Reprinted with permission from Alternet
The United States’ last two presidents were criticized by some of their supporters for being overly deferential to advisors: there were liberals and progressives who believed that President Barack Obama became overly reliant on Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on economic policy and some conservatives who believed that President George W. Bush was too quick to defer to the neocon war hawks in his administration on foreign policy. But President Donald Trump has had the opposite problem: a tendency to grow angry and defensive when challenged by advisers — and Gary Cohn, Trump’s former chief economic adviser, fears that being surrounded by yes-men could prove problematic for Trump.
Trump’s administration, according to the Brookings Institution, has had an 80 percent turnover rate. Appearing on former Obama adviser David Axelrod’s podcast, The Axe Files, Cohn (who resigned from the Trump Administration in March 2018) asserted that Trump, at this point, might be lacking the constructive criticism he needs in the White House.
“We had an interesting nucleus of people when I was in the White House — the initial team,” Cohn told Axelrod during the interview. “We were not bashful. It was a group that was willing to tell the president what he needed to know, whether he wanted to hear it or not.”
Cohn continued, “None of us are there anymore. So, I am concerned that the atmosphere in the White House is no longer conductive — or no one has the personality to stand up and tell the president what he doesn’t want to hear.”
Cohn, who spent many years with Goldman Sachs, explained to Axelrod (who now serves as director of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics) that when he joined the Trump Administration, he hoped to “sway” Trump on issues like trade and taxes.
“In my mind,” Cohn recalled, “having a seat on the inside and trying to influence was better than being on the outside.”
The Trump Administration has had one high-profile departure after another, from former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. And a recurring complaint among those who were either fired from the Trump Administration or resigned out of frustration — whether it was former Defense Secretary James Mattis or former National Security Adviser John Bolton — is that Trump is terrible when it comes to taking advice or listening to constructive criticism.
In October, Kelly said that he had warned Trump that if he only hired yes-men, he would end up being impeached. And sure enough, Trump surrounded himself with sycophants and is now facing an impeachment inquiry in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Kelly told the Washington Examiner, “I said, ‘Whatever you do’ — and we were still in the process of trying to find someone to take my place — I said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t hire a yes-man — someone who won’t tell you the truth. Don’t do that. Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached.’”