One lovely day 20 odd years ago I found myself in the centre of a shirtstorm for saying something that was true.
As a young man I had, on several occasions, found myself in hot water for saying things that might have stretched the truth.
But the outburst of rage over my “create a useful crisis” comment was the first time I experienced the twisted world of political logic.
Those long years ago, I had just entered unfamiliar territory as Ontario’s minister of education when I was asked to address an audience on the subject of change.
A moment or two away from the endless stacks of briefing binders to speak about something familiar was more than welcome.
I jumped in with both feet and explained to my less than captivated audience that change rarely happens without significant external pressure.
Leaders are often caught between a rock and a hard place; wait for the world to land change on you, or cause change that your organization will inevitably resist.
In other words, invent a useful crisis or wait till the world drops a crisis on your head. These many years later that observation seems almost quaint.
The speed of disruptive change has made the leadership choice obvious, if not easy, and supporting leaders in change cycles is now my full-time job.
But it was a rookie mistake to make those remarks in a political setting.
Ministers are not business consultants and words in a political context will always be subject to impugned motive.
An experienced politician would have known that the words “create a useful crisis” take on a different meaning if it is assumed that the speaker wants to destroy public education.
Political leaders learn to lead with motive and use words carefully. The truly brilliant learn to enjoy the warmth of an unexpressed opinion.
Which takes me to U.S. President Donald Trump and the circus formerly known as the White House.
Trump was sent to Washington to disrupt the status quo.
The great unwashed hordes of Americans, whom Hillary Clinton labelled “deplorables”, elected Trump to “drain the swamp”.
It isn’t surprising the creatures inhabiting that swamp — lobbyists, journalists, career politicians, political advisers, professional public servants and the like — are none too thrilled with Trump.
The last three months have witnessed daily leaks from unnamed sources in the vast Washington bureaucracy, confused counter spin from White House staff and pyromaniac tweets from Trump, much of it related to alleged Russian influence on the presidential election.
Did the Trump team collude with “Russians” to expose Democratic Party efforts to nominate Hillary Clinton?
Did Trump fire former FBI director James Comey in an effort to thwart the FBI investigation into the Russian hacks of Democratic Party emails?
The political class cares about these things.
In fact, the survival of the “swamp” requires an ongoing storm over Trump’s motives.
Which is why Trump is exactly the wrong person to make the desperately needed changes in Washington.
He welcomes the fight over things that are irrelevant to the objectives of his administration.
He delights in engaging anyone willing to oppose him.
Unexpressed opinions? Not so much.
If the old adage you can fix the problem or fix the blame is true, then it is painfully obvious that Trump is fixated on blame.
It’s a game he can’t win.
The crisis that Trump has created will just make the Washington swamp deeper.
Maybe he needs a consultant.
Snobelen was a cabinet minister in the Conservative government of Ontario premier Mike Harris from 1995 to 2002