Throughout my career, I have frequently been responsible for hiring and firing staff under my supervision. I’ve always considered extending an employment opportunity to be a sacred trust, and have found terminating an employee to be uncomfortable at best, and often deeply painful. But I have always considered it imperative that the termination be face-to-face, no matter how awkward or uncomfortable, no matter how positively or negatively the employee performed in their job.
So it is more than a little outrageous to me that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson learned of his dismissal from Twitter and not from the President himself. While it has long been known that the President and the Secretary do not see eye-to-eye on many issues; and while on July 20, Tillerson was reported to have called the President a moron, a charge he never fully repudiated; and while the President has publicly berated the Secretary on a number of occasions, there are certain protocols in the workplace that should remain inviolate. Apparently, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly asked for the Secretary’s resignation on Friday. He refused, saying that he wanted the President to tell him directly. On Monday morning, the Secretary–along with the rest of us–read the President’s tweet that he was being replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, someone whose views more closely align with the President.
To be clear, I am no great fan of Rex Tillerson. I think his brief stewardship of the State Department was deplorable–failing to fill more than one third of political appointees, defending the President’s gutting the agency’s budget, exhibiting a disconnection and disinterest in his new staff and allowing himself to be marginalized by a President who, when he feels challenged, either bullies you or ignores you.
I also affirm the right of the President to have cabinet members who support his policies and with whom he feels comfortable. So, this post is not about the outcome of this decision. Maybe we will be better off without Tillerson; maybe a more engaged Mike Pompeo will restore morale to career staff at State. Maybe we will have a more focused foreign policy that will encourage our allies instead of alienating them. Rather, this critique is about process and about how people who–out of a sense of patriotic duty or commitment to national service–go to work for the White House, quickly fall out of disfavor when there is a bump in the road and then are summarily released ON TWITTER. And as of this writing, rumors swirl that H.R. McMaster and other senior staff are in danger of following Tillerson out the door. Prepare for more tweets!
In last week’s post, I said that President Trump’s most enduring legacy would not be the policies he promotes or the regulations he signs. It will be the way he treats people. Less than a week later, we have a perfect example of this as the President sacks the person who is constitutionally fourth in line for Presidential succession, and he does not even have the decency–or the courage–to do it in person. Instead, he resorts to Twitter, his most humiliating firing since James Comey learned of his dismissal as he addressed FBI employees in Los Angeles and news came over the television in the background. Seriously, Mr. President, have you no shame? No empathy? No courage?