Why Trump's Loyalty To Subordinates Is Meaningless

Why Trump's Loyalty To Subordinates Is Meaningless

“If you want a friend in this world, get a dog.”
–Harry S. Truman (maybe)

Former BuzzFeed person, McKay Coppins, now writing at The Atlantic sees to think he’s breaking new ground with The Myth of Trump’s Loyalty.

Though Trump likes to boast of his fierce personal loyalty—both to his employees, and to his supporters—he has demonstrated a tendency throughout his life and career to throw even the most dedicated allies under the bus at moments of peak crisis. And with “peak crisis” as the default setting of the Trump presidency so far, this pattern of behavior is worth a close examination.

There’s no reason to believe that Trump’s administration will be any less turbulent than his campaign or casino business were. Of course, Trump’s defenders would point to his victory in November over a cautious opponent who ran a well-oiled machine of a campaign as proof that stability is not necessary for success. Maybe they’re right. But Trump built his success on his willingness to toss aside mentors, friends, and family members during moments of frustration and chaos—and as aides and appointees now bet their careers on his willingness to reciprocate their loyalty, they’re also gambling that at 70, he’ll suddenly change.

I’m not a Trump fan. During the 2016 primary and election I read a lot more about Trump than I cared to read. So I find myself sort of gobsmacked by this article. Actually it strikes me as more of a strawman argument than an actual revelation. Let’s put aside for a moment what Trump perceives about his personal loyalty — because Trump’s ability to deceive himself seems pretty substantial at this point — and look at the record.

Everything in Trump’s life is transactional. I don’t care if you are talking about friends, business partners, wives, mistresses, real estate or freakin children, your place in his orbit is directly proportional to how good you make him look. The moment you make him look bad, you’re gone. He has the same loyalty to family, friends and associates that most of us have to used toilet tissue. If Donald Trump lives another ten years I will be shocked if he doesn’t divorce Melania and marry some twenty-something supermodel. In this regard, Trump is no different than a lot of other rich men or people who have grown up amid privilege.

Let me make an observation. Loyalty is a virtue. No doubt about it. In the best organizations loyalty (and competence) go up and down the chain of command. Loyalty can also be a character flaw. If you doubt me, review the history of the George W. Bush administration and think how it might have been if he hadn’t remained loyal to subordinates way past the point of wisdom or of common sense. And how was his loyalty repaid? Certainly not in kind. His staff criticized him and second guessed him. They leaked to his disadvantage. His loyalty to them was not returned.

The real mark of Trump’s administration will not be how loyal he is to subordinates — because when you are working at that level of visibility everyone understands they may have to take a bullet for the boss — but how loyal they are to him. I’ve seen this play out several ways. A while back when I commanded a light infantry company, there was a colonel in a sister brigade who was a dynamic and personable and competent guy but utterly ruthless in dealing with subordinates. The officers in his brigade would have followed him anywhere because they respected him and even though they knew they were expendable items. I’ve also see guys who had dog-like loyalty to their subordinates but who were shat upon, regularly, by those same subordinates because they knew they didn’t have to perform to keep that loyalty.

I don’t know diddly-squat about how Trump operates but I will make this prediction. Trump’s loyalty to subordinates is meaningless. The question Coppins should have explored is the kind of loyalty and respect Trump engenders in those who work for him. That is the question that will determine how successful Trump is as president.

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