Right Opinion

Organization Behavior

Bill Wagner · Jan. 11, 2018

The two prevailing narratives these days are — let me show you my shocked face — at the extremes. On the one hand we have the Left certain that Trump is unstable, mentally unfit for office and dangerous, with the over/under on when he will be removed from office via the 25th Amendment measured in weeks. On the other hand, we have Trump supporters certain that leftists have lost their collective minds for dwelling so much on it. Both are wrong.

Trump may be insecure, narcissistic, in need of constant praise, and at times childish in the way he uses tweets to punch way below his weight class against anyone who criticizes him. He may be unconventional in terms of traditional presidential demeanor and how he handles diplomatic protocols — often groan-inducing for those of us wishing he would stop letting his tweets get in the way of his policies. That might rise to a level where a few sessions on the couch might be helpful, but it is hardly the stuff of 25th Amendment incapacity. And just look at the results. The Left may not like being so far out of its color wheel, but no one can deny that Trump has gotten a laundry list of, dare we say, conservative things done consistent with his campaign promises to make America great again through economic growth and reduced government intervention. It’s not likely that a mentally comprised person could accomplish anything close to that.

Furthermore, the way Trump is conducting himself may be the strongest evidence refuting any supposed mental instability. He has been this way his entire adult life and has not exactly been shy about publicizing his accomplishments. Nothing has changed. The Trump we are seeing in office is identical to the Trump that was on display through a lengthy campaign, and the country knew what it was getting when it pulled the lever. I lost count of the times I debated my pals about candidate Trump. If he followed through on his platform, he had the potential to be a great president. But if he allowed character flaws to get in the way, he could be a disaster. Either way, he was infinitely better than the alternative, worth the risk, deserving of our vote, and headed for two terms. 

Far from having lost its mind, the Left is acting precisely in what it deems to be its best interests. So many things happen so fast that we often forget about the first domino that caused “A” to lead to mental instability theme “B.” Rewind the tape, and we find that “A” was a Trump/Russia collusion theory created out of whole cloth after the election by the Team Hillary machine to excuse its inexplicable loss and try to salvage reputations. Don’t forget that the possibility of Russian interference was known to all in the Obama administration months before the election, but Obama chose to downplay it lest he tarnish the inevitable Hillary victory. Only after the election did it suddenly become the most dangerous national security issue of our time. The Left has never recovered from this delusion and has been so invested in nailing Trump that it has dwarfed any effort to come up with a positive agenda.

The media was easy to manipulate because they were also scrambling for some explanation that would get them off the hook for having their thumb on the Hillary scale, predicting certain victory that lasted well into election evening. The narrative quickly became, “It was Russia’s fault, Trump worked with them, and we were duped.” The fact that there is still no evidence to support the collusion theory has yet to deter the Left because it has nothing positive to replace it with. As the collusion theory has ebbed, however, rather than admit reality, the Left’s theory turned to obstruction of justice. And when that proved frivolous, the mental instability theme picked up steam and hit crescendo levels with the publication of Michael Wolff’s book and the recruiting of an Ivy League psychiatry professor to lend some supposed gravitas to the conclusion.

I think the main reason for this seemingly irrational behavior is actually pretty simple and not at all illogical — Pavlov was right. We can debate whether companies/organizations are people too, but there is no debate that companies/organizations each have their own culture and that culture is set by the folks at the top. The vast majority of worker bees are not zealots or true believers, just folks doing their jobs and trying to read the values/criteria set by the top management so they can judge how to conduct themselves to get the next promotion, raise or recognition. This is especially true for the media and true on steroids for government.

Trump represents an existential threat to the power base and prosperity of the ruling class, often referred to as the deep state. And that includes the media/office holder/lobbying/consulting merry-go-round. It has happened a bit under the radar screen, but Trump and his carefully chosen Cabinet members have been systematically downsizing government and, coupled with extensive deregulation efforts, significantly reducing the power base and career opportunities for the deep state. One example of many was captured in a New York Times article a week or so ago about the EPA. It was a “woe is me” lament about the hundreds of lawyers and scientists leaving the EPA. Although never stated explicitly, the article implied that the reason folks were leaving was a principled reaction to Trump’s disregard for the environment. In truth, those leaving are acting in their own best interests because the EPA was being returned to its pre-Obama mission of weighing the cost/benefits of monitoring the environment and away from the Obama anti-business/heavy regulatory hand directives. Power was being stripped, careers blocked, outside think tank gigs curtailed, and professional envy lost; in other words, all the motivations that made the counties surrounding DC the wealthiest in the nation were disappearing, and folks were seeking career advancement elsewhere.

You can surely disagree with the direction Trump is taking, but you should not be surprised since that’s what he campaigned on. The same is true throughout the government. Direction comes from the top and people act accordingly. For example, in the Obama years, I don’t think the folks at the IRS were evil people or liberal zealots who simply decided on their own to undermine conservative organizations. Those involved like Lois Lerner may not have gotten a memo from the top telling them to slow-walk conservative tax-exempt applications, but they certainly knew to read the tea leaves about what their bosses (including the White House) wanted them to do. More principled folks might refuse to shade the books after a wink from the top, but enough workers on the bubble figure out how to justify doing the bidding of management. The extent depends on how corrupt the top is and frankly the likelihood of getting caught and punished.

The Obama administration was rife with similar subtle directives, and those abiding were rewarded and protected, including FBI leadership. What is emerging from the Robert Mueller probe about how Hillary’s email scandal was handled, and the extent to which certain FBI officials worked to undermine Trump and abuse the FISA process to spy on Trump colleagues, is more likely career enhancement efforts based on Hillary victory expectations rather than true believer stuff. In one case, you might toss in trying to impress the mistress, but that’s another story. A bit off subject, but I have faith in Mueller. Because everything related to Hillary emails and Trump probes trace back to the tone and directives that came from the top (that would be Obama), and because no one wants to destroy the Obama presidency, watch for the probe to clear Trump by the summer (but stop short of going after Hillary) and give the FBI folks who pushed the envelope an opportunity to leave or retire with benefits.

The media is no different. What started as a cover-your-butt-from-looking-foolish effort has persisted in a destroy-Trump assault. How else do you explain 90% negative media coverage? But they are stuck; ratings now depend on negative Trump coverage (until they don’t) and Pulitzers are still being reserved for whomever finds the straw that brings Trump down. Everyone is acting in their own best interests based on directives from the top — not irrational at all. But they have never encountered anyone like Trump who just plows ahead with dismantling excessive government and fights back at every fake news item. Don’t expect either to change.

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