Smith: Trump failing the test of leadership

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Smith: Trump failing the test of leadership

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 3:39am -- tim

by Mike Smith Here’s some advice for Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Please resign. Save yourself the ongoing embarrassment. How much public shaming are you willing to endure from President Donald Trump? After all, even the president himself wants you to resign.

Would you respect or trust a boss — heck, would you work for a boss — who publicly shames you in order to get you to resign? We seek an answer to that question only because Trump’s behavior has forced us to do so.

It has to be assumed that all members of the president’s Cabinet are also pondering that exact question right now. And if they’re smart — and they are — they’re devising an exit strategy. Because chances are — at some point in their future — each of them will suffer the same fate as Sessions and be unceremoniously pushed out.

Any way you look at this situation it does not end well for the attorney general. Unfortunately for Jeff Sessions he has been a loyal supporter of the president, but Trump hasn’t shown the same amount of loyalty to him. Ironically, if the attorney general decides to resign it will inflict more political damage on Trump than it will on Sessions. By staying, Sessions is actually protecting the president from himself.

So what caused this falling out between the two?

The president is miffed at Sessions for three main reasons: Trump describes Sessions as disloyal to the presidency for recusing himself from the investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, even though most believed Sessions’ recusal was appropriate given the circumstances. In addition, Trump labels Sessions as ineffective and weak for not pursuing an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s activities, and for his answer to a question during his nomination hearing about contacts with Russian officials.

But the person that has been most inconsistent with his positions — especially with his statements regarding Russian meddling in our elections, ongoing federal investigations, or the need to prosecute Hillary Clinton — is the president, not Sessions. As a result Trump has weakened his own office, his standing with the American people and perhaps the future of his political party. If Americans held Trump to the same standard that he is demanding from his attorney general, it’s likely they would be seeking the president’s resignation.

What we have witnessed in Washington, D.C., this past week is a lack of presidential leadership.

Leaders are most effective when both superiors and subordinates trust and respect each other. But this trust and respect is fractured when superiors seek loyalty from subordinates without any attempt to reciprocate.

Interestingly, there seem to be two Donald Trumps at work achieving contrary results. There’s Trump who is haphazard in his decision-making, flailing at managing people and unable to lead and, as a result, failing in effectively governing this country. Then there’s the Trump that is still successful at connecting with the middle class by planting hope of a better life with his populist economic message that Democrats have yet to replicate.

The problem for the president is that the failing Trump is quickly consuming the actions of the successful Trump. And here is the reason why: Many Americans believe that the methods you use to achieve goals are just as important as actually accomplishing those goals.

Americans are not ready to give up on the boundaries of decency. Loyalty still means something to us. In Trump, they see a president who is likely to abandon basic standards of conduct to achieve a goal and they are disturbed by it.

Of course, Trump’s conduct is nothing new. He has often acted impertinently while campaigning for the presidency. But campaigning to be president has a different set of expectations from voters than actually being president. As president, Americans have much higher expectations. So far, Trump has failed to recognize this difference.

The American people have given Trump an incredible opportunity to serve this country in a way that only a select few have had, or ever will have; and yet, to many, he seems to have not fully grasped the magnitude of that responsibility.

In other words, he’s blowing his opportunity.

A president needs to be honest, loyal to his country, and able to motivate people to work with him toward an achievable goal. There is a certain degree of humility that is required. The presidency isn’t about seeking self-aggrandizement. It’s bigger than one person. Trump hasn’t fully recognized this yet, and there’s little reason to believe that he ever will.

Mike Smith is a regular columnist for VTDigger and Vermont Business Magazine. He hosts the radio program “Open Mike with Mike Smith” on WDEV 550 AM and 96.1, 96.5, 98.3 and 101.9 FM and is a political analyst for WCAX-TV and WVMT radio. He was the secretary of administration and secretary of human services under former Governor Jim Douglas.