Armed bureaucrats at your service.

Last week, a preeminent French Holocaust historian named Henry Rousso was detained for 10 hours when he arrived at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. Rousso, a visiting professor at Columbia University up until January 2017, was traveling to College Station to deliver a lecture at Texas A&M University. He was detained by an “inexperienced” agent at IAH, and was released after Michael Young, the president of TAMU, called law professor and immigration expert Fatma Marouf, who intervened on Rousso’s behalf.

Why was Rousso detained?

Was it because he was born in Egypt? Was it because he’s a French citizen?

Maybe it’s because he was on a tourist visa but coming to participate in educational activities (a normal and permissible occurrence, according to the inexperienced agent’s supervisor)?

Maybe it’s because Donald Trump said at CPAC that his friend “Jim” wasn’t traveling to Paris anymore.

“Take a look at Nice and Paris. I have a friend, he’s a very, very substantial guy. He loves the City of Lights, he loves Paris. For years, every year during the summer, he would go to Paris. It was automatic with him and his family. Hadn’t seen him in a while, and I said, ‘Jim let me ask you a question: How’s Paris doing?’
[Jim replied, according to Trump] ‘Paris? I don’t go there anymore. Paris is no longer Paris.’
That was four years — four, five years, hasn’t gone there. He wouldn’t miss it for anything, now he doesn’t even think in terms of going there. Take a look at what’s happening to our world, folks. And we have to be smart. We have to be smart. We can’t let it happen to us.
So let me state this as clearly as I can, we are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country.”

Let me say first, I understand there’s a need to protect our country. But more than geography, our country is a set of ideals. Violate those ideals to protect the geographic borders, and you don’t need ISIS to destroy the country. You will destroy the country yourself.

There is something that just feels wrong about a low level, armed bureaucrat being emboldened to hyper-vigilance in his job at the expense of an incoming visitor to our country.

I’ve had a theory for a long time. It goes like this: when someone has very little power in life, they will seize upon and over-use any power they are given. It’s why people in customer service sometimes refuse to just do the right thing in a conflict, instead hiding behind “policy” and enforcing that policy to an absurd degree.

Knowing this truth, as a leader I’ve learned to be careful when I create policies. I’ve learned to build in many assumptions, including the assumption that someone on my team is going to over-enforce my rule, and then hide behind my rule as justification for their inhospitable attitude about the situation.

Let’s say I make a rule that says my restaurant closes at 9 pm each night. If that’s all I say, what happens when a guest walks up at 8:59:59? My team could potentially lock the door in their faces. In the absence of some preemptive countermeasures, the team member who turned the deadbolt would be following my rule, even at the expense of the potential sale and the obvious negative impact to the would-be guest.

Now, let’s add a layer. Let’s say that I blather on constantly to my team about our labor costs, my expectations that everyone who closes is off the clock by 9:15 pm, and my disdain for idiots who try to come in at the last minute.

With that backdrop, the kid who slammed the door isn’t merely justified, he becomes an extension of me. He’s manifesting, in real time, the intended effects of my ethos and my simple rule. And because he has little power in life compared to many of the people walking up and down 7thStreet in the nation’s capital, he’s probably gleefully “following orders” when he clicks the lock right as the guests reach for the handle.

The good news is, much like Emma Lazarus in restaurateur form, I extend the hand of hospitality to every person who wishes to pay me for the stuff I sell. I give them the charitable assumption — they aren’t coming one second before I close to inconvenience me, they’re coming because they’re hungry and I am honored that they want to spend their hard earned money to by my food.

With that in mind, I start by only hiring people who err on the side of taking care of other people. I honestly don’t care if they are skilled…if their natural makeup is to try to make others happy, they’ll learn the skills. I can’t teach them to be happy, kind-hearted, empathetic people…so I only hire the ones that already are that way.

And to totally ensure the spirit of my rules are abided by, I make sure there’s always a default/disclaimer: when in doubt, do the right thing for the guest. To hell with profits, to hell with hours…if the guest needs it, we do it. The price is the same at 8:59 pm as it is at 12:01 pm, so the guest deserves the absolute same level of service from each of us.

I expect the President of the United States and the former (maybe current shadow) CEO of a major real estate and hospitality conglomerate to understand basic management skills better than I do.

To that end, there’s a real concern when the POTUS repeatedly scapegoats immigrants as the “problem” (that doesn’t statistically exist) with our country in order to drum up anti-immigrant fervor for an election.

There’s a problem when, counter to our lofty ideals, the Big Boss tweets, crows and chirps constantly about how terrible things are in France and Sweden because of the refugee influx, even when the French and the Swedes have no idea what the man is talking about.

And it’s a grave concern when people who point these sorts of things out to the President are dismissed as “fake news,” inviting citizens, or ICE agents, to ignore the warnings and feel justified in their pre-existing suspicion of “the Muslims” or whoever else looks/sounds/smells different than a good ol’ American.

When the boss creates an atmosphere of xenophobia and mistrust of immigrants, he doesn’t need to wait for ISIS to come to the shores to undo our founding principles. He can count, 100%, on the seething masses to take his words as legitimization of their own barely suppressed ignorance and racism.

And the seething masses will gladly destroy the ideological borders, just following orders to shore up the geographic borders of our nation.

Mr. Rousso’s final statement in his recent article tells me this ugly, predictable eventuality is already coming to fruition.

“What I know, in loving this country forever, is that the United States is no longer quite the United States.”


Originally published at rickeydobbs.com on February 28, 2017.