“I expect loyalty” and what it really means

One of the common features of communication between humans is the use of what Steven Pinker calls “Indirect Speech”. This comprises one or more statements whose superficial meaning is to be largely ignored, the recipient of the statement(s) is expected to parse and understand the underlying (indirect) meaning.
Two examples suffice:

“Bless his heart”!
Translation: My God that guy is a stupid moron

“Nice little business you’ve got here. Be a shame if something was to happen to it”
Translation: A physical threat, usually based on some combination of revenge, or extortion

Which brings us to the testimony from James Comey today. Apparently one of the things that President Trump said to Comey in his 1:1 meeting was “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty”.
Based on my 39 years in corporations and leadership, if a leader sat me down in a private 1:1 situation, looked at me and said “I expect loyalty”, my first instinct would be to wonder what the leader was about to ask me to do that violated one or both of (a) ethics guidelines, (b) the law.
“I expect loyalty” is not a request for support in this context. It is a demand for unquestioning obeisance.
In this context it was a demand that Comey, by the very nature of his job, could not and should not have been prepared to meet. His loyalty is to the Constitution and the law, not the President, even though he served at the pleasure of the President. Remember that government officials swear in their oath to uphold the Constitution, not be blindly loyal to the POTUS or any other leader.


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