Trump’s immigrant ban – management by thunderbolt
“Completed staff work!” Those would be the first words out of my old friend Steve Smith’s mouth whenever an impetuous decision led to an unanticipated snafu. Steve was an employee of the US Federal Aviation Administration. They were words that had been drummed into him over decades, and for good reason.
His area of expertise was air navigation. In that field, any new systems and operational procedures needed to planned and tested exhaustively, because the consequences of failure to consider all aspects of the proposed change could be hundreds of lives lost in an aviation disaster.
I met him in Saudi Arabia, where he worked as an adviser to the government under the auspices of a United Nations technical assistance programme. We had a Saudi boss who was dynamic, determined and hard-headed. And a little impetuous. But he did listen to his advisers on things that really mattered, and there were no snafus that brought an aircraft down.
In other matters, he would sometimes make decisions that led to his staff, including me and Steve, tearing their hair out in an effort to reconcile the contradictions and explain the inexplicable. And it would be at those moments when Steve would repeat his favourite phrase.
Steve was a Republican. I last saw him in Seattle shortly before he passed away. It was during the Bush-Kerry election campaign. The Bush posters were outside his house, and American flag flew proudly in the yard.
He was kind man who was never less than supportive of the young Saudis who were determined to break free of their reliance upon Westerners, yet proud and happy when they went to study in his country. In no sense did he share the attitude of superiority that many of his colleagues felt towards “the Arabs”. There wasn’t a racist bone in his body, and though he wasn’t particularly religious himself, he was never less than respectful to the religion of his hosts.
I thought of him when chaos unfolded in the wake of Donald Trump’s intemperate and ill-considered Executive Order banning citizens from seven Muslim countries from entering the US. He would have been appalled by Trump, and appalled at the fall-out from Trump’s latest order. “Completed staff work”, he would have muttered.
From the evidence at hand, cogently presented here by CNN, Trump doesn’t care about completed staff work. He cares about the transaction, and the wave of gratification he receives from adoring supporters to whom he made his promises, now kept, during the election campaign. He will bathe in the acclamation of the yes-men who surround him. If thousands of people are suffering because his actions were not thought through, so be it. What he lives for is the moment he signs the order and waves it in front of the cameras with a triumphant snarl.
I know that world, both as an employee and as a business owner. More than once I’ve dealt with a potentate whose court is a nest of intrigue, fear and envy. Whose ego, and the need to feed it, is paramount. For whom the transaction and the gesture is all, and the consequences are minor details.
It was said of a British judge who was notorious for handing out death sentences, that when his clerk placed the black cap on his bewigged head, and he delivered the formulaic words: “you will be taken hence to the prison in which you were last confined and from there to a place of execution where you will be hanged by the neck until you are dead”, he would have a spontaneous orgasm. An extreme example of taking pleasure in a transaction.
I’m not saying that Trump gets that kind of a kick every time he signs an Executive Order. But it’s pretty clear that for the man who wrote “The Art of the Deal” (or didn’t, depending on whom you believe), the supreme moment of gratification is the transaction. He is Zeus, hurling the thunderbolt.
When things go awry, he will leave it to his minions to sort out the mess. The rivalries and the off-the-record briefings will come to the fore, as his courtiers seek to avoid the blame. There will be back-sliding, excuses and resignations. There will be renewed efforts to blame “the other”. He will become embattled, embittered and mentally destabilised – and quite possibly dangerous.
I hope I’m wrong, because if it all ends in tears for him, they will be nothing compared to the tears shed by victims of his unfitness for office throughout the world. Just as tears are being shed today at every airport in the United States.