Hire on Competence, Fire on Character: A Timely Lesson for Our Times

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Many companies have learned this lesson the hard way: that lack of character is the weakest link to good, ethical and sustained performance; that competence and performance are not enough. Performance must be paired with character.

Mega-companies that once led their industries -- Enron, WorldCom and Arthur Andersen -- imploded because they did not heed this lesson. General Motors and VW learned the hard way, costing them customers, ill-will and billions in fines. Wells Fargo is still losing customers and paying mega-fines because 5,300 employees fabricated new customer accounts, pressured by managers to make their quotas, and in recently discovered incidents, other employees illegally tacked fees onto mortgages and added unnecessary insurance payments onto car loans. All of this was done to boost performance and results at the expense of character and values.

This is a lesson that all Americans should take to heart. By all standards of hiring and firing, President Donald Trump ought to be fired. The compulsive lying (totally proven even by conservative sources); the insulting tweets; the narcissism; the disregard for sexual propriety; the self-serving, fabricated alternative facts thrust upon us by spokespersons. Even forgetting about the Russia investigation and Don Jr.'s meeting with known Russian operatives to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton, any of these would have gotten the president fired at most well-respected, values-centered American companies.

Truth be told, based on the president's own words, he probably would have been fired on The Apprentice.

In Trump 101: The Way to Success (page 142), he says: "A guy used to constantly call me and complain about everybody and their brother. To listen to him you would think that the entire world was against him and that he never made a mistake in his life. From day one, nothing was ever his fault; everyone else was to blame. In truth, he was his own biggest blind spot, and, sad to say, he eventually became a total loser because he never remedied his biggest problem -- himself.

When things go wrong, look at yourself first. Don't instinctively blame others or the circumstances -- or use them to cover your behind. Be the leader; stand tall, and take the hit. If you accept the glory, be willing to accept blame."

Need I say more?

Like many Americans, I have restrained myself from criticizing the president. With good intentions, I have wanted Donald Trump to rise from a hard-fought, dirt-and-gutter campaign to become a great president. In the process of holding myself back -- being a passive bystander -- I experienced a sort of political depression. I by-and-large stopped watching the Sunday morning talk shows, stopped tuning into CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and started on a steady diet of super-hero shows for light, mindless entertainment. I couldn't even watch the new episodes of House of Cards -- they were too real! All the time, I was hoping that the #realdonaldtrump and the Donald Trump White House could become the sage Donald Trump reflected in those words above.

According to recent polls, a majority of Americans are like me -- restrained but fed up. Many have just tuned out. We want both performance and character, and are frustrated by the lack thereof. Reasonable and reasoned journalists have also expressed their dismay:

David Gergen (who served both Republican and Democratic presidents) - "The White House is creating a fog bank of lies, uncertainties and duplicitousness."

Matt Dowd (ABC News; previously chief strategist for Bush-Chaney 2004) - "The Washington, D.C. establishment is like a Marvel comic -- all villains and no heroes."

Shepard Smith (Fox News) - "The deception (by the Trump Administration) ... is mind-boggling. And there are still people out there who believe we're making it up, and one day they're going to realize we're not."

Once that day comes, it may be too late. The country may be too divided, and the duplicities of the Trump presidency may have so obfuscated the truth that it will be hard to tell the difference between fact and fiction. Almost eighty years ago, Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda for Hitler's Third Reich, said: "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it .... the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State."

A major disappointment of mine since President Trump's character flaws have become so apparent is that reasonable people and politicians continue to stand by him. Thoughtful Republicans vent privately but otherwise remain silent (there are a few notable exceptions such as John Kasich, Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham and John McCain). I've had numerous discussions with friends and political leaders who publicly support him. Although, to a person, they have acknowledged to me that the president's values and methods are problematic, they continue to voice support or say nothing in order to advance a Republican and conservative agenda or to otherwise shake up the system. At what cost?

They will ultimately discover that an agenda without character is the same as performance without character. Agendas will fizzle, falter and fail under the weight of deception and duplicity, and in the process, the bar for character and values will be lowered for all of us, especially for our children and grandchildren. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, this character decline (evidenced by recent increases in racial and hate incidents) is already happening in America's schools. Our country's leader and the examples he and his White House display set the pace for the people.

Based on the president's philosophy, I'm not optimistic that he will change. In Trump 101 (page 131), he expresses it clearly: "If you consistently try to produce work that meets the highest standards, that's more important than how you go about achieving it."

Herein is the rub. The way we do things matters! It is time for reasonable people to unite -- regardless of politics -- behind some basic American values: doing the right thing, respecting our fellow man or woman, being honest and truthful, and putting country and values before party.

We The People can't "fire" President Trump. But, regardless of his antics, we can stand for something. We can stand against bad character, whether on Main Street, in corporate America, in Washington or at the White House. Let's not remain bystanders.

Muszynski is Founder of Purple America, a national initiative of Values-in-Action Foundation to re-focus the American conversation to a civil, productive and respectful dialogue around our shared values. The "Voice of Reason" blog expresses his personal point of view.

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