Inquisitions in a time of Trump

1.  WHEN I went to Dachau, the guide noted that in the concentration camps, there were layers of hierarchies. Thus, some Jewish prisoners were put in charge, by the German guards, over other Jewish prisoners.

Viktor Frankl in his memoirs of life in a concentration camp, “Man’s Search For Meaning,” observed how quite often, the Jews placed in charge of overseeing their fellow prisoners were even more cruel than the German guards.

Our guide at Dachau echoed this, noting that within the layers of hierarchies,

Nazi Germany was an “environment that allowed the sadists (within each community) to rise to the top.”

And so with the Spanish Inquisition.
In military speak – its about the Command Climate. One aspect of command climate applicable to modern management, that reflects a demand for uniform thinking, consistent with pre-existing conclusions:

“Leaders in horrible command climates also destroy their subordinates’ trust of higher ups. They can do this in a many ways, but one of the fastest is to make truth and honesty secondary to expediency and desired outcome, supplanting the truth with falsehoods and half-truths for the sake of getting what higher leaders want.”


“Trump transition team for Energy Department seeks names of employees involved in climate meetings,” THE WASHINGTON POST, 9 December 2016:

“The Trump transition team has issued a list of 74 questions for the Energy Department, asking officials there to identify which department employees and contractors have worked on forging an international climate pact as well as domestic efforts to cut the nation’s carbon output.
“With some of these questions, it feels more like an inquisition than a question, in terms of going after career employees who have been here through Bush years to Clinton, and up to now,” said one current Energy Department employee. 
“All of a sudden you have questions that feel more like a congressional investigation than an actual probing of how the Department of Energy does its job.”
Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy, called the memo’s demand that Energy officials identify specific employees “alarming…


“Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House,” THE WASHINGTON POST, 10 December 2016:

The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter….
The Trump transition team dismissed the findings in a short statement issued Friday evening. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again,’ ” the statement read.

2001: an apolitical process is subverted by a White House to conform to the results it wants, later proven false;
 2016: that *result of political subversion is now used, to dismiss work with no indication of being less than professional (and handled with a restraint by the White House, in a manner criticized by its own party in Congress), that does *not conform to an incoming administration’s self-interest.

The toxic command climate from politicized, Inquisition-style, management:

National Security Archives, The George Washington University

See, also, Joby Warrick, THE BLACK FLAGS: The Rise of ISIS, 2016.

– a CIA analyst described receiving direct phone calls from Vice President Dick Cheney questioning, berating, and intimidating her for her work that made the President’s daily intelligence briefings. She reported it to her boss, the CIA requested the White House go through formal channels in commenting on intelligence reports, before Cheney backed off from calling her directly to question and berate her.

4.  Command Climate, Morale, and Potential Impact

These are things that could hurt American national security in the long run, unrelated to external factors, and are completely in-house issues: poor organizational morale, challenges to recruitment and retention.

You don’t pluck new CIA case officers off the street and have them ready to go in 30-days, or replace seasoned analysts with institutional knowledge with bright but new college grads, and think things will be as effective. Some of our intelligence agencies – you put them under enough organizational stress to cause the loss of talent and experience, they won’t be quick to recover.

Everyone is so focused on politics or policy, but the apparent management style is becoming a big red flag, and could have a tendency to hollow out our civil service.

Then what will America be.

One of the things O-BA-MA doesn’t get credit for, and in fact got beat up by many liberals for, when he first took office, was stating that there would be no investigations on individual CIA officers for “enhanced interrogation” authorized and pushed under the Bush administration that exerted a lot of political pressure on the professional bureaucracy. I don’t know if anyone with half a brain would have wanted to work for Agency after that.

There are policy issues, and there are management issues. You could be right on policy and still run your organization into complete disarray by your leadership style.


I can’t imagine if Jeff Bezos went on twitter to announce that he didn’t agree with something the, say marketing division, proposed, so they were “doing a terrible job!” or being “completedly dishonest!”

Man, people would quit in droves.
What kind of organizational leader would publicly humiliate the people he/she leads like that? (Or let his/her gatekeepers do so). They’re people, not political pawns.


I’m constantly reminded of what the Securities Exchange Commission head of Trial Division told us when we were interns in school: “You have to know the waters you swim in.”

Otherwise the larger tides of politics in public service, the broad criticism that ebbs and flows, can destroy your idealism and faith that your work – that has no partisan agenda – has meaning.



Spain, 1390-

“… the Spanish Inquisition served to consolidate power in the monarchy of the newly unified Spanish kingdom, but it achieved that end through infamously brutal methods.

The medieval inquisition had played a considerable role in Christian Spain during the 13th century, but the struggle against the Moors had kept the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula busy and served to strengthen their faith. When toward the end of the 15th century the Reconquista was all but complete, the desire for religious unity became more and more pronounced. Spain’s Jewish population, which was among the largest in Europe, soon became a target.

Over centuries, the Jewish community in Spain had flourished and grown in numbers and influence, though anti-Semitism had surfaced from time to time. During the reign of Henry III of Castile and Leon (1390–1406), Jews faced increased persecution and were pressured to convert to Christianity. The pogroms of 1391 were especially brutal, and the threat of violence hung over the Jewish community in Spain. 

Faced with the choice between baptism and death, the number of nominal converts to the Christian faith soon became very great. Many Jews were killed, and those who adopted Christian beliefs—the so-called conversos (Spanish: “converted”)—faced continued suspicion and prejudice. In addition, there remained a significant population of Jews who had professed #conversion but continued to practice their faith in secret. Known as Marranos, those nominal converts from Judaism were perceived to be an even greater threat to the social order than those who had rejected forced conversion. After Aragon and Castile were united by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella (1469), the Marranos were denounced as a danger to the existence of Christian Spain. 

In 1478 Pope Sixtus IV issued a bull authorizing the Catholic Monarchs to name inquisitors who would address the issue. That did not mean that the Spanish sovereigns were turning over to the church the struggle for unity; on the contrary, they sought to use the Inquisition to support their absolute and centralizing regime and most especially to increase royal power in Aragon. The first Spanish inquisitors, operating in Seville, proved so severe that Sixtus IV attempted to intervene. The Spanish crown now had in its possession a weapon too precious to give up, however, and the efforts of the pope to limit the powers of the Inquisition were without avail. In 1483 he was induced to authorize the naming by the Spanish government of a grand inquisitor (inquisitor general) for Castile, and during that same year Aragon, Valencia, and Catalonia were placed under the power of the Inquisition.


1 January 2017

A couple of weeks ago, I made a few posts about #servantleadership, and the Marine Corps leadership ethos #OfficersEatLast and relationship between officer-enlisted as that of coach/mentor-student/mentee. It was prompted by Trump’s outbursts against the CIA, his choice of Ambassador to Israel’s attack on State Department employees (threatening to fire them), and his transition team’s perceived inquisitorial approach to agencies such as DOE. I thought the way they were attacking Executive Agencies before inauguration and the opportunity to listen to them first, before publicly passing judgment, must be incredibly demoralizing to civil servants.
In contrast, I noted how in some of the best leaders I’ve met, the loyalty first flows down, before it flows up.
Marine General James Mattis and Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari are pretty good foils to (the “abrasive”) Mike Flynn and Bobby Knight schools of leadership, that demand obedience and loyalty bottom-up, but are not known for giving it top-down.
Marines would follow Mattis to war with a spoon, and top recruits will continue to flock to Calipari, because they speak *and behave as if theirs are positions of #privilege in that to lead is to serve. 
These leadership traits matter in a Commander-in-Chief, and his staff, when it comes to running the day-to-day matters and establishing the “command climate” in Executive Agencies. Civil servants, including those who are elected, are just that: Public #Servants. 
Enlisted Marines swear an oath to follow the orders of those officers appointed over them. This point is emphasized in the Marine Corps officer schoolhouse- that there is no choice. But that lack of choice only highlights the need for loyalty to first flow from top down, if you expect Marines to truly follow you, even with just a spoon.
American citizens pay taxes regardless of whether their candidate-of-choice enters the Oval Office. The implicit contract in this democracy, in this Republic, is that elected official strive to serve all their constituents, and maybe those who did not support them in their candidacies will give them a chance. But only if the loyalty first flows down.


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