Grievance, overtime, becomes debilitating. It was the translation key to yesterday’s performance of President Trump.
Trump, whose sense of grievance has captured his presidency, was disgraceful in the conduct we know about during his Helsinki talks with Vladimir Putin. He has descended along a dangerous emotional spectrum as his sense of grievance has festered. He doesn’t even trust his appointees. The intelligence agencies are led by his appointees yet he dismisses their findings or pits them against Russian claims as if he is an arbitrator, not the leader of what has been the most consequential country in the world.
Vladimir Putin leads a nation that often feeds on grievance. His responses in an interview with Chris Wallace demonstrated that he can convert grievance into clever propaganda. It is hard to know how most Americans might treat his assertions, as most of us devote little time to actually thinking about Russia. Of course, policy driven by grievance is not helping Russia.
Trump in the aftermath of the talks did an interview with his toady Sean Hannity; illuminating. Putin sat down with Chris Wallace; Wallace’s Dad Mike would have been proud. Within the limitations (sequential translation), Wallace was excellent.
As I type, all of the Trump appointees who have much to do with intelligence collecting and analyzing are still in office. There have been no resignations, even though Trump gave their intelligence work no higher standing than Putin’s allegations.
One of my lessons from working in Washington is that many people who occupy the ranks of the political bureaucracy are just happy to be there. They busy themselves day in and day out with self-important motion and often in the evening are honored guests at dinner parties. They get to read about themselves in the paper and count on the office they hold to burnish their resume. As one friend noted, “what’s not to like.”
America is now headed by a person who perceives himself as a strong man, even as his weaknesses sap his strength on a daily basis. He is largely served by appointees who are so weak that apparently no insult will dislodge them. Jeff Sessions has been publically berated by Trump for over a year yet remains Attorney General. Fortunately, the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, is strong and does not cower.
As I have noted before, the Congress makes laws and appropriates money. Trump can do neither. Executive orders can easily be rescinded and agreements with other countries that are not ratified by the US Senate by a two-thirds vote, terminated.
Finally, there are many leadership lessons from the actions of the last several weeks. Trump acted as a responsible President in the selection of a Supreme Court nominee; I encouraged Trump to study Trump’s orderly process. Now I would encourage Trump to study Putin. While I am no fan of Putin or grievance-driven policy, I find his ability to voice grievance and make the best of it a lesson for those who cannot let go.
As our country has survived in the aftermath of assassinations and scandals, it will ride out Trump’s tenure with an assist from those who crafted our nation’s Constitution.
Postscript: Robert Mueller, the Independent Counsel, has taken a number of concrete actions, most recently announcing indictments of Russian agents, who it is alleged hacked into the Democrat National Committee server, among other things.
In my view he has had time to determine whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. This charge is the most important and its lack of resolution is toxic.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.