By Dr. Dinker Raval
During Trump’s presidency two words, “loyalty” and “firing”, became familiar and famous. Slight display of the lack of personal loyalty towards him in his administration resulted in firing. Hence for a while there was an unprecedented high-level personnel turnover in his Cabinet. In the political sector loyalty to ideology and or party platform was expected and practiced by both parties until Trump administration made personal loyalty to him a criterion to keep job in his administration.
Before Trumps’ presidency, loyalty to individual candidate was observed within the frame work of party parameters. Presidential candidate represented the party until Trump administration altered it. He viewed loyalty to himself more important super ceding party’s tradition and rules.
However, personal loyalty to a powerful candidate does not pay in any political party. It is evident from Neera Tanden’s failure to get congressional approval. Her attacking opponents verbally and through twitter perhaps to display loyalty to her favorite mentor and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton did not help her win congressional support for her nomination to be a Director of the office of Management and Budget in the Biden administration.
Loyalty to whom was not only an issue in the political sector. It was evident in business and academic sectors, as well, for years. Eventually they resolved it through the trial and error process.
In corporate sector, the issue was who should the managerial staff be loyal to: CEO’S or Board of Directors? Ultimately it was resolved that they should be loyal to the mission of the corporation. Mission was designed by the founders and the board of the directors and CEO’s were expected to design policies consistent with the mission. So long they did that, managerial and other staff were expected to be loyal to them.
Loyalty to CEO’s and senior management is often viewed as a part of building one’s own team to carry out effectively strategies and policies. Often the board of directors will allow known senior executive from another company to bring his own team when they hire him as Chief executive of their corporation. It helps him to do his job effectively and protects him from other entrenched executives who may be rivals for the same job but did not get it.
Similarly, the academic sector also went through the question of who should the faculty be loyal to, the President of the University or to the mission of the university. It was resolved that they should be loyal to the president as long as he carries out the mission of the university. The mission is established by the Board of the Regents keeping in focus the interests and welfare of the students. They design the mechanism to guard against University President tending to expect personal loyalty and protect the faculty from being fired by developing a tenure system. They often staff key committees in the process of governance of the university. Faculty share power and responsibility for the welfare of the students with the administration. Thus, business and academic sectors resolved the issue of who should personnel be loyal to.
Trump administration can also be examined from another perspective that can pave the way for the improvement in the governance process of the nation. President Trump entered the presidency from a different path than most presidents. Most presidents come prepared with experience gained in the party hierarchy. President Trump entered the presidency from the private sector and practiced techniques and strategies he learned from there. He did not have the experience of making political compromises and deals and nor did he have the experience in managing vast bureaucracy which requires patience and tactics. This lack of experience was demonstrated in his mishandling of COVID-19 pandemic. Biden with his experience, on the other hand, came up with a plan and started handling the pandemic systematically driven by scientific counsel.
The question of loyalty is also culture driven. In a high context society such as India, loyalty to symbolize respect for age is practiced. Loyalty to elderly person in the family is largely honored. In a political sector, loyalty to a leader who led Indian national freedom movement continues for his next generation. This was well demonstrated in 1966 parliamentary election upon the death of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. Nehru’s daughter defeated veteran congress leader Morarji Desai and became the prime minister. Even today, Nehru’s great grandson enjoys loyalty of some congress party members.
In a low context culture, such as U. S., a nation governed by laws, loyalty to the constitution and nation was prevalent and practiced until Trump presidency. He invoked loyalty to himself individually and created controversy and unprecedented debate. The issue is currently unsettled and placed on the back burner.
Now, for the guidance of political leadership aspirants, we need to resolve the issue of who one should be loyal to. In the national context loyalty to what and whom becomes important. Loyalty to the constitution that represents values established by the founding fathers is mandatory. Hence, loyalty to the presidency is important than individual and loyalty to the president as long as he follows the constitution. Since Trump presidency brought this issue to the forefront, it is important to debate and resolve it for the benefit of emerging democracies in the world. These countries look up to the U. S. system of democracy. To strengthen their confidence in the U.S. System, all sectors in America need to play their roles appropriately ranging from political parties, judicial, media, business and academic sectors. American media played their role well by constantly pointing out pitfalls of Trump presidency. And judiciary also played its independent and neutral role appropriately by upholding the constitutional principles in their judicial decisions.
President Biden is well experienced in politics, human behavior and running a large government. He to some extent represents the experience driven style of President Lyndon B. Johnson. He attempts to bring the nation together and mitigate divisiveness, and advocates that he is the president of all the people.
So, what lessons can presidential aspirants learn from Trump’s Presidency? One running and managing a nation is different than managing a business enterprise or any other sector. Second, being a president needs insight and know-how in the art of politics which can be gained through serving actively in political entities as exemplified by Presidents Ronald Reagan, and Barak Obama.
*(Dr. Dinker Raval is professor emeritus of Morgan State University, Baltimore, MD and a recipient of university’s distinguished Iva Jones Medallion. He also served as adjunct professor in the M.A.S. Prog. At the John’s Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD for 2 decades)
By Dr. Dinker Raval