The Divider

The Divider


Leonard Zwelling

This is a quote from a new book about the Trump White House called The Divider by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser. It is taken from a book review in The New York Times on October 9.

“So many had told themselves they could manage the unmanageable president, that they could keep him from going too far, that they could steer him in the direction of responsible governance…They had justified their service to him or their alliances with him or their deference to him on the grounds that they could ultimately control him. And what Schiff was saying is that three years had shown that was not possible.”

The reference to Schiff is to Adam Schiff’s statement during the first Trump impeachment that “you will not change him, you will not constrain him.”

The book is about the excesses, in fighting, and ultimate defeat of the Trump Administration. This is all fine, but let us not forget that Trump lost by a whisker in a few key states and Joe Biden is surely no bargain. Those who advocate for the return of Trump laud his policies even if not his ethics and character. This all brings to mind some really tough ethical dilemmas for those asked to support highly flawed leaders.

First, there is the perpetual delusion that service in such an administration is better than quitting it. By sticking with a wheezing horse, perhaps you can get it across the river. The point here is that it is not a wheezing horse at all that you are aboard but it is more like the parable of the scorpion needing a ride across a river and getting one from a naïve frog who believes that the scorpion will not sting him if the frog does him the transportation favor. Of course, the pair gets to the other side of the river and the scorpion stings the frog.

“But you promised not to sting me,” says the frog.

“You knew what I was when you offered me the ride,” answers the scorpion.

Second, there is the issue of overlooking the ethics and morals of a flawed leader because you like his or her or their policies. This is what is going on in Georgia as we speak where Herschel Walker’s past life of paying for abortions and fathering children with many women would seem to disqualify him for service as a Republican, but who has the backing of the party, because his policies are right.

Both of these positions are nonsense and I should know for I deluded myself in such a fashion more than once. I served presidents who were ethically compromised because I thought it was good for me. I also believed that I could change corrupt leadership more than once only to find out that I could not.

If you choose to serve in an administration, do not do so unless you believe in the goals and mission of the leadership and the ethics of that leadership as well. Do not think that you can change the mind of the leader about essential issues nor mold his or her or their behavior. You cannot. They are formed adults. They will probably not change. As my friend Fred Becker used to say, “the leopard does not change his spots until he hears the furrier coming.”

Just some thoughts for those currently serving as vice presidents, division heads, and other administrative appointments at MD Anderson.

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