Friday, February 3, 2017

American Values In Death Spiral, An Unintended Consequence Of TrumpAction

Two weeks into the death spiral of our national values, some fears about a Trump presidency have morphed from assumptions to realities.

Donald Trump does not see governing as the give and take of ideas and beliefs. He sees it as a top down hierarchal management system, like a business where the chief executive officer, even in publicly traded companies, has the final say and the minions have to obey his commands or they are shown the door. 

Dissent, even if it is along disputed constitutional grounds, is not tolerated, as acting Attorney General Sally Yates found out Monday night after she questioned the legality of Trump’s temporary ban on entry to the United States from seven mostly Muslim countries.

Trump is used to having his dictates implemented. Government, however, doesn’t always follow a straight path. One wonders how he will react to two Republican women senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, rejecting his nominee for secretary of education. 

Perhaps a clue can be seen in his advocacy of the “nuclear option” to limit filibusters for Supreme Court nominations if Democrats try to foil his pick of Neil M. Gorsuch to fill the seat left vacant a year ago by the death of Antonin Scalia. Trump thought it appropriate to call for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “delay, delay, delay” consideration of President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland. But he’s not amenable to similar treatment by Democrats. For Trump all the rules must be tipped in his favor.

Trump’s executive style has not been tempered by years of migrating up the leadership ladder. He doesn’t have a rags to riches story, or even a J. Pierrepont Finch ascent from the mailroom (really the window washer’s perch) to the corner office (for those oblivious to the reference, check out “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”). He was born to power and privilege. As long as he stayed out of prison he was destined to take over his father’s business.

From the start he was an autocrat. He  never had to learn the art of answering to anyone. If he ran into problems financially, he sought bankruptcy protection. If he didn’t want to pay the agreed upon price for a project, he stiffed contractors.  

‘“My sense is that Trump takes no one’s counsel but his own. That’s bad management, period,”’ Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford and the author of “Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t,” said in a New York Times article assessing Trump’s first weeks in office. 

Effective leadership “requires an openness to being challenged, and some self-awareness and even humility to acknowledge that there are areas where other people know more than you do. This doesn’t mean decisions are made by consensus. The person at the top makes the decisions, but based on the facts and expertise necessary to make a good decision,” said Jeffrey T. Polzer, professor of human resource management at Harvard Business School.

It’s just two weeks. He could shift his management style, though it is highly doubtful. The real damage to America is that he has imbued a meanness of spirit to his dictates. He is not governing for the full population but rather for the minority of voters who he was lucky enough to have live in enough states to provide him an Electoral College victory. 

He is entitled to follow through on many if not all of his campaign pledges. But unlike his spoutings on the hustings, his actions from the Oval Office carry consequences, some of them unintended. TrumpAction after TrumpAction puts people’s lives at risk.

Trump’s advocacy of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, his acceptance of Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and a reported interest in withholding funds from the Palestinian Authority released by former Secretary of State John Kerry, no doubt thrilled hard liners in Israel and their American backers. But, individually and collectively, these actions are likely to incite more terrorist attacks within Israel and against Americans domestically and internationally. It won’t be his life sacrificed.

Trump’s passionate desire to rid the world of ISIS and other Islamic terrorists is laudable on its face, but his implementation has been dreadful. His executive order to temporarily ban entry to America from seven predominantly Muslim countries and to indefinitely suspend the relocation of Syrian refugees gives jihadists a public relations coup suggesting the United States is at war with Islam. It also has divided families and failed to recognize the contributions many Muslims made to assist American forces combating terrorists in their native lands. 

His decision to cut off funding for international groups that provide abortions or even advise pregnant women of their right to choose will endanger women’s health. It may very well lead to more at-risk pregnancies and births and more children born into poverty. As The Times stated in a precis of an article on the impact of the funding cut, “Health workers say President Trump’s ban on abortion counseling will hurt even those health services that do not involve abortions.” (

Moreover, Trump has indicated he wants to cut back foreign aid that is meant to help the impoverished. America First, after all.

Trump wants to cut all federal funding for Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions and abortion counseling. He ignores the non-abortion related health care Planned Parenthood provides to women which encompasses 97% of the organization’s activities.

Women will have abortions even if Trump is able to reduce the number of legal, medically safe procedures at Planned Parenthood clinics and other registered facilities. Only many of them will not be performed by licensed practitioners in safe environments. Deaths are sure to result. So much for his concern for the sanctity of all life.

Trump’s decision to deny funding to sanctuary cities places more lives at risk as municipal governments have to cut back social services or other programs to compensate for reduced or eliminated federal monies. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says federal funds, up to $500 million in 2017, are used to protect the port, the airport and to keep homeless veterans off the streets. Without those funds the safety of the rest of the country could be impaired.

His approval of the Standing Rock oil pipeline under the Missouri River imperils the safety of drinking water to millions of downstream residents, not to mention it violates the sanctity of Native American lands. 

Trump appears to be acting as if still in campaign mode. And so does his chief apologist, Kellyanne Conway. When called upon, frequently, to defend her boss, Conway reverts to attack mode, pointing out the flaws in candidate Hillary Clinton or the Obama administration rather than explaining the ramblings and rants of the leader of the free world, at least as now constituted.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer added salt to the wounds of internal dissent when he said those at the State Department who questioned Trump’s immigration ban “should either get with the program or they can go.”

‘“Debate and dissent are essential to reaching any thoughtful outcome,”’ Lindred Greer, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business told The Times. “Comments like Mr. Spicer’s ‘will discourage anyone from speaking up. You end up with group think, an echo chamber where people only say what they think the president wants to hear.’”