“I like conflict. I like having two people with different points of view and then I make a decision. I like watching it. I like seeing it.”
That was our president’s light brush off of questions about the announced resignation of his chief economic advisor, Gary Cohn, because they disagree about the wisdom of Donald Trump’s tariffs against imported steel and aluminum.
As with everything else, his public claim of tolerance for disagreement revolved around his own needs and preferences, and promoted his self-image as a managerial genius. Some of Trump’s conservative supporters and a whole lot of his opponents don’t see him that way, given his impulsiveness and rejection of views other than his own.
The best managers cultivate robust discussion of contrasting views and options, make a decision and the organization moves on. In Trump’s organization — which currently, alas, is the executive heart of our nation’s government — disagreements don’t melt into the background. Instead, bad things happen: valuable people resign or those who really need their jobs resign in place, hunkering down, withholding their ideas and expertise and mumbling “yessir.”
Much of what we “know” and hear about Trump’s managerial style and intolerance for disagreement comes from anonymous sources said to be insiders. Some of that is reliable, some not. But clear, public indicators exist illustrating his conviction that his uninformed instincts are better than the accumulated experience and wisdom of others. For instance:
• Cohn’s announced resignation, the latest in a string of departures by thwarted and discouraged key staffers.
• Trump’s blocking numerous critics from his beloved Twitter feed. Seven people who sometimes responded to Trump’s almost daily use of @realDonaldTrump for official business and to disparage his enemies are plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
They contend that Trump’s blocking them violates a long-established First Amendment principle that government officials may not exclude people from a public forum — which Twitter certainly is — just because they disagree with the views expressed.
• Trump’s demeanor and body language as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee challenged Trump’s plan to arm teachers: crossing his arms in the universal body language of being defensive and closed to arguments, rolling and narrowing his eyes, pursing his lips as if about to interrupt, rocking side to side as if turning away, all sending the clear message: shut up and sit down.
You can study a close-up view of his performance at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keU4w3VhgGM.
Watch it at least once with the sound muted and decide if you’re seeing a man who “likes” the dissent he is hearing.
The most dangerous and ineffective leaders are those who are unaware of or in denial about their shortcomings.
Davis Merritt, Wichita journalist and author, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.