“You’re Fired”: Why Can’t They Say It?

“You’re Fired”: Why Can’t They Say It?


Leonard Zwelling

When Ray DuBois fired me as a vice president on his first morning in office as Provost, he didn’t really do it. He was physically there, but Dan Fontaine did the firing. He told me that my position was being eliminated and that I would have a year to find something else to do. Ray just sat there. All he did was shake his head “yes” when I asked if he agreed with this. I was taken by surprise given that I had assisted Dr. DuBois in his transition to Houston from Nashville, but loyalty has its limits and I was in the way. Fine, but for goodness sake, do it yourself.

When Dr. DePinho wanted to be rid of certain Division Heads, he didn’t do the firing either. He had one lieutenant or another do the deed. I guess it was too hard for him to face the competence of those he was relieving of their duties simply for resisting the idiocies he was perpetrating on the faculty they led.

This brings us to the current President of the United States who is supposedly famous for saying “you’re fired.” Well, if he is, he’s not real good at it.

He fired the FBI Director from Washington while the Director was in Los Angeles. Hey, that takes courage!

He won’t fire the Attorney General he seems to despise. Rather he seems content to undermine his authority at every tweety turn. Gail Collins says that “Trump Can’t Terminate” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/27/opinion/wow-trump-cant-terminate.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&region=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region&_r=0) and it looks like she is right. It even looks like it took John Kelly to fire Scary-Much-y. Trump couldn’t even do that.

It is obvious that Trump wants Robert Mueller and his probe of the Russia connection gone, but does not seem to have the courage to actually dismiss anyone. Maybe he read the op-ed by one William D. Ruckelshaus, the former Deputy Attorney General who quit rather than do President Nixon’s bidding and fire Archibald Cox in 1973 during the Watergate investigation (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/27/opinion/a-saturday-night-massacre-veteran-offers-trump-some-advice.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-right-region&region=opinion-c-col-right-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-right-region).

As Ruckelshaus points out, that Saturday Night Massacre of October 1973 was probably the beginning of the end of the Nixon Presidency. At least Nixon had the courage to fire Cox. Trump, DePinho and DuBois are all of a kind. They are unable to do their own dirty work.

If Mr. Trump does fire either Jeff Sessions (who thought one could develop any compassion for that guy), or Mueller, it may well be the beginning of the end of his presidency, too.

What is clear is that just like Ron DePinho, Donald Trump has a lot to hide. Both men believed in nepotism and self-dealing. There was never a conflict of interest to which they would admit. They are both bullies and ineffective leaders who created terror among their underlings and surrounded themselves with sychophantic toadies who would be lost even with a moral compass, but I doubt they had one.

If you are going to lead, you are going to make errors in who you appoint to work for you. I did. I suspect all leaders do. When the time comes to part ways, a leader ought to be able to do the separation himself or herself. If you can’t say “you’re fired,” you probably shouldn’t be allowed to say, “follow me.”

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