Groupthink, a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis in 1972, occurs when a group makes faulty decisions leading to a “deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgement.”
Key characteristics of this phenomenon are: excessive optimism coupled with the encouragement of taking greater risks, collective rationalization as members of the group discount warnings, a belief in the rightness of the group’s cause, stereotyped views of those outside the group, an inherent understanding to not question the ‘group’s decisions, self-censorship ensuring deviation from the group’s beliefs or doubts of consensus ignored, a faulty perception that the views expressed by the group are unanimous, and the presence of ‘mind-guards’; individuals within the group protecting members from contradictory information which has the potential to alter one’s views.
History is replete with examples of this phenomenon taking place leading to extremely poor outcomes. Whether being caught off guard regarding the bombing of Peal Harbor, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and some of the most egregious examples such as Jim Jones leading over nine-hundred people to take their own lives, or the tragic space ship Challenger exploding over our Floridian skies?
This makes late last night’s reporting by the Washington Post, that Trump is going to remove yet another adult in the room, General H.R. McMaster as his national security advisor all the more disconcerting. Included in the Post’s report is the premise that Trump while considering McMaster’s replacement, is also set to replace several more high-ranking officials within his administration. While Trump’s Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, issued a statement denying such a move, it should be noted that the report additionally comes from the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, and it has been previously reported that such a move was forthcoming by Nicole Wallace on March 1, 2018.
While it is normal for administrations to have some staffing changes as they mature, it is well-known that Trump has felt constrained by his current Cabinet, and that he is seeking those individuals who share his worldview, specifically his America First, or what many consider his White Nationalist agenda. As reported by the New York Times earlier this week, it is becoming clear that Trump is attempting to surround himself with those who reinforce his views, rather than serve in the traditional advisory role which serves to provide the President with a diverse array of options on any given decision.
Reporting from the New York Times, Mark Landler, Maggie Haberman, and Gardiner Harris state:
“It also suggests that after a year of chaotic on-the-job training, Mr. Trump has developed more confidence in his own instincts and wants aides and cabinet members with whom he has good chemistry and who embrace his positions.
Many may be tempted to ask what the big deal is since Americans have an expectation for presidents to begin developing more confidence, but consider what it taking place globally as we speak. Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a public warning to all Americans regarding Russians attacking our cyber infrastructure. As the Washington Times reports:
“In a separate move, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI are warning the public about Russian attempts since at least March 2016 to compromise the energy sector and other critical industries, including water, aviation, critical manufacturing and energy. Accompanying the alert are malware “indicators” to help companies detect Russian intrusions.”
And, lest anyone has forgotten: A former Russian double-agent and his daughter were poisoned over in the United Kingdom leading Prime Minister, Teresa May to expel twenty-three diplomats from the Kingdom due to the nerve agent used, and Russia’s violation of basic Geneva Convention rules by releasing that agent and placing Britain’s citizens at risk.
While the current Administration has finally placed the sanctions Congress passed overwhelmingly, yesterday, Secretary of Treasury, Steven Mnuchin as reported by Rachel Maddow simply copied and pasted from the indictment Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued to the thirteen Russians deemed responsible for interfering with our election in 2016. Copied and pasted.
Trump has hardly allowed the words, “Russia interfered with the election” to escape his lips, while originally failing to implement sanctions, and critics such as former Pentagon and White House official who worked on Russia policy, Mike Carpenter states the sanctions have “no bite,” and are too limited. He further points to the conflicting messaging coming from Trump and his Administration. While Trump clearly avoids addressing the interference, the grown-ups in the administration had not. Rex Tillerson was one such person and look where that got him. Said Carpenter:
“Such narrowly targeted sanctions don’t impact Russia’s economy at all, and that seems to have been the administration’s intent. Russia’s intelligence services don’t exactly have retail bank accounts in the United States, and so this will have a negligible impact on their operations.”
One of the things a Trump supporter argued as a positive was Trump’s ability to “tell it like it is.” It was this side of him which appealed to his supporters the most. Yet, Trump does not seem able to tell the “Russians like it really is.” Why?
The problems we face as a nation require a balance of conviction and diplomacy, and the person occupying the Oval Office is not the Chief Executive Officer of a business, but the leader of a democracy which has competing interests including all citizens; not just those from his base. Furthermore, the job commands a protectionist side and should not merely be focused on the “bottom-line” but the safety and security of the entire nation.
Seeking out only those people who will reinforce Trump’s worldview will not provide him with the diversity of input essential for dealing with these delicate issues, and results in mixed messaging across the globe, but most importantly the maneuver opens our nation up to the risks presented by groupthink.
History tells each of us how that story ends.
This is why the media, known as the “Fourth Estate,” must report the facts regarding this administration, and the reason why we the people must remain vigilant in holding Trump and his Cabinet to account.
We very well may be the last line of defense.
A social psychologist by day, political analyst and journalist by night, Dr. Mark Bear has built an established audience by printing facts, without click-bait, sensationalism, or hyperbole. He is married to his wife of 34 years, and both he and his wife, Susan, have a Schnauzer named Shadow. Follow along by connecting with Doc on Facebook or Twitter under the handle Dr. Progressive!