Imagine this scenario: You wake up on a Wednesday morning. You scroll through Twitter to see what’s happened overnight. And you come across a tweet from your boss in which he says he would/should never have hired you.
That’s the nightmare that Attorney General Jeff Sessions woke up to this morning. “I wish I did!” tweeted President Donald Trump in response to a quote from Rep. Trey Gowdy in which the South Carolina Republican said Trump “could have picked somebody else” for AG who might not have recused himself or herself from the ongoing Russia probe.
This is not the first time that Trump has savaged Sessions publicly. It’s not the second time. Or the third. Trump has repeatedly told news organizations that he wouldn’t have hired Sessions if he knew the attorney general would recuse himself in the Russia probe. He has referred to Sessions in tweets as “beleaguered,” very weak” and “disgraceful.” He has teased Sessions by referring to him as “Mr. Magoo.”
It’s very, very difficult for even the most ardent supporters of Trump to justify this behavior. Senators who have served with Sessions have repeatedly urged Trump to cut it out using the “stop, stop, he’s already dead!” defense.
“I think (Sessions) removed himself appropriately from all things Russia and 2016, so when the President beats on Jeff Sessions, I think it’s inappropriate ‘cause he doesn’t have the ability to make these decisions,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told CNN in March.
Looking at how Trump has treated Sessions, it’s impossible to conclude anything other than this: The President of the United States is a really awful boss.
How else can you describe someone who bullies their underlings? Who publicly attacks them? Who calls them names? Who refuses to fire them, choosing instead to simply embarrass them enough times to force them to quit?
Any boss who treated an underling like this in a more traditional work setting would likely have to go through some forced management training or run the risk of being fired themselves. Of course, Trump can’t be fired. And Sessions isn’t likely to complain to the HR person for the Justice Department. This job is the pinnacle of his career and he has demonstrated time and time again he is willing to take the slings and arrows from Trump as long as he can keep his job.
Later Wednesday, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said he doesn’t believe Trump would fire Sessions – but added that didn’t mean Sessions’ job is 100% safe.
“There’s no doubt he’s complained about him,” Giuliani told reporters in a gaggle on the South Lawn, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins reported. “There’s no doubt he has some, some grievances. I don’t know if they’ve aired them out yet, but he’s not going to fire him before this is over, nor do I think he should.”
It’s not just his public bullying of Sessions that makes Trump a bad boss. It’s his willingness to let (force?) his aides to fight it out – figuratively, not literally – in front of him.
“They all want a piece of that Oval Office, they want a piece of the West Wing,” Trump said in March. “It’s tough. I like conflict, I like having two people with different points of view, and I certainly have that. And then I make a decision. But I like watching it, I like seeing it, and I think it’s the best way to go.”
And, according to Axios’ Jonathan Swan, the fight-while-I-watch approach has played out in real life in the Oval Office of late. Swan writes:
“Shortly after word leaked that Kelly Sadler had taken a nasty shot at John McCain, President Trump convened a meeting in the Oval Office for a tiny group of communications staffers, according to sources familiar with the gathering. Sadler, Mercedes Schlapp, Raj Shah, and John Kelly all gathered in front of the Resolute Desk for a conversation with Trump about the leaking problem. They were the only people in the room, though the door to the outer Oval was open.
“What happened: The president told Sadler she wouldn’t be fired for her remark. He added, separately in the conversation, that he’s no fan of McCain. Then Trump, who had grown obsessed with the leaking problem, told Sadler he wanted to know who the leakers were. Sadler then stunned the room: To be completely honest, she said, she thought one of the worst leakers was Schlapp, her boss.”
That approach isn’t exactly Management 101. Creating an environment in which aides feel pitted against one another – and, in some instances, actually are pitted against one another – breeds dissension, pettiness and altogether too much focus on who’s up and who’s down as opposed to what is getting done.
All of this is how Trump wants it. He likes keeping a mental list of his favorites (and those who have fallen out of favor) among his staff and Cabinet members. He doesn’t mind leaking a tidbit here and there that makes clear where everyone stands in his hierarchy at any given moment and/or who he is happy (or unhappy) with at any given moment.
Trump’s Platonic ideal of the work environment is represented by the boardroom scenes he and “The Apprentice” executive producer Mark Burnett created. A handful of staffers on one side of the table, all begging, cajoling and ratting on one another to win his affection. Trump, with a smaller cadre of his most trusted – at the moment – aides sitting in judgment. Trump, both listening to the advice of his advisers and often making calls based solely on his own gut.
It all makes for one hell of a television show. It works far less well in the real world.