What's Tony Thinking

Don’t Trash Your Predecessor


Donald Trump never misses a chance to tout himself and his great leadership. Nor does he pass up any opportunity to trash his predecessor.

He was true to form in today’s imperial moment, his speech to the nation on Iran. “Imperial,” I say, for his grand, back-lit entrance to the podium. For the carefully arrayed, and reverentially mute, military and civilian heavyweights flanking the President. And for the recessional at the end, which reminded me of some very carefully orchestrated church worship recessionals. If you want to see a pecking order on display, check out the church pro and recessionals.

In the course of his remarks Trump took the opportunity to make clear how brilliant and strong he is, and how misguided and tragically wrong and weak was his predecessor, Barack Obama. He claimed that frozen Iranian assets that were released after the 2013 nuclear deal were the funds being used to conduct terror all over the mid-East. “Look . . . all Obama’s fault,” he all but said.

I mention this because I have (too) often witnessed clergy doing something similar. Of course the stakes are so much smaller. But what’s the line about bitterness of conflicts in academia? “The behavior is so bad because the stakes are so small” — or something like that.

When asked about their ministry, a fair number of clergy offer a lot of verbiage devoted to how awful or unenlightened were their predecessors, and how they, Praise the Lord, have “really turned things around.”

In the years, I was a church consultant, I heard this narrative time and again. Quite stunning how uniformily awful past leadership was and how brilliant the new guard is.

There’s something fundamentally tacky about trashing your predecessor, who after all cannot defend him or herself. If that person really was dreadful, use the “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” rule. But otherwise, assume that your predecessor(s) were doing their best, that their situation was different, and probably more complex than you know in hindsight. Say nice things about them. Express gratitude for their ministry. Be a grown-up.

Of course, this business of trashing your (now absent) predecessor isn’t limited to churches and clergy. I’m sure it shows up in education, business, sports, etc. But the class acts don’t throw those who preceded them under the bus as they crow their own wisdom and achievements.

One of the great things about Donald Trump is that he gives almost daily lessons on “how not to be a decent human being.” In this respect, he is great teacher.





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