The recent Inspector General’s report on the FBI revealed some ugly bias among top officials at what should be an impartial law enforcement agency. It wasn’t just that they were rabidly pro-Hillary and anti-Trump. Their elitist snobbery also extended toward American citizens who dared to prefer Trump over Hillary. One sneeringly texted that during a visit to a WalMart, he could “smell” the Trump supporters. They also used such profane and derogatory terms to refer to the Trump-voting Americans whom they work for that I refuse to repeat them here.
Yet they were so encased in a bulletproof bubble of Beltway bias that they allegedly couldn’t even see their own prejudices, and of course, never let it color the way they did their jobs. If you believe that, I have a beautiful statue of Abe Lincoln on the National Mall that I’d love to sell you.
Unfortunately, too many people in government, both entrenched elected incumbents and encased-in-concrete bureaucrats, have that same attitude toward the people they’re supposed to be serving. I’ve seen it before, and I don’t believe one day of training is going to knock it out of them. But I do know how to fix it, if anyone in DC is really interested.
When I was suddenly thrust into office as governor of Arkansas, I discovered that the previous governor’s staff had grown used to being yelled at. So the first thing I did was ban cursing and smoking in the office. Not because I’m a prude, but because everyone, from senior staffers to entry-level clerks, deserves to be treated with respect. When someone’s cursing you and blowing smoke in your face, you don’t feel very respected. I also made it a point to get to know all their names, something I learned that previous governors had seldom done.
Next, I explained that my guiding management principle is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. You wouldn’t want someone yelling at you for making a mistake, so don’t do it to them. You’d want to be able to admit a mistake and receive help to keep it from being repeated. And you wouldn’t want someone humiliating you by lording his power over you. The only time to pull rank is when a staffer is being deliberately insubordinate. A real leader knows that if you have to constantly remind people that you’re in charge, then brother, you’re not in charge.
Once civility and respect had been returned to the office, it had to be directed outward. The Arkansas state motto is “Regnat populus,” Latin for “The people rule.” That’s easy to forget in a big Capitol office behind a lot of security guards. So I hung a picture frame behind the receptionist, with the words, “Our Boss” on top. Every so often, we’d change the photo. One week it might be a retired farmer, the next week a teacher or a Girl Scout troop. It served as a constant reminder of our place in the chain of command: below the people.
Finally, I let the staff know that the Golden Rule also applied to everyone who came to visit. If they were poor, or had tattered clothes, or even they smelled of sweat from hard labor, it didn’t matter. They were all to be treated with dignity and respect in the governor’s office -- because we were their employees.
The people who call on those in government for help, or who want to ask a question, are not your problem, irritation or interruption. They are your bosses. Helping them is your job. And treating them with respect and impartiality is the very least of your duties.
As we celebrate the founding of America, which was based on overthrowing the rule of arrogant aristocratic elites, I just thought some people could use a timely reminder of that fact.