When does civility become counterproductive? How about when there’s talk of Civil War?

Leaders are often trained that civility is an essential tool in the art of persuasion. But is there a point at which, for certain audiences, assuming they want to dialogue and are open to change is a waste of time? Let us know what you think of this column on a related topic, reposted from the Sunday, August 22, 2022 Waco Tribune-Herald.


by David R. Schleicher

I’m done with opinion page pieces here and elsewhere — the ones that urge me not to give up on Trump voters, to assume the very best motives of those on the other side of the political equation, to make sure “both sides” are welcomed.

Such urgings are a waste of words in a country in which a significant number of people will, given the chance, overturn any election returns they don’t like. In which a state government will gladly force a 10-year-old rape victim to carry a child to term while hindering her access to certain literature and history lessons that might otherwise broaden her mind. In which an extremely conservative member of Congress is deemed too liberal purely because she’s seriously bothered by an attempted coup involving efforts to lynch the vice president for bowing to the U.S. Constitution rather than his boss. Some of these same folks were preaching absolute fidelity to the Constitution only a few years ago.

Well-intentioned admonitions for us all to “just get along” inevitably seem to come from the left side of the political spectrum and are directed at others on the left. If someone has seen a recent column from the right urging their comrades to be more civil, please send it to me. Instead, even formerly rational friends who’ve moved further rightward suggest we might be on the brink of civil war. They say so not as a call for calm but with more of an indulgent, “isn’t-that-interesting” tone behind it.

One can only imagine the glee that must be felt from Moscow to Beijing, from Tehran to Pyongyang, as one-third of Americans ready themselves to burn their own country down while another segment urges we make sure to all take turns speaking gently in an effort to reach consensus. How easy it would be for one of these foreign powers to walk in and take over after our second civil war.

Make no mistake: American democracy will survive only if saved by a coalition of liberals, progressives, moderates, old-school conservatives, former Republicans, self-identified (and genuine) independents and, yes, some among those who ordinarily lean Republican. Civil discussion and efforts at persuasion among all these groups are essential.

The importance of the outcome for America means we also dare not write off a voter solely based on an assumption that their ethnicity or geographic location or economic status means they’re unpersuadable. Kudos here to resilient Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke for bravely continuing to visit “red” counties across our state, taking questions from those who support him — and, yes, some who do not but earnestly want to hear more. Consider the 45 percent of those identifying as Republican or leaning Republican who a Pew Research poll found “somewhat” or “strongly” disapprove of overturning Roe v. Wade to the point of turning women into second-class citizens.

Meanwhile, your cousin or high school classmate who wants to argue with you online about how Trump is the country’s only hope can at most be persuaded to support Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis instead — in other words, a smarter, more cunning, less bouffanty version of The Donald. Anyone still flying a Trump flag or sporting a Trump 2024 bumper sticker at this point is not going to aid you in rescuing the country from the brink of disaster. Don’t waste your time trying to persuade or reason with them. Not even a minute.

Nor should anyone delude themselves that many of these so-called “patriots” wouldn’t — given another chance — burn down the U.S. Capitol, hang Mike Pence and violently drag Nancy Pelosi down the stairs by her ankles. Save civility for those who want to discuss whether Person X or Person Y should be elected president, not whether an election loss justifies a bloody effort at a coup, including beating up the very police officers one pretends to respect and cherish. Has there ever been a dictator who saved some from persecution for having only fought him cordially?

So, please, no more preaching to the choir. Quit telling me how to be hopeful for, and obsequious to, the Trumpers, at least till they demonstrate some heartfelt reciprocation, including acknowledgement of basic facts and fundamental American principles.

So long as their fears are inflamed by dubious facts fed to them by their news networks on weekdays and their ministers on Sundays, they will not be saved from authoritarianism or nationalism, however it is packaged. Let’s delay the holding of hands and singing of “Kumbaya” until after their civil war.

David Schleicher, a local attorney whose clients include federal law enforcement officers, is a former chair of the McLennan County Democratic Party. He was a Republican until age 30.


By David R. Schleicher—March 26, 2020

The danger with making predictions is that they are often wrong. With a number of those below, I certainly hope for that to be true. I’ve left open the tenth for you to fill in.

    1. No quick fix for COVID19, but not a repeat of the 10-year-long Great Depression either. On the downside, early denial precluded prompt planning, opportunities for large scale testing were missed, and the national response since has been a patchwork rather than uniformly coordinated. On the upside, the Federal Reserve and Congress acted with speed to try to stem the economic breakdown. Most importantly, a vaccine will be found and—while not immediately or easily—it is a process that should take a year to two, not a decade.
    2. Significant suffering will not be avoided. It’s very likely that you or someone you know had or has the Coronavirus, given how often it may cause mild symptoms or none at all. That makes it easy to spread. Sadly, you or someone you know also is likely to die from the disease. Overlaying U.S. trend lines with those of other countries, it is inevitable that it gets much worse here before it gets better. Countries that have seen the lowest numbers are ones that widely tested and quickly isolated/quarantined—we’ve not yet fully done either on a national basis. The tens of thousands that die each year from the flu provides too low a base—COVID19 is much cleverer in its contagiousness and so far no vaccine. Other the other hand, a prediction of two million dead likely underestimates the mobilization now taking place and the value of researchers worldwide urgently working to find a vaccine. So, I sadly predict a death rate of possibly two to five times the roughly 58,000 figure for the number of Americans estimated to have died in Vietnam.
    3. Consequences at the ballot box. Unless the American President shows surprising consistent, science-based, action-oriented leadership immediately, he will continue to put not only the country at risk for infection, but also his Republican Party in danger of a near-death-experience come November. Healthcare providers, the unemployed, and eventually even Wall Street traders are likely to be among those who will agree we desperately need new leadership. The Blue Wave of 2018 may look like a splash in the pool if Trump doesn’t self-correct ASAP.
    4. Changes in the social fabric. Church/synagogue/mosque attendance in the U.S. has been on the steady decline, from 70% in 1976 to now starting to fall below 50%. The Coronavirus has caused many houses of worship in the U.S. to close at least temporarily, with them often encouraging members to go online to hear a word from the clergy. After multiple months away, many may decide they can live without it and will keep their money out of the offering plates. Others will resume attending, but feel free to go somewhere new. The congregations that survive will have maintained ties among members in the interim. Those that don’t can look to Europe for their future: ancient churches that now serve as cafes, theaters, museums, and even shopping centers.
    5. Continued Growth of the Mid-Size Cities. The largest cities often have the best resources, but also face the problem that a citizen may encounter thousands of fellow residents simply by walking down a crowded street, providing extra opportunities for sharing of disease. At the other end of the spectrum, rural areas frequently lack the access to medical care required for success in battling a healthcare crisis. Requiring an hour and a half journey to the hospital in an ambulance is not a burden all will be able to survive. Mid-size cities are able to coordinate manageable resources without having to play whac-a-mole with a hundred smaller jurisdictions who may each go their own direction. The large cities, with pools of top medical experts and a tax base large enough to spread out the pain of a crisis will surely survive and continue to thrive once past this crisis, but in the end the population shift in the U.S. from the largest to mid-size cities will accelerate from COVID19.
    6. Health as the New National Security. Just as you have come to expect delay at the airport from TSA screening, in the future checking your temperature before you board a flight will become as common as checking your luggage for traces of explosive. In the same way we have come to accept a level of intrusive airport screening that once would have seemed unimaginable, we will come to accept that it is worth knowing it is unlikely the person seated behind you who is coughing your direction is doing so from infectious disease.
    7. Wage Increases Up from the Bottom. While the pandemic otherwise can be expected to heighten already troublesome trends in wealth disparity, one positive effect will be that the minimum wage effectively will have been raised, permanently. Grocers/retailers like H-E-B, Target, Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon are paying bonuses and/or increasing hourly pay, given that the buying that is going on is panicky in nature and wears down the staff with restocking. Once these employees have their wages raised—by $2/hour in some instances—they won’t take kindly to a reduction after the crisis passes. Though there will be profoundly higher levels of unemployment, those who do want to hire will have to match these increases eventually.
    8. Employees and Customers Will Remember. Many companies have demonstrated surprising generosity and ingenuity in helping their customers, healthcare providers, and the larger public in this crisis. Just as you tend to remember who came to your wedding or visited you in the hospital, customers will long have imprinted on their hearts and brains from this stressful period whether their favorite brands acted nobly and stepped up to help out. Likewise, employees will not soon forget if their employer cast them into the street at the first sign of reduced profits or fought to keep them on board and, when unable to do so, did what was possible to speed the process of their receiving unemployment benefits. The names of many a major brand will appear only on tombstones by the time COVID19 is done with us.
    9. Experts Again Seen as Experts. The current U.S. Administration built its own brand in large part on a rejection of the status quo, disdain for the “Deep State,” and a suspicion that “experts” know no more than the guy who relies entirely on talk radio for his information. Even on the left, anti-vaxxers grew in numbers as they looked to a report here or there that—while not peer reviewed—confirmed their worst suspicions that well-paid medical professionals and big pharma were on the take. As President Trump is in the process of proving, there is a cost—in fact, a very high one—for disregarding the input of those who have spent their life studying an issue and who rely on the scientific method rather than the TV remote to test their theories. I foresee a return to viewing experts as…well, experts.
    10. This One Is Yours.

In the meantime, stay safe, sane, and some six feet apart.


   David Schleicher is an attorney licensed in Washington, D.C., Texas, and Washington State, with an undergraduate degree in Sociology. He represents clients ranging from an international manufacturer, to federal prosecutors and law enforcement officers, to restaurants and shopping centers.


by David R. Schleicher

How does a group of people come to be so under the spell of a leader that they become willing to do things that in the absence of that leader they would consider appalling? It’s a question that has fascinated me since childhood. The 2016 English translation of Volker Ullrich’s Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939 (whether in print or by audiobook) provides some clues. Between that book and related reading and research on the topic, I gleaned this…

If there was one lesson the Führer understood better than most, it was that history is not inevitable. A slight change here or there—more opposition or less resistance—can turn the tide in a completely different direction. And so it was—85 years ago—he nervously awaited public reaction to Operation Hummingbird–what he later would label the “Night of the Long Knives.”

Just some 15 months earlier, his party had won the 1933 elections with less than 44% of the vote. On one hand they appeared to have taken control of the country. United by nationalism, beneath the surface they nonetheless were a collection of divergent forces with competing goals and centers of power. While rivals were encouraged to compete against each other for his approval, in the end he could not tolerate equals or half-allies.

Consider his Chief of Staff, Röhm, head of the storm troopers—a man whose brutality had been instrumental in their mutual rise to power. But also gay, showing socialist tendencies, and too often treating Adolf as an equal readily subject to criticism. And so Röhm made the cut for the Night of the Long Knives.

Then there was Kurt von Schleicher, a general, former Chancellor, and master of political intrigue. At one point he was certain he could tame Hitler, eventually resigning and recommending Hitler be appointed to take his place. Even that was not enough acquiescence. Adolf had a very long memory for those who had crossed him. Warned of the threat the Führer posed to him, Schleicher scoffed. The Night of the Long Knives would prove him deeply mistaken.

Elisabeth Schleicher, Kurt’s recent bride, would die that night too. If there was to be any regret from the mass massacre of the Führer’s enemies, it would be her death. Operational sloppiness. Risking turning public opinion against a plot so evil that widespread support was essential. Historian Volker Ullrich notes Goebbel’s view that “No mistakes other than Frau Schleicher also going down. A shame, but no changing that.”

90 confirmed kills, the actual number possibly twice that.

When needed, Adolf Hitler could charm a crowd of businessmen, reassuring them he was entirely sane and had their best interest at heart. But for something like Operation Hummingbird, he would work himself into a frenzy, his voice at times becoming a high-pitched squeal. Yet it would have to be sold to the public as a rational matter of national security: the death of “a small clique of professional saboteurs” a small price for peace.

It was genius, really, not hiding it as a shameful act of terror by an insecure dictator, instead openly taking responsibility for the murders. Relying on the kind hearts and trusting nature of the citizenry to come to agree such heinous acts had been essential to the survival of the nation. The victims were accused of “high treason”—leaving the Führer no choice but to take emergency action to avert disaster.  The legislature would be asked after the fact to pass a law justifying what was portrayed as having saved the country from civil war.

The real surprise was how little surprise followed. Even men like Franz von Papen, with a long career in public service and whose colleagues had been murdered, offered praise rather than protest. Elder statesmen like Hindenburg were no obstacle either: he sent Hitler a congratulatory telegram for having saved the populace from a serious threat.

Uncertainty over the bloodshed gave way to what Goebbels described as a widespread “limitless enthusiasm.” The Führer went from admired to deified. Even academics justified the slaughter, writing that the Hitler had acted within the bounds of law. Meanwhile a countryman from exile in Switzerland wrote of the Führer and those around him being “gangsters of the lowest sort,” reflecting “decadent stupidity and bloodthirsty humiliation.”

As with his invasions that easily could have caused an early end to his reign had they not been responded to with muted alarm and an assumption that it would be easy at a later point to halt such behavior, the success of Operation Hummingbird persuaded Hitler that there truly were no limits to his power. The line from Night of the Long Knives to Kristallnacht was one of progressive brutality, for a country who numbly came to view it all as normal.

A person who lied so often his own staff wondered if he understood the concept of truth, it would take overwhelming evidence to convince the Führer his power was at its end. Bombs making a wasteland of what had been one of the most modern and largest of European cities. Nearly 70,000 tons of British and American explosives dropped on Berlin.

Hitler would take his own life, leaving his disciples a legacy of trauma, shame, and denial. They would be left to pick of the pieces for a man whose narcissism, self-delusion, and arrogant belief in his own infallibility from the start bore the seeds of his and their destruction.

David Schleicher is an attorney who splits his time between Waco and Washington, D.C. He appreciates a pre-check of this piece done by Baylor University Professor of History David W. Hendon.


Look Before You Leak (Scaramucci Didn’t)


By David Schleicher and David Gallagher

The recently fired Anthony Scaramucci no doubt knows now the difference between a leak and an on-the-record (and profanity-laced) interview. Whether from within the White House, the intelligence community, or deep inside the bureaucracy, the U.S. government is leaking worse than a toddler in a day-old diaper. Everyone seems to be disclosing, condemning leaks, or leaking to both disclose and condemn the disclosers.

Some see these as patriotic checks on government overreach, bad policy or even criminal acts.  Others see them as self-serving political maneuvers, possibly illegal in their own right, and certainly not helpful to an administration struggling to find its footing.

In any case, the decision to leak documents or information to the press is one to be taken with eyes wide open. Combining our backgrounds in representing federal whistleblowers and decades of public relations work, we offer these suggestions for anyone licking their lips in anticipation of blowing the whistle:

  1. Put on your big kid pants. Whistleblowing is not for the faint-hearted. Consider a client who testified about her agency’s wrongdoing to the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on a panel that also included her agency’s own management officials. Or the one who walked up to his agency’s Inspector General before a hearing and in full view of his bosses introduced himself as a whistleblower and handed over a folder of incriminating materials.
  2. You are not as invisible as you think. Higher ups frequently can discern who told what. Go ahead and copy them on your disclosures, with return receipt. Otherwise, when they’re accused of retaliation, they’ll deny having had any idea it was you. It’s a management defense that has worked.
  3. Don’t go it alone. Call us biased because we advise people on career survival and public persuasion. But 10 minutes after walking into the lion cage, you’ll wish you had taken a zookeeper with you. Better they know your plan in advance than have to come in to clean up afterwards.
  4. Know the rules. Is your disclosure one protected by law (such as a violation of a law, an abuse of authority, or substantial danger to public safety)? Or one specifically prohibited by law (such as leaking classified information to media)? Some may decide their obligations to the constitution and to defend against “all enemies, foreign and domestic,” compel them to disclose things that violate laws that otherwise prohibit disclosure. But don’t stumble into illegality–there are protected channels for disclosing even classified matters, such as to Congress or an Inspector General.
  5. Go for the gold. If you are leaking documents simply to embarrass your enemies within the building or on the other side of the aisle, don’t waste your time waiting around for a medal. Make sure your whistleblowing is over something your grandchildren can admire you for. We believe that heroes also stay around to face the music. No retiring to Moscow permitted.

It is our theory that no major human disaster has occurred without someone first attempting to call attention to the impending doom. (Remember the INS employee who reported the strange flight school activities of those who would go on to bring down planes on 9/11?)

Whether Daniel Ellsberg and US policy in Vietnam, Karen Silkwood over unsafe nuclear plant practices, Cathy Massiter (MI5 surveillance of political activists), or Laurence do Rego (fraud with Nigeria’s Ecobank), there’s a reason the public holds whistleblowers in high regard: it takes guts and there’s often hell to pay. But done intelligently and for the right reasons, they can change history.

David Schleicher, of the Schleicher Law Firm, PLLC, represents U.S. government employees and splits his time between Waco, D.C., and Houston. David Gallagher is London-based, where he is president, Growth Development, International, for Omnicom Public Relations Group.


Just Say No (When to Steer Clear of a Client)

By David Gallagher and David Schleicher

Kayak on the Brazos River

As any fan of courtroom TV drama knows, the accused are entitled to professional legal counsel, no matter how heinous the charge. In the court of public opinion, the rules are a little less established but arguably similar: everyone should have access to advice, and a spotty reputation is not by itself a sufficient reason to be turned away by image consultants.

But as the recent resignation of White House press secretary Sean Spicer underscores, it’s well worth advisors of all types considering in advance when to walk away from an opportunity, and when to run. We’ve compiled these suggestions:

(1) It was once a given, but we feel compelled to say it: don’t do anything illegal. Don’t help anyone else do anything illegal. Don’t attempt to mask the illegal acts of others, or obstruct the law from investigating potentially illegal acts.

(2) Consider the ethics. “It’s legal” does not equal “it’s right.” This is a greyer area than the law, but professional bodies in communications and other areas of business advice have ethical frameworks to clarify ambiguities. Things like disclosing who you represent or are advising, sticking to facts and avoiding deliberate misrepresentation of the truth.

(3) Be pragmatic. Will a new assignment alienate others you work with already? Can your colleagues support the assignment in good conscience and to the best of their abilities? And if you do not own your business, will your shareholders be happy to be associated with the new project? Will your family be embarrassed by your work?

(4) Be realistic. Do you have the skills, experience and in, some cases, the stamina to do what’s required? Is the client willing to change the story by changing their behaviour, or simply demanding a change in the way they are portrayed?

(5) Think about the future. You may feel fully justified in what you’re doing and for whom you’re serving, but if it requires you to burn bridges with others you may need in the future – say, journalists, or the judiciary – you may want to pause before striking the match.

Your client who is ostracised today may with the hindsight of history become the hero (think Martin Luther King). At the other end of the spectrum, no professional wants their dying realization to be that they did such a good job at promoting the shunned that they will be recalled as the next Leni Riefenstahl.

(6) Finally, to thine own self be true. If you’re asked to advise on issues that don’t square with your own gut feeling of what’s right, regardless of the legal or practical circumstances, you’re unlikely to do the job as well as someone who’s truly on board. That’s unfair to the client and compromises your own integrity.

We can only assume in the case of Mr. Spicer and others advising the president that the lure of fame, the proximity to power, or a sincere belief that in some cases the ends justify the means (however unsavoury) is enough to endure the daily humiliations, questionable requests and vicious undercutting to which they are publicly and privately subjected.

This may be good enough for them, but we wouldn’t recommend it for others.

David Gallagher is London-based, where he is president, Growth Development, International, for Omnicom Public Relations Group. David Schleicher, of the Schleicher Law Firm, PLLC, represents U.S. government employees and businesses.

Disobedience As A Business Strategy


By David Schleicher and David Gallagher

Watching the rise of President Donald Trump, we ask if it’s time to dump or delete all those books by the experts on how to succeed in business or politics. Love or loathe him, all can agree he doesn’t play by the usual rules. He nonetheless defeated some 20 other major-party candidates on his path to the White House, also gaining a historic number of Republican primary votes and collecting wall-to-wall media attention.

Do the world’s leading experts need to recalculate their advice or is it only a matter of time before the usual rules bring Trump to defeat? His willingness to violate norms leaves some fearing doom of the American experiment in democracy. But it is that very eagerness to implode existing structures that makes his fans adore him. They take the resistance he encounters as proof he’s fighting the good fight against an out-of-touch and corrupt establishment.

Consider this common wisdom from business and political canons of the past:

  • If bad news is coming, get out in front of it.
  • To get legislation passed, be a consistent and credible source of expertise.
  • When you have greatly erred, admit it publicly and outline steps to prevent future occurrences.
  • Humility helps prevent disastrous decision-making.
  • Unnecessarily antagonizing a reporter will backfire on you.
  • Independent voters in the middle decide elections, so politicians should focus on them.

Trump, without embarrassment or hesitation, disregards all these tenets. Consider the drip-drip of bad news out of the White House, widely varied messages to Congress, the refusal to apologize for refusing to apologize, omnipresent boasting, declaring media the “enemy of the people” and a laser-like focus on pleasing his base. The combination is not coincidental.

But as much as one may “love winning,” the reality is that his legislative priorities remain stuck on the runway: repealing Obamacare, tax reform and infrastructure funding. Even with Republicans holding the White House, both houses of Congress and more often than not prevailing at the U.S. Supreme Court, his list of accomplishments is surprisingly diminutive.

Gallup polling labels Trump’s approval ratings “unusually low, unusually early.” They have reached record lows for a president’s first year in office and sit within 15 points of Nixon’s numbers at his resignation. On the other hand, Newsweek recently asserted that the “people who loved Donald Trump in November largely still love him in July.” Visit the right neighborhood in the right part of the United States and it’s not difficult to find Trump campaign signs still displayed proudly.

True, leaders who question assumptions and toss outdated norms can improve their success rate. Trump, by example, demonstrated that some who voted for Barack Obama could be converted to Trump voters and — equally valuable to him — others who turned out for Obama could readily be persuaded to stay home in spite of Obama’s strong endorsement of Hillary Clinton. We nonetheless decline to cease advising leaders to attend to core values such as empathy, clarity and purpose.

If Trump does succeed, it will not be at being “presidential.” Instead he offers a destination so different from the present that he will have gotten there because of, not in spite of, flouting the advice of experts, ignoring well-established customs, and traits and behavior previously deemed repugnant. This may be his goal; the prerequisite question for other leaders is what they hope for.

If it is to win within the current system and eliminate the dinosaurs among the competition, new methods and questioning assumptions are entirely appropriate. If you instead want to demolish an existing marketplace or political system, then feel free to start by tossing out the entirety of the wisdom of the ages and advising your experts to jog on.

Just keep in mind that when burning down a building from the inside, you are not guaranteed an escape route. If an approval rating in the 30 percent range is tolerable for you or your business, then by all means please feel free to give it a try. Someone has to star in future case studies.

       David Schleicher is an attorney representing U.S. government employees and a former DC lobbyist. David Gallagher is President, Growth Development, International, for Omnicom Public Relations Group. This originally appeared in the July 19, 2017 Waco Tribune-Herald.