Gary Cohn, President Trump’s chief economic adviser and 11th director of the National Economic Council, is the latest in the exodus of Senior staff from the White House. Brookings Fellow, Kathryn Dunn Tenpas brilliantly lays out a comprehensive accounting of these departures—a higher rate than all five immediate past presidents, including more than twice that of Ronald Reagan and three times that of Barack Obama. Issued on the one-year anniversary of the inauguration, the report is already out of date.
What is going on? There have been a variety of circumstances under which individuals have departed, but the sheer magnitude of the turnover in the White House begs a basic question: why?
In theory—and in past administrations—working at the White House was seen as the pinnacle of one’s career—often described as “my greatest honor.” Yet, the tenure of Senior staff in the Trump White House are frequently “the shortest on record” (see Michael Flynn or Anthony Scaramucci). Opportunities to accomplish one’s life ambition should be well-served through working directly with the President; and whether one is liberal or conservative, no one can deny that, in today’s polarized world, there is plenty to do. It is a place to meet powerful people, establish contacts and build an attractive resume. So, why are so many fleeing the circus that has become 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?
My take is rather simple: at its root, the exodus at the White House lies in the fundamental way the President treats people, the way he fails to validate and value the people around him. With his often dismissive, self-entitled tone, he engages in childish name-calling, routinely embarrasses others, fails to take advice and displays a shocking lack of empathy, even for those he says he admires. He lashes out when he feels betrayed and is quick to absolve himself of responsibility, casting blame on others, even if he is the root of the problem. He demands loyalty, but fails miserably in the most basic element in developing trust: to treat another with respect and dignity, both in words and actions.
Cohn’s departure is a case in point: The White House argues that Cohn’s resignation was a matter of policy differences with the President. Actually, it seems it was as much a question of process as policy. The President did not involve his chief economic adviser in this critical decision that deeply impacts our national economy. His deafness to disagreement is symptomatic of his lack of respect, and so he is quick to reject the counsel of others. It is no wonder the President feels increasingly isolated.
If you continually treat people poorly, they will respond in kind. And while there are many things that one can criticize about this administration, it is my contention that Donald Trump’s greatest legacy will be revealed in the way he treats the people in his employ (and, more generally, those in his orbit). And this will—ultimately—be his undoing. It is true in every social construct—in business, industry, religion, academia, athletics or politics—you cannot continue to dismiss and devalue others and expect to be valued in return.
Home for a break between the California and Midwest legs of my book tour for Beyond the Comma, I’ve had an opportunity to update the testimonials page on my web site. You can see recent comments here both about the book and events that have taken place so far. Look for additional updates as spring unfolds. B