Last Tuesday, President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, replacing him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. There’s speculation over why this happened and the way it happened (Trump fired Tillerson over social media). Trump states that Tillerson was fired because they didn’t agree on enough. On top of this, Tillerson had been saying for some time that the Russians had interfered with the 2016 election. Either of these reasons are bad, but the most interesting element was Trump’s statement when he spoke about how he and Tillerson didn’t agree on enough. This is an attitude always present in his administration, from Trump hinting at firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to Trump’s firing of James Comey for not doing what he wanted. President Trump does not want anyone in his administration or at the White House to contest him, and that sets a dangerous precedent.
It’s possible that Trump is doing what he promised on the campaign trail, that he’s “running the government like a business.” It’s a gesture to gain power so that other subordinates know not to trifle with him. It’s a way of gaining respect through fear, which is the laziest way to do that. “I’ve often contended that the best leaders are the best problem solvers. They have the patience to step back and see the problem at hand through broadened observation; circular vision. They see around, beneath and beyond the problem itself. They see well-beyond the obvious. The most effective leaders approach problems through a lens of opportunity,” writes Glenn Llopis in Forbes. In-Business talks about the leadership style of the current richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos. Bezos will often play into his employees’ psychology to inspire fear. An example is that if a complaint from a customer reaches his desk, he will shoot out an email to the employee with a question mark to imply that something worse might happen to the person’s job if they don’t fix the problem. He will manipulate instead of fire. This approach (as well as Bezos himself) warrants criticism, but what he does is more effective than just firing people. It solves a problem. Donald Trump is not a problem solver, nor is he a communicator, so it’s likely that this is not him running the government like a business.
There is also the matter of dealings with Russia, of which Trump, Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders have been very evasive. Trump didn’t pass sanctions, and any condemnation of Vladimir Putin’s behavior has only come about due to extreme pressure.
The final theory, and the most likely, is that Trump just doesn’t like people criticizing him, he needs his cabinet to always be agreeing and praising him. There aren’t many left that will tell him “no” with Tillerson gone, especially considering John Kelly and H.R. McMaster are rumored to be planning their exits. This is not to turn Tillerson into a martyr. He was labeled “the worst secretary of state in recent history” by his employees at the department, but he was one of too few elements holding back Trump from starting a war with say, North Korea. His choice to replace Tillerson, Pompeo; as well as his choice to replace Pompeo as CIA director with Gina Haspel, both having an extended history of human rights violations and torture. They will fit in well with Trump’s ‘might over wit’ approach to engaging with the world.