trump faces is seen in what appears to be his view of the U.S. role in the world. He wants assertive and combative U.S. involvement, but wants limited military action. He skillfully mobilizes American nationalism, but fails to understand the nationalism of other countries and their leaders. They have their own national interests and sovereign authority. Rex Tillerson, the new secretary of state, faces a challenge in taking these realities into account in directing U.S policy under a Trump administration.
Amidst all the turmoil centered in and around the new administration, one strategic element is clear: the media are the enemy.
Political leaders often conjure up an enemy image to serve as a rallying point, as the media were for the Trump campaign and now the administration. Trump leads the way on this, but many of those at the forefront of the administration have targeted the media as the enemy. Trump says he is engaged in a "running war with the media" and questions the honesty and integrity of journalists. Stephen Bannon, chief White House strategist, describes the media as "the opposition party" of the current administration. "The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while," Bannon said.
Then there was the strange episode involving Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, well known for introducing the concept of "alternative facts." Recently, Conway cited the "Bowling Green massacre" as a rationale for Trump's travel ban. Except there was no Bowling Green massacre (which she alleged had occurred in the Kentucky town in 2011) and she apparently conflated sources of incorrect information.
Even though it purports to be at "war" with the media, the White House appears to be beset by bickering and steady stream of leaked information is providing fodder for the news reports. Trump wants to go on the attack, frequently personalizing comments, particularly criticism of judges.
Even though he proclaimed, "I alone can fix it," at the Republican Convention last summer, President Trump may beginning to learn some of the constraints and limits of the presidency.
We need strong leadership and equitable and effective use of power by our public officials, but not over-the-top bellicosity.
Commentary on 02/08/2017
Print Headline: Enemies, bullies and leadership