Editor’s Note: Kara Alaimo, an assistant professor of public relations at Hofstra University, is the author of “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication.” She was spokeswoman for international affairs in the Treasury Department during the Obama administration. Follow her on Twitter @karaalaimo. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author; view more opinion at CNN.
On Monday evening, President Trump’s son Eric took to Twitter to excoriate George Conway, the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, for his frequent criticism of the President.
“Of all the ugliness in politics, the utter disrespect George Conway shows toward his wife, her career, place of work, and everything she has fought SO hard to achieve, might top them all. @KellyannePolls is great person and frankly his actions are horrible,” he tweeted.
George Conway didn’t let the insult go unanswered. By Tuesday, he had retweeted a number of posts suggesting Eric Trump was being hypocritical.
In this case, however, Eric Trump is in the right. It is inappropriate to publicly attack your spouse’s employer.
Eric Trump is correct that, by openly criticizing the President, George Conway is being disrespectful to his wife. Disparaging a spouse’s employer is wrong because it puts the spouse in, at best, a terribly awkward position at work. A supportive partner would never do that.
Most people realize that it would be disingenuous to publicly criticize their own employer.
If you don’t support an organization’s values, you shouldn’t contribute to it or take a paycheck from it – unless, of course, you’re a whistleblower attempting to expose a major ethical issue.
This practice of discretion should also extend to a spouse’s employer. That’s because, in a functional marriage, the employment decisions of both people are made jointly. The job either spouse takes profoundly affects the whole family – how much income the person contributes to the family, how much spare time the person has, and, of course, what values they invest in. So, both spouses really need to be on board with each other’s jobs.
Spouses also obviously need to respect what their partners do for a living, because for many professionals, our jobs are a key part of our identities. That would certainly be the case for Kellyanne Conway, who played a pivotal role in Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency and has made herself a public champion and defender of his administration. George Conway’s censure of the administration therefore suggests not just a lack of respect for his wife’s work, but also for his wife herself.
Publicly attacking your spouse’s employer isn’t just a disgraceful way to treat your spouse. It’s also unfair to the employer. Since spouses often discuss their work with one another, husbands and wives could end up knowing confidential information that organizations have a right to keep private. In this case, it’s unclear how much of George Conway’s criticism of the Trump administration might stem from conversations with his wife about her work. But any president should be able to seek advice from top aides without worrying that it will lead to public backlash.
That doesn’t mean George Conway can’t disagree with the administration. However, he should make his views known to Kellyanne privately. He does, after all, enjoy rather high-level access that would allow him to share his opinions with the administration without publicly embarrassing her.
Of course, Eric Trump’s strategy of publicly attacking George Conway is also ill-advised. In doing so, the President’s son has drawn far more attention to George Conway’s criticism than it otherwise would have garnered. But, as a point of principle, he’s right: Both Kellyanne Conway and the Trump administration have a right to expect better behavior.