After months of putting his faith in career politicians and advisors, Trump has decided to triple down on those who came up through the ranks of the U.S military: Marine Corps generals John Kelly and James Mattis and Army General H. R. McMaster. Though the mainstream media wasted no time suggesting the appointments spelled future warfare, there’s a much simpler explanation for the president’s picks: Business and the military share a more similar culture than business and government.
For starters, both business and the military are “performance-based” cultures. You climb the ladder by achieving tangible, measurable objectives. It doesn’t matter whether those objectives are a better-than-expected return to investors or taking territory on the field of battle. Performance equals advancement.
Government doesn’t operate that way. We need only look at the numbers to see there is no relationship between performance and a successful political career. According to gov.track “there are 6,383 bills and resolutions currently before the United States Congress, but of those only about 4% will become law.” Anyone in business or the armed forces who succeeded only 4 percent of the time wouldn’t be around for long. Clearly, when it comes to governance, process is prized over performance. And it’s this difference which has become the primary source of discord between Trump and the Washington establishment — including the president’s current dust-up with Mitch McConnell.
Then there’s the second reason Trump turned to three powerhouses with military careers: big business and the military are top-down, hierarchical organizations. On the surface companies like Google and Facebook may look democratic, but behind the curtain a small handful of executives make all the important decisions. It’s up to the rest of the company to implement those mandates. The recent firing of software engineer James Damore is just one example of the discrepancy between Google’s claim they are a “safe place for people to express their ideas and opinions” and the reality of questioning authority.
The military is equally intolerant of insubordination. Orders come from the top-down and those who prove they can execute move up the chain of command. Those who question or resist like Damore quickly find themselves sidelined.
In contrast, governance is based on building consensus among equals: equals among voters, equals in Congress, and equals between branches of government. Sure, leaders with seniority — or titles like Speaker of the House — have more political clout than others. But at the end of the day, even with a title like President of the United States you need critical mass — a fact the Commander in Chief was recently reminded of when his own party failed to make good on his promise to reform healthcare.
A third attribute which military and business cultures share is an unspoken tolerance for inappropriate behavior. Both maintain a kind of “boys will be boys” attitude toward those serving on the front lines. Bill O’Reilly’s alleged womanizing, Steve Jobs’ alleged tirades, Leona Hemsley’s alleged abuses, even the bizarre behaviors of Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan were tolerated so long as they didn’t step over the line. The same goes for the anger and antics of military leaders like Patton, Petraeus, and soldiers on leave. From this perspective, Trump’s new Troika is likely to turn a blind eye to unpresidential behavior and let it blow over.
Finally, Mattis, Kelly and McMaster may well succeed where professional politicians and advisors have failed because military leaders know when to move fast, and when to move slow. They’re masters at assessing complex situations and seizing opportunity. And equally skillful at knowing when to retreat. This dexterity is also key to succeeding in business. Trump is known to waste little time when opportunity presents itself. He needs leaders that can move at “the speed of Twitter.”
Government, on the other hand, plods along at the same slow pace all of the time. Unless an emergency like 911 comes along, there’s no urgency to get anything done. So very little does get done.
If pundits are looking for an explanation for why Trump is turning to military leaders to carry out his agenda, they need look no further than culture. Both the military and big business represent top-down, performance-oriented, opportunistic cultures the president is familiar with. From this perspective, Trump’s new Troika will bring much needed order, speed, and discipline to the administration and have an impact on the unproductive, partisan culture which has paralyzed Washington.
Given the tremendous upside of Trump’s military appointments, I recently turned to longtime Trump confidant, Roger Stone, to see if there was any downside. Stone said the only danger was the generals could work together to isolate the president — in the same way Haldeman, Mitchell and other reports withheld information from President Nixon. In Nixon’s case this was equivalent to hijacking the authority of the Oval Office by hindering the president’s ability to lead. According to Stone, under Kelly, Mattis, and McMaster it could happen again.
In the 1950's Truman faced a similar predicament. The Soviet Union had just launched Sputnik 1 and the Cold War was in full bloom. Truman’s Secretary of State (also Secretary of Defense for a short time) was Army General George Marshall. In addition to General Marshall, Truman was surrounded by a multitude of other military advisors, including former Lieutenant Colonel Louis A. Johnson. To counter their influence, Truman formed the President’s Science Advisory Committee, (PSAC). PSAC was comprised of university professors, scientists, and other civilian experts who met privately with the president on a regular basis (no staffers, media, or military were allowed to participate). These individuals were not paid for their service, and barred from discussing their exchanges with the president so there was no way to capitalize on their participation. Their only role was to educate Truman on scientific matters related to defense. In this way, the president was able to balance the opinions of experts against those of his military advisors. The PSAC program was so valuable that presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy continued the tradition. Ironically, it was Nixon who killed PSAC in 1973. And while Bush, Clinton, and Obama attempted to resurrect versions of PSAC, it has never been restored to its former strength.
As Trump seeks out military leaders who have more in common with his business background, the president would do well to invite the greatest experts in the country to the White House on a regular basis again. Bring back PSAC. By doing so, the president will safeguard against isolation and any future danger of relinquishing Oval Office authority to America’s powerful new Troika.
Rebecca D. Costa is an American sociobiologist, author, and host of the syndicated radio program "The Costa Report." She is an expert in the field of "fast adaptation." Costa’s first book, "The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse," was an international bestseller. Her follow-on book, titled "On the Verge," is scheduled for release in 2017. Costa’s work has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, SF Chronicle, The Guardian, etc. For more information, visit www.RebeccaCosta.com. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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