Before this op-ed makes you think I read Infowars at breakfast and fall asleep to the dulcet tones of Sean Hannity, let me introduce myself. I am a left-leaning Democrat. I voted for Obama and Hillary. I protested at Mar-a-Lago. I am Fox News’ archetypal coastal elite. However, I am dismayed by the rise of emotive, exclusionary identity politics at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in the form of the campaign to remove Anthony Scaramucci from the Board of Advisors.
I found it interesting that the Nov. 6 Daily op-ed invoked Ronald Reagan’s depiction of America as a “city on a hill” to position The Fletcher School in a similarly authoritative moral role. Reagan’s intent was pure, but American exceptionalism has a murkier history than we often admit. John Winthrop’s 1630 sermon in which he first used the phrase bred a conception of exceptionalism that would imbibe later generations of Americans with the belief that their society was not just exceptional but superior, and it was their duty to spread their superior ideals to the savages of the forest and plains who remained ‘uncivilized.’ Or so they believed.
I thought of that as the campaign to remove Scaramucci progressed. I followed the story with a growing sense that in our zeal to occupy the high ground in the culture wars of the Trump era we were ignoring values we might otherwise hold dear and embracing values we might otherwise abhor. That even Fletcher students would do so is unsurprising; emotional and moral arguments are powerful, and the allure of being the good guy fighting the good fight is seductive. However, doing so sometimes means deploying arguments that are short on reason and long on hyperbole. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case here.
The argument in favor of removing Scaramucci has been that his actions demonstrate judgment so poor that continued association would harm The Fletcher School and its students. His interview with The New Yorker is presented as Exhibit A. Inappropriate as his conduct was, asserting that a vulgar interview tells us all we need to know about Scaramucci’s ability to advise The Fletcher School is both laughable and troubling. It is laughable because it asks us to say with a straight face that a 30-minute conversation provides a complete assessment of one’s personal judgment. It is troubling because it advocates terminating a business relationship based on such limited information. Additionally, if public vulgarity is a nonpartisan standard by which we measure Fletcher community members, should we petition the administration to remove, say, a faculty member who directs vulgar language at government officials on social media? I certainly hope not; yet this is the standard we appear to be setting.
The idea that we ought to consider an isolated incident not a slip of judgment, but proof of fundamental character flaws should give us pause. As diplomats, business leaders, politicians or whatever we may become, making sweeping judgments based on limited information would be dangerous and counterproductive. It is precisely what we are learning to avoid in many of our classes at The Fletcher School. Furthermore, such judgments undermine our ability to responsibly address grievances. We should be able to agree that Scaramucci’s conduct in the interview was unacceptable while acknowledging his acceptance of wrongdoing and pursuing a more productive course of action.
The petitioners have also repeatedly referred to a poll posted on the Scaramucci Post’s Twitter page. To be clear, the poll was inappropriate and poorly conceived, and should not have been posted. However, Scaramucci was both unaware of it and livid at the associate (Lance Laifer) who published it. Additionally, both men posted apologies and were seemingly open about Laifer’s thought process. Scaramucci’s subsequent tweets (“we make mistakes. We carry on ... I don’t fire people for making mistakes”) showed restraint under pressure and a willingness to learn from errors.
Furthermore, do we really believe that Laifer (who is Jewish) and Scaramucci (who is traveling with the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce to Israel this month, has publicly criticized the United States for rejecting Jewish refugees during World War II and has repeatedly decried anti-Semites and whitesupremacists) are Holocaust deniers? Are we actually tying Scaramucci to “extreme nationalism, bigotry and exclusion”? While it is possible that people believe those things, I suspect it is simply a convenient way to manufacture outrage in service of a preordained goal. It fits the narrative but not the reality. Ultimately, flirting with Godwin’s Law over a Twitter poll is disappointingly thin logic that should be beneath us.
I also wonder what “Fletcher values” are truly being honored. One email mentioned a belief “in institutions and collective answers rather than individual actions,” honorable words that we have failed to uphold. From the beginning, the campaign was not aimed at working toward a collective solution, but rather issuing a demand and pressuring the administration into capitulating. Furthermore, petitioners have made a clear effort to avoid open discussion and debate. When Scaramucci tweeted publicly to engage, he was dismissed as disingenuous and accused of intentionally subjecting students to harassment. When he emailed privately to arrange a phone conversation, he was accused of baiting students. When he suggested that students invite him to campus, he was again accused of baiting students (The Nov. 13 op-ed doubles down on this). Is this how tomorrow’s leaders operate? By rejecting attempts to engage and only giving a platform to assenting voices? By identifying ends, then creating inconsistent, embellished claims of wrongdoing that fit those ends after the fact? I hope this is the exception, and not the rule at The Fletcher School.
It also bears mentioning that an oft-repeated message — morals over money — shows a reductive zero-sum view of the two and an ignorance of the board’s composition. If, as was asserted in the Nov. 6 op-ed, Scaramucci’s career is incompatible with The Fletcher School’s values, should we petition to remove the numerous board members who work in the financial sector? Surely their pursuit of profit also runs counter to our values and must be addressed. Additionally, it seems folly to argue that someone who worked his way up in finance, started his own firm and expanded into print, movies and television has no advice worth hearing. One imagines that the road to a successful career with a diverse set of business interests is not one paved with poor decisions. You may have opinions about his chosen field; I certainly do. However, that does not diminish his business acumen or ability to advise The Fletcher School.
So why bother writing this? I probably shouldn’t; the social costs of publicly questioning classmates while defending an unpopular man who worked for a deeply unpopular president surely outweigh the benefits, and individual board members are irrelevant to my Fletcher experience. However, this is not about Scaramucci but about rejecting the strategy of advancing partisan goals with moralistic, logically inconsistent arguments. I acknowledge the claim of nonpartisanship, but repeated references to the moral depravity of working with the administration, clear exaggeration of transgressions and cynical invocation of otherwise nonexistent standards undercut the idea that this is anything other than a campaign to punish someone who worked for President Trump.
Yes, the interview was vulgar. The poll was inappropriate. Scaramucci might be a jerk. It is entirely valid to be offended by those things. However, arguing that an interview and associate’s tweet prove Scaramucci violated board standards (that again, do not officially exist) and thus is a bad man who threatens Fletcher values reveals the partisan nature of this campaign. Administrators may remove Scaramucci to rid the school of this self-inflicted headache; they may retain him anyway. Either way, that we have gotten to this point through little more than partisan escalation and moral grandstanding is an indictment of our ability to work through problems with those we disagree with and a mark against our openness as a student body.
Sincerely, Alex Henrie
Op-Ed: When the end justifies the means