Last updated 5/31/2017 at 7:34pm
Protocol is defined as “the official procedure or system of rules governing affairs of state or diplomatic occasions” and “the accepted or established code of procedure or behavior in any group, organization, or situation.” Most of the time it is prudent to follow protocols because they have been developed over long periods of time by professionals who, through years of experience, know what works and what does not.
The decisions by some of the current leadership in Washington, D.C. to ignore protocol has not only been embarrassing at times, but it also could well lead to some actions detrimental to the American people and the nation.
The current majority in the House of Representatives failed to follow protocol in barely passing the second version of the American Health Care Act (ACHA). For years Republicans called to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA). When the opportunity arose to “repeal and replace,” they presented a plan so poorly conceived that less than 20 percent of the American people supported it and it was not brought to a vote even though Republicans then had a 238-193 majority. Apparently desperate to fulfill their “repeal and replace” promise, they passed by just four votes a second version of the ACHA that is more confusing and equally unpopular. To get this version passed, House leadership bypassed nearly all protocol. They did not hold committee meetings to solicit information from experts knowledgeable in health care nor did they debate the legislation. Reminiscent of a valid criticism of Democrats regarding the ACA, some members did not read the bill. They did not wait to receive an analysis from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Some House Republicans admitted they voted for the ACHA hoping that the Senate will “fix” it. If they had actually followed protocol – held committee hearings, read and debated the bill, reviewed and discussed the CBO analysis – they would have been much more likely to present a bill beneficial to the American people and more likely of being passed, at least in part, by the Senate.
The House’s failure to follow protocol wanes in comparison to President Trump’s outright contempt for protocol. From failing to release his tax returns to belittling his primary opponents on matters unrelated to politics, Trump has ignored protocol. In the primaries and the general election, it worked to his advantage. But now that he sits in the Oval Office, his contempt for protocol has undermined his presidency, as well as the international order that has provided a great deal of stability since World War II.
The haphazard and improper vetting of high-level nominees led to the resignation of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor and other nominees having their names withdrawn. Hastily drawn executive orders, such as the one banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations, have been rebuffed in the federal courts. The one-page tax reform plan proposed by the president has been ridiculed as simplistic and unworkable, something that seemed to have been drawn on the back of a napkin. A serious proposal would have been more detailed and undergone more analysis before being presented to the public. Partly due to this inability to follow protocol, not one major piece of domestic legislation has been passed by Congress and signed by the president.
Following protocol in international affairs may be even more important than in domestic affairs. People speaking different languages who live in different cultures and who have different political goals tend to read and infer intent from every word and every action. Great effort needs to be taken to ensure messages, both verbal and tacit, are perceived as intended. Yet, Trump, by his words and actions, seems to heap praise on our adversaries, such as the Russians, and insult our long-time friends in NATO. (If he believes NATO members need to pay more for their defense, he would have been better off making that point in private rather than attempting to humiliate them in public.) Maybe this would not have happened if Trump had more respect for those in the State Department or the intelligence community, both of whom, along with members of the military, he has belittled at various times.
Because someone “can” speak or act a certain way does not mean he or she “should.” The current leaders in Washington would have a better standing at home and abroad if they followed protocol. It would benefit them and this country.