Donald Trump has turned evading responsibility into an art form

The reaction to the fall of National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn is just the latest example of Trump passing the buck – and not acting like a leader

By Austin Sarat / The Guardian / February 16, 2017


President Harry S Truman famously adorned his oval office desk with a sign that read: “The Buck Stops Here.” This sign was Truman’s way of signaling that he would accept personal responsibility for the decisions he made and for the consequences of those decisions. He understood that accepting responsibility was part of being an effective leader – and that it was an essential ingredient of a healthy civic life.

Anyone who has observed President Trump’s behavior, or listened to his words, knows that accepting responsibility will have no place in his Oval Office.

Trump is not the first president or politician to play the blame game. He is, however, turning blaming others and evading responsibility into an art form. From Truman to Trump, it seems as if America has moved from “The Buck Stops Here” to passing the buck.


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The reaction to the fall of National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn is just the latest example of Trump passing the buck. Speaking at a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the president called Flynn a “wonderful man” and complained that: “It’s very, very unfair what’s happened to General Flynn, the way he was treated, and the documents and papers that were illegally, I stress that, illegally leaked.”

How odd that Trump, who heaped praise on Wikileaks during his campaign, would now tweet that “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!” Instead of taking responsibility for appointing someone with a well-known reputation for being volatile and self-serving, the president blamed the leakers.

And, predictably, Trump pointed an accusing finger at what he called the “fake media” and complained that the furor over Flynn’s behavior was the fault of “people…trying to cover up for a terrible loss the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.”

Trump has blamed immigrants for crime, even though there is little evidence to support his claims. He blamed judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who struck down his immigration ban, rather than accepting responsibility for a poorly conceived and drafted executive order, and he blamed massive voter fraud for his popular vote loss, rather than acknowledging that he is a governing with a limited mandate.

Accepting responsibility is a sign of emotional maturity and psychological resilience. We see none of that in Trump.