Trump Is Wise to Surround Himself with Generals

How can the most disliked and most distrusted president-elect in American history signal that he’s competent and capable of leading the nation? By appointing people from the nation’s most trusted institution to important positions. We can’t forget that in an era when trust for government and other civic institutions is plunging, the military has retained strong public support.

And it has that support for a reason. In 15 years of war since 9/11, the military has consistently fought with honor, courage, and excellence. The best military in the world isn’t built by accident, nor is it maintained through negligence. The generals who are responsible for some of the military’s greatest recent successes — whether it’s the brilliant push to Baghdad in the 2003 Iraq invasion or the intelligence innovations that empowered the deadliest aspects of the Surge — have proven that they’re worthy of respect. And in polarized times, respect is a precious commodity.

.. A general is accustomed to dealing with bloated bureaucracies and making them bend to his will. The military has an extremely sharp and deadly spear, but behind that small tip is a bureaucracy so unwieldy that it can make you weep with frustration.

.. Selecting retired generals for key national-security posts is a key signal that Trump is shunning a law-enforcement approach to the war on terror. For the time being, the longstanding debate about whether terrorism is primarily a police challenge (like fighting a Mafia on steroids) or a military challenge is over. And that’s very welcome news

.. but if the Founders of that republic had the slightest concern that former officers were less qualified to govern, they wouldn’t have wanted the commander in chief of the Continental Army to become our nation’s first president.

Bill Gates Book: The Myth of the Strong Leader

The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age.

the leaders who make the biggest contributions to history and humanity generally are not the ones we perceive to be ‘strong leaders.’

.. Gates explains Brown’s core argument, a leadership truism many will recognize. “Despite a worldwide fixation on strength as a positive quality, strong leaders — those who concentrate power and decision-making in their own hands — are not necessarily good leaders,” Gates writes.” Instead, Brown’s book posits that those who make the biggest difference “are the ones who collaborate, delegate, and negotiate — the ones who recognize that no one person can or should have all the answers.”

.. “I alone can fix it

.. an American from Dallas came up to me and looked to see what I was doing. And he said, ‘well, America needs a strong leader and Donald Trump is a strong leader.’ There’s anecdotal evidence and survey evidence that one of the attractions of Donald Trump is that people thought he was a strong leader. I argue that there are lots of other qualities, which are more useful than strength, as defined by someone who’s domineering and maximizes power, and that being a strong leader and being an effective leader are not quite the same thing.

.. the Trump campaign wasn’t characterized by humility.

.. It remains to be seen what kind of team he’ll complete. So far it seems to be a mixture of billionaires and generals

.. the tone of the campaign — was unlike any in my lifetime. It was so aggressive. It’s one thing to say that you want to defeat your rival. But to say that the rival should be in jail — that was something more reminiscent of a third world country.


Many people saw Trump as a charismatic leader and then projected their hopes and their existing disappointments. They projected what they wanted to sense onto Trump. It’s rather strange that he was seen as the champion of blue-collar workers when the people he’s appointed [to the Cabinet so far] tend to be people who are very far removed from that milieu. This is a classic example of charisma being bestowed upon somebody.

.. Somebody who paints a bold picture, however remote it may be from reality, is probably more likely to be deemed to have charisma.

.. That the worship of strength, in the sense of domination and maximization, is the worship of a false god. There are other qualities that are more important in a leader — integrity, intelligence, collegiality, empathy, having a questioning mind — and if we’re very lucky, the person has vision as well.

.. I’m defining strength in the conventional way, as someone who is a maximizer of their power and wants to dominate all and sundry.

.. Eisenhower, a general, would be sitting at his desk saying ‘Do this! Do that! And nothing will happen. Poor Ike — it won’t be a bit like the Army.’ Trump is used to being in charge of his business empire. How hard is it for someone accustomed to that kind of hierarchy to make the adjustment?

.. I would hesitate to say what kind of president he’s going to be. When he’s faced with the fact that he can’t simply issue a set of instructions and it’ll automatically happen — because it’s a very complex political system and there are still checks and balances — how he reacts to that will be very important.

.. Why do you think people are so drawn to this dichotomy between strong versus weak leaders?

It’s hard to say. There’s something rather primitive about it. Going back to a time when there were clans and people looking to the chief, the person who was the ruler was also usually the strongest person or the greatest military person in the group.