[Note: To get this blog site up and running, I am reposting a few of my Facebook posts from recent months. This is one of them. It was first posted to Facebook on the date listed, though these first few posts to Neighborfy are being uploaded in June 2017. I’ve made minor edits to some of the Neighborfy versions. Because these posts were originally posted to Facebook, unfortunately the original comments from readers are not copied here.]
Gonna demonstrate some “fair and balanced” bi-partisan analysis here…
My question: What kind of internal disagreement should a presidential administration accept or even embrace?
In another post (maybe later this week), I want to talk about why we value free speech, why we value diversity, and why some folks (in particular, Christians paying attention to Paul’s writings) think that diverse communities are essential to (part of God’s design for) human flourishing. Hint: All of those concepts have in common an appreciation for the marketplace of ideas (the best ideas ultimately win out), the equal dignity of all persons (each “endowed by their creator with…”; all created in the “image of God”), and that, together, we are metaphorically one body (if an elbow tells an eye, “I don’t need you,” well…). We should value diversity of opinion because it’s good for us, good for the truth, and it’s a way that we love one another.
But when is it ok to reject diversity of opinion and dissent?
Today’s news includes a report that a deputy in the National Security Counsel spoke critically about the President’s policy in a meeting with folks outside the Whitehouse. He got “reassigned” (though not fired). Some are analogizing this quasi-firing (really a demotion) to the President’s recent firing of his acting Attorney General who refused to enforce the President’s initial travel ban executive order. I think the two incidents are different.
The President is correct that he has a right to expect members of his NSC (and, generally, members of his Cabinet, etc.) to represent his agenda when speaking in public. When they don’t, he has a right to replace them. Pretty straightforward. If you were to go back and check my angry post about his firing of the interim AG, you’d find I was very clear that he had a right to fire her (even though I agreed with her, not him). As for the NSC staffer, the President had the right to reassign him. In fact, the President even had the right to fire the NSC staffer, though he apparently elected to show a measure of grace in this instance.
However, there are 2 issues worthy of a little discussion here:
There IS a difference between the actions of the 2 personnel. The NSC staffer criticized the President about a security policy that wasn’t the staffer’s responsibility. He apparently expressed criticism basically because he thought the policy was a bad idea. That’s one thing. The acting AG made a legal determination, based on immense training and expertise, that the policy was likely to be found unconstitutional. As we now know, several judges around the country agreed with her. Lawyers have a different sense of duty. Unlike, say, military officers who are trained that honorable service means following the President’s order (even if there is a question of constitutionality, so long as the act is not a violation of human rights), lawyers are taught to be officers of the court. It is, for them, unethical to carry out activities that they believe to be unlawful. That is why they are taught that ethics may require a “noisy withdrawal” from cases where they can no longer defend unlawful behavior in good conscience. The NSC staff probably acted unethically, but at least unprofessionally. The acting AG, being a lawyer, acted both ethically and professionally. Even so, in both cases, the President had a right to fire them.
Whether or not the President has a right to fire, discipline, reassign or do something else when his staffers express dissent, he should take a deep breath. We should all hope that he is hearing dissent, at least in private. Every good executive should want candid, well-informed advice, even when the counsel he/she receives isn’t what he or she wanted to hear. This is certainly true in business (something Trump should know). I can’t tell you how many times a CEO has hired me as a company’s attorney because I was willing to give him/her difficult, honest advice. The problem at the moment, based on a growing chorus of leaked reports, is that President Trump just won’t have it. He doesn’t like hearing critiques, even smart, well-meaning critiques designed to help him. Leak after leak has occurred because staffers reluctantly concluded that the only way they can get the President’s attention is to ensure an issue gets TV airtime, because that’s the only medium he seems to notice. We don’t really know what is happening behind closed doors in discussions between the President and his staffers, but the leaked accounts have consistently indicated that he hasn’t yet learned how much thoughtful criticism could actually help him. I pray he learns that truth eventually.