Solomon: Learning and Leading
People criticizing Trump should adopt more concrete frameworks.
Wherever you stand on the ideological spectrum, it is hard to deny the fact that things in the White House are not quite running like “a fine-tuned machine,” as President Trump recently tweeted they were. The reason why Trump’s supporters continue to make this denial is not just because they have a different moral framework, conflicting policy priorities or even because they have a lower level of education, as many self-entitled liberals love to contend. Rather, the Left has shown an inability to criticize Trump in a meaningful way. Their sarcastic laughter and self-righteousness have failed, just like the Trump regime has. Before we keep pointing fingers, we need to establish what we really want from a President, what actually makes a good leader and how Trump has so far proved an undeniably unsuccessful one.
A leader does not have to know everything. We can expect a good leader to be wrong or make mistakes from time to time. Calling Trump out for that, or even for his childish behavior, does not really threaten his legitimacy. Trump’s tweeting — the President has made almost 1,000 tweets in his first six months in office, all without signing off on a single piece of major legislation — can seem blameless to his followers. Despite criticizing Barack Obama for the vacations he took away from the Capitol, Trump has spent 21 out of the first 26 weekends since his inauguration playing golf, each time using massive amounts of taxpayer money for security expenses. But surely being President is a tough job, and he needs to be well-rested to stay sharp. We should grant him some leeway here. As of July 19, Trump had made 836 false and misleading claims. But what if the “fake” liberal news media really has treated Trump unfairly? And even if he is lying, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has not always been a bastion of truth. Trump is not the first politician to lie and he is certainly not the first to be supported in spite of it.
Rather than making these hard-to-defend accusations, ones that the right wing media can easily toss out and which have up to now failed to convince Trump’s supporters of his ineffectiveness, the Left should use the most up-to-date frameworks that the top business leaders have come up with to break down exactly how Trump’s leadership abilities are not up to par, to use an analogy he might enjoy. After 25 years of research on effective leadership, the Boston Consulting Group’s Roselinde Torres formulated three criteria for defining and substantiating leadership in the 21st century. She argues that leaders should be judged by their efforts to anticipate change, the people they spend time with, the topics they focus on and their efforts to be prepared for anything that comes their way. In addition, they should be evaluated on the diversity of their network. Leaders should be able to connect and cooperate with people who are different from them in order to gain a wider range of thought and find better solutions. Finally, Torres stresses that good, modern leaders should be courageous enough to abandon the past. They should be willing to take risks and leave behind methods that may have been successful before but that are inadequate in a new time or scenario. They should also have the emotional stamina to withstand criticism and take informed but decisive action.
If we use an actual framework, like Torres’, to evaluate Trump’s leadership, as opposed to only whining about the things we dislike — in a manner that is embarrassingly similar to his 3:00 a.m. Twitter rants — we can formulate a much stronger argument for his inadequacy as President. Trump does not seem to anticipate change. In fact, he almost always seems frazzled by it, making impulsive and often dangerous decisions. Barely a week into his presidency, he authorized a raid on Islamic terrorists in Yemen which resulted in the death of Chief Petty Officer William Owens and 25 civilians, including women and children. Not only was his decision drastically different from the Obama administration’s reportedly deliberate, calculated process, but he also refused to assume responsibility as the chief of military command, instead blaming these casualties on the generals.
His network is by no means diverse, which makes it impossible for him to really understand the people he is there to serve. Trump’s cabinet has four women and only four minorities, making it the most homogeneous in terms of age, race and sex since 1981.
Finally, and perhaps most conclusively, Trump is not a man of the future, but of the past. This goes beyond his campaign slogan, which idealized some 1950s version of America that he could make our present day be like again. What made him successful in his personal past, as both a businessman and a public figure, is certainly not the same set of skills he needs to be an equally successful President in the upcoming future. Saying “you’re fired” every week on The Apprentice will not have the same effect in the White House. Surrounding himself with people he considers good advisors is also going to play out differently. As a businessman, Trump may have primarily been told things he wanted to hear. As President, he is bound to have disagreements, and putting in loyal puppets is not a wise call, as he needs people to set him straight when making the difficult decisions that he will face going forward. Trump can also no longer afford to just tell people what to do and expect them to figure it out. He needs to be there to oversee and strategize, something he does not seem to realize yet. Lastly, speaking to female news reporters and even to the wives of foreign leaders in the same way he spoke to his pageant contestants is not just sexist and misguided, but entirely inappropriate in his new role. Trump must update both his personal conduct and his executive tactics.
If the Left wants to be taken seriously, it has to stop throwing around words like “childish,” “creepy,” or “clueless” and start coming up with smarter, better-founded arguments. Yes, to many people, Trump fits all of those adjectives. But none of them stopped him from doing his favorite thing, winning. We need to stop pretending like everyone will be on the same page in judging his character. We need to start being intelligent and use the best methods we have to criticize him.