The imperfect project our ancestors started in this nation is the most noble experiment ever undertaken in human history. It has the greatest potential for positively changing the world on micro and macro levels. It cannot succeed—especially given the exigencies of this latest re-engineering phase—in an environment where people focus on their differences and not the ties that bind us.
Why else, as our nation lay mortally wounded, would our greatest leader, Abraham Lincoln, have chosen his bitterest rivals for top cabinet positions?
I worked for Ronald Reagan. There was a man who could hear a contrasting opinion, integrate it, then make a decision, still respecting you.
Now, in contrast, consider my friend Colin Powell, his boss, W., the UN, and the whole WMD debacle: Colin and Bush were not unique in surrounding himself with mostly like-minded advisers, who steered him – and the world – into a war based on false information.
Half a century earlier, it took the American Allies far too long to get into World War II—and, in fact, several red flags waved in front of our complacent faces before Pearl Harbor. All the evidence showed that Hitler and his blitzkrieg buddies aimed to dominate the world from their exponentially expanding Axis lands. Japan invaded China. The Nazis overran Poland. Yet a major morning strike caught us unawares on our own soil.
The current terminology for taking this emperor-has-no-clothes phenomenon too far is creating a “bubble” around our leader. If you surround yourself with people intent on pleasing you rather than fulfilling your shared mission, you’re screwed. And so is the project. This is especially true if you go out of your way to seek approval from others above seeking solutions to real problems beyond your ego.
Maybe there’s no better example of groupthink than 9/11. The much-anticipated 2004 9/11 Commission Report cited our nation’s “failure of imagination” as the overall antecedent to our defenselessness that day¹.
How do you prevent failures of imagination? You surround yourself with savvy people. Ronald Reagan had the “Velvet Hammer,” Secretary of State James Baker. Henry Ford was never afraid to put captains of industry in charge of projects, men who’d forgotten more about the technical aspects of his vision than Ford would ever know. Elon Musk puts ideas in cyberspace and makes them open-source so experts everywhere can get involved. They take his ideas and run with them.
Donald Trump has Jared Kushner, Don Jr., and Ivanka running our foreign and domestic affairs. That’s terrifying, no? Mike Pompeo, our Secretary of State, is a good man, former director of the CIA. But in this White House, is it possible to express an opinion independent from the boss—without getting:
- Publicly skewered, ridiculed, humiliated
- Forced to resign
Before you answer, look at the churn rate, the extraordinary revolving door in this administration. Turnover within the most senior level of White House staff members is at a whopping 83 percent. Ten of the twelve Tier One staff members have departed as of three months ago².
Our President is max-packing the cabinet and his inner circle with yes-people. Yes-people gets us another 9/11. Yes-people gets us another Pearl Harbor.