Sometimes someone working for an organization cannot be eliminated, but isn't actually wanted in his role. Perhaps he's far too eager but incompetent, or is good but has some crazy ideas, or just annoys everyone. Rather than being eliminated normally, he can get "promoted" beyond the point where he gets to do anything damaging or given a role that serves no useful functions. Or he can be given a "vitally important task" that really isn't worth the effort (and may even be a Snipe Hunt). Alternatively, the role assigned might be significant, but the main advantage of putting the character there is that it would be a long way from anyone else you care about.
This can often be used as an excuse of why an authority figure of an obscure topic is so awful at his job: He got kicked upstairs into the position. This is the most benign fate of a Pointy-Haired Boss: He goes from incompetently micromanaging your every task to incompetently giving vague company mission statements.
If the first thing we see of a character is him being kicked upstairs, you can bet that his job is about to become Serious Business.
In his book The Peter Principle, Dr. Laurence J. Peter called moving an incompetent employee to one of these jobs "Percussive Sublimation." This is closely related to the "Lateral Arabesque," in which the incompetent employee is kicked sideways, instead of up; either way, the personnel in question get shuffled over into a new position of theoretically equal status (if not higher), but which doesn't have nearly as much effect on the situation.
Japanese firms call people assigned to this madogiwazoku (literally "by-the-window tribe"), assigned to what seems to be a position of prestige and respect for a venerable company elder that has no real power or subordinates, except to look out the window and wait to retire or die. These positions are usually looked upon with disdain by both other people within the company and the people assigned to them. In Japan's workaholic society, this position is essentially forced pre-retirement (when retirement is basically viewed as one step short of death) and generally leads to boredom and low self-esteem from not being a valuable part of the company (and, by extension, society).
The name of the trope comes from British politics, where the "Upstairs" in question is the House of Lords. Being given a title like "Lord" or "Baroness" sounds a great reward for a career in politics - until you realize that it disqualifies you permanently from sitting in the House of Commons, where all the real decisions are made (Winston Churchill was offered a Dukedom after WWII, he turned it down so he might become Prime Minister again, and also so his eldest son could pursue a career in politics).
Yes, Minister popularized the phrase in recent times. But it dates to 1684, when the post of Lord President was given to Laurence Hyde, First Earl of Rochester after his mismanagement of the country's finances. His contemporary Lord Halifax commented: "I have seen people kicked down stairs but my Lord Rochester is the first person that I ever saw kicked up stairs".
That said, getting "kicked upstairs" in this sense is only a real problem if you want to hold the absolute top positions; the Lords do have some power — including a limited ability to veto some Commons decisions, and the right to recommend changes in bills laid before them by Commons. You are also pretty much guaranteed a peerage if you were, at one point, an important cabinet minister, so it's a nice consolation prize for a job well done (usually). Furthermore, one can theoretically become a cabinet minister with a position in the Lords; it isn't often done, but Peter Mandelson managed to remain relevant after his elevation, and a few unelectable party grandees and close friends of the PM typically get peerages to let them into governmentFor example Tony Blair did this with his old school friend, the barrister Charles Falconer, whom he made the Lord Falconer of Thoroton in order to appoint him Solicitor-General (a position which is always held by a member of Parliament; Falconer had made it clear he had no interest in the Commons—if only because no Constituency Labour Party could be persuaded to nominate him—so Lords it was). He later appointed Falconer Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary. and can provide a treasure trove of unofficial advisors from the last time your party held office.
A similar term, applied more to the office itself than the person being "promoted" to it, is "sinecure", for a job that involves little or no actual work. It comes from the Latin sine cura, "without care"; the term originated in the medieval church, where the post in question usually did not have a parish for the holder to care for, only a desk in an office and a small salary. Of course, not all promotions or appointments to a sinecure are examples of being Kicked Upstairs, but depending on what the person's old job was and their employer's motives for putting them there, they certainly can be. The "deputy leader" post in most governments (e.g. Vice President of the United States) is widely considered one of these, therefore leading to the trope Vice President Who.
May or may not include being Reassigned to Antarctica in the process. Often leads to a Reassignment Backfire (and as mentioned earlier, if the character is important or this is how we first see them then this is practically guaranteed). A supernatural version of this can be Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence. When the kicking is done by a family member, it's Nepotism. Contrast with Promoted to Scapegoat. For the competent but non-action-oriented position of authority, see Desk Jockey.
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Anime and Manga
Captain Goto in Patlabor, probably the smartest guy on the force and a pain in the neck for his superiors, got assigned to the ragtag Special Vehicles Unit, Second Division mainly because they had no prestige and their headquarters is on the city outskirts.
In flashback, it's revealed that Aizen's promotion to Vice Captain was fast-tracked because his then-Captain, Hirako Shinji, didn't trust Aizen enough to let him out of his sight. Unfortunately, Shinji underestimated Aizen's chessmaster planning, which took his surveillance into account.
Haschwalth believes that Yhwach chose his newly-appointed successor because he was an insurrection risk. His sudden elevation to imperial heir keeps the angry army focused on him and prevents him from plotting betrayal. Yhwach's successor? Uryuu Ishida. It's hinted that Uryuu very quickly reached the same conclusion as Haschwalth.
Stella, a minor character in To Love-Ru, was a Loony Fan of Lala's who was considered so crazy and obsessive that she was made president of Lala's fan club where part of her duty is deflecting other loony fans.
When he is transferred to the North by the Führer, Falman of Fullmetal Alchemist is promoted to Second Lieutenant, but transferred to Fort Briggs, which in the middle of nowhere and put to work scraping off icicles.
This actually happens to all of Mustang's men, particularly Hawkeye who gets reassigned as Fuhrer Bradley's personal assistant.
The same can be said about Olivier's promotion to Central, meant to separate her from her loyal subordinates.
This happened to Misty in Pokémon past the original series. She becomes the sole Gym Leader of Cerulean Gym and it is heavily implied that she has to lose to rookies quite a bit in order to be this in a manner that is very similar to Team Rocket.
When Hal Jordan was revived as Green Lantern ten years after his Heel-Face Turn and Kyle Rayner was no longer the star of that title, Kyle was initially called up to Oa as a GL trainer and subsequently became Ion in the events of Crisis CrossoverInfinite Crisis, and thus became the star of a 12-issue maxi-series. Since the events of the Sinestro Corps War, though, Kyle was stripped of the Ion powers, became Parallax, broke free of Parallax, became Green Lantern again, and is now promoted to Honor Guard as Guy Gardner's partner, and now co-stars with Guy as the headliner of Green Lantern Corps, the other Green Lantern comic. Upon the relaunch of the New 52, Kyle is the head liner of yet another book, Green Lantern: New Guardians.
An alternate-universe Marvel Comics series has Nick Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D. almost forced sideways, out of any real authority by by a sniveling lackey with power. It ends ambiguously, with lots of people dead and the lackey with an eye put out by Nick Fury's cigar.
The Marvel Universe had a string of people being placed in Nick Fury's former position as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. after he was forced to go on the lam.
Maria Hill was made Acting Director initially, specifically because of her bias against superpowered beings. This bias led to her basically instigating the Civil War, as she told Captain America to get on board with the plan to arrest any superhero who was not registered under the Superhuman Registration Act after it came into effect (Even if, as evidenced with Luke Cage, they merely sat at home and had done nothing to violate the newly enacted law) or surrender into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody.
Tony Stark was given the job full-time after leading the Pro-Registration side in the Civil War, and lasted in the spot until Secret Invasion, where Stark moving all of S.H.I.E.L.D's computers & weapons over to Stark Tech (The same operating system than ran the Iron Man suits) let the Skrulls easily take out both S.H.I.E.L.D. & Iron Man in one move.
Norman Osborn replaced Stark after he was blamed for failing to prevent the Skrull invasion, whilst Osborn was riding a wave of good publicity for being the one who (Despite everyone going after her at that point) killed the Skrull Queen. Considering Osborn's the Green Goblin, it went as well as you'd expect.
In Winter War, Gin has undergone a Villainous Breakdown, so Aizen puts him in charge of a conquered Seireitei... a prestigious job that he had to give to someone, but also one that keeps Gin too far away to mess up Aizen's projects.
In Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie, Mr. Bean is selected (with much relieved cheering by board members) to represent Britain as an expert on art sent to America, just to get temporarily rid of him from his position as a security guard at the museum (firing him is out of the question seeing as the chairman has an inexplicable fondness for Bean).
At the end of the 2001 film Behind Enemy Lines, Admiral Leslie Reigart is "rewarded" for his rescue of downed pilot Chris Burnett by being promoted to a desk job (since he had disobeyed orders to do so), where he would no longer be in command of his US Navy battlegroup. Reigart chooses to retire instead.
In Breach, FBI analyst Robert Hanssen complains about being moved to a "do-nothing position" of no importance. As we already know, he has actually been moved there because he is under heavy suspicion of being a Russian spy.
Used to kick off Hot Fuzz, in which Nicholas Angel is promoted to sergeant because he's so damn good at his job, he's showing everyone else up. Unable to kick him out due to his extreme competence, they promote him to a sleepy little village — except as it turns out, it's not actually all that quiet.
In the Michael Douglas film Disclosure, the main character is under investigation for sexual harassment, brought about by the conniving Femme Fatale. Considering that the evidence is mostly her word against his, one of the solutions suggested is that Douglas' character accept a lateral transfer, with the same pay and benefits, from the company's Seattle location to an office in Texas. He immediately refuses, as he knows that the Texas location is due to be shut down and most of its employees laid off, making the whole exercise a roundabout firing in disguise.
In Joe Somebody, the eponymous protagonist is given a high-level non-existing position at the company after he is assaulted by a coworker, so that he doesn't sue the company. After things die down, the Corrupt Corporate Executive plans to quietly fire him.
Speaking of Star Trek, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home features an inversion. Kirk has violated orders to save the world. They "punish" him by taking away his cushy desk job and demoting him to a "mere" starship captain. So Starfleet gets what it wants (a public punishment to demonstrate they don't tolerate such behavior, not to mention their best captain back in the field) and Kirk gets what he wants (the Enterprise).
Seemingly played straight in Star Trek The Motion Picture, though. Unlike the following film, Kirk certainly doesn't like the fact that he's been promoted to a desk job, and uses the crisis to take back the Enterprise.
Stannis Baratheon was appointed Lord of Dragonstone (a barren spit of land) after his brother Robert's rebellion to apparently rein in the nobles of the Crown lands who might still be loyal to House Targaryen. Stannis thinks this was a punishment after The Mad King's remaining children escape.
Jaime Lannister was immensely proud of being selected for the Kingsguard while still in his teens. Tywin saw it for what it was, namely King Aerys way of making sure Tywin's favored firstborn son could never become Lord of Casterly Rock.
Used as a constant threat against the Unorthodox in Brave New World. Surprisingly, it's actually for their own good. Individuals in the setting are graded by talents and bioengineered to fit their current role. The world is a sort of playground of juvenile pleasures; it's all sex, drugs, sports, and entertainment with no thought, complex passions, or intimate relations spoiling it. Some of those at the top of the society simply can't be happy being happy all the time, so they are exiled to remote colonies where they can do as they please without any chance of affecting the rest of the world.
The President of the Galaxy in The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. Zaphod made plans to get the job for exactly this reason — it looks and sounds impressive, and you go to a lot of high-toned events and important places, but it wields no real power. It did, however, put him in the perfect position to steal the starship Heart of Gold.
Which is the exact opposite of the ruler of the universe, who does nothing but live in a shack on an abandoned planet with his cat, where important people come to him from time to time for advice. And he doesn't even know he's the ruler of the universe.
That's assuming the universe isn't simply all in his imagination in the first place.
Egregious Professor of Cruel And Unusual Geography, Chair of Experimental Serendipity and assorted other meaningless titles given to Rincewind in the Discworld novels.
The Cruel and Unusual Geography position is occasionally justified in-text on the grounds that Rincewind has run away from stuff all over the Discworld, so he probably has a better sense of its overall shape than anyone. The fact that he still doesn't actually do much, though, makes this job the best he could dream of, as he actively seeks boredom. Boredom is safe.
Of course, most of the Unseen University's faculty don't do much, either. They're usually too busy killing each other or eating. And even if they wanted to teach someone, given the temperamental nature of magic on the Disc, it's probably best that they don't. The University was actually created to discourage wizards from doing too much magic by giving them comfy jobs and plenty to eat. Which actually makes most Discworld wizards examples of this trope.
No, all of the wizards (especially the older ones, due to previous political situations) could be very dangerous if they wanted to be. Fortunately for the public, the current political situation (both in the outside world and in UU) is carefully maintained to make sure they never want to.
Considering how the previous Egregious Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography had apparently been eaten by a dinosaur several years ago, and no one at UU had even noticed his absence, it's probably not a position that demands much hands-on work.
Also, in Eric, Astfgl the King of Hell disrupts the general system (turning it from a Fire and Brimstone Hell to Cool and Unusual Punishment), so the other lords of hell promote him to the ultimately meaningless position of Supreme Life President. He does seem much happier in the new position, though.
Silverfish from Moving Pictures was essentially locked out of his own film studio's chain-of-command this way, when Dibbler elbowed his way into the company and started running everything, leaving the alchemist with nothing to say about the business.
The Chinese classic Journey to the West sees the Monkey King Sun Wukong given a fancifully titled job of maintaining the stables of the Heavenly Court as the deities wanted him to be more manageable. However, it doesn't work out.
In Lois McMaster Bujold's Falling Free, engineer Leo Graf recognises his new boss on the Cay Project, Bruce Van Atta, as some annoying twit he recommended for promotion to a desk job for the express purpose of getting the annoying git out of his way. Bruce thought it was a favor and Leo regrets it almost right away; then really regrets it when Brucie-baby turns from petty bureaucratic obstruction to attempted mass murder aka "post-fetal tissue culture disposal".
Lampshaded through literal use in Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. One character, an example of The Good Captain, starts to have qualms about colonizing Mars and leaving no traces of the native culture. In a later story in the collection, it's revealed he was stationed on a farther away planet in the solar system and thus literally "kicked up stairs."
In the Wild Cards series, male Rhindarians carry impressive titles and are allowed to think they're in charge, when it's actually the females who make all real decisions.
Some of the background information to Harry Potter provides details about the Ministry of Magic, including its Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, which has a "Centaur Liaison Office." The fact that Centaurs in the Potter universe are staunch isolationists means that the Liaison Office doesn't actually do anything, and being "sent to the Centaur Office" is a Ministry euphemism for being sacked.
Plus, there seems to be little interaction between different Wizard nations, which makes the Department for International Magical Cooperation seem fairly useless. Barty Crouch was put in charge of this Department (ostensibly a demotion from his previous position as Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, though going from the Head of one department to the Head of another saves face) after the debacle of his son being allegedly involved in Death Eater activities, in order to save the Ministry embarrassment. Similarly, when Cornelius Fudge is thrown out of office after his suppression of information suggesting the return of Lord Voldemort, he is given a meaningless "consultation" position, which seems mostly intended to keep him out of the way.
The first we see of Willard Phule is his "promotion" to captain of Omega Company, the dumping ground for Space Legion's misfits. This backfires as Phule uses his near-limitless funds (and a serendipitous First Contact) to turn the unit's reputation around, to the point where new Legionnaires are requesting posts in his unit. To be fair, it's not only wealth and luck. Phule also takes advantage of his troops' unique abilities rather than berating them for not fitting into the standard military structure, treating them more like a special ops unit than a misfit unit.
In the Bastard Operator from Hell series, the job of network supervisor is pretty much futile (the title character will never listen), unneeded and ultimately dangerous.
In the Tom Clancy novel Debt of Honor, after serving as the National Security Adviser during the brief war with Japan, the President asks Jack Ryan to serve as Vice President after the previous VP resigned in disgrace, and is confirmed by the Senate. The intent was to give Jack, who constantly complained about government service while simultaneously enjoying it, a permanent way out of government service: after serving as interim Vice President until the election in eleven months, he would retire and never be asked to return. It did not work out that way at all, thanks to a loaded Japanese Airlines 747 being deliberately crashed into the Capitol Building just after Ryan was confirmed, by a disgruntled Japanese pilot who lost family in the war.
In H. Beam Piper's story "Ministry of Disturbance", the concept has been all but formally institutionalized:
"Bench of Counselors; that was the answer! Elevate Harv Dorflay to the Bench. That was what the Bench was for, a gold-plated dustbin for the disposal of superannuated dignitaries. He'd do no harm there, and a touch of outright lunacy might enliven and even improve the Bench."
The children's book Reynard the Fox eventually has the eponymous character being given the position of ambassador to the human world; this is basically done so that Reynard can't cause any more trouble in the animal kingdom.
The whole point of Jpod is that they ENJOY being in this position, as they can work on any pet project they can think of if they want, or sit back and waste time talking about random pop culture trivia if they want, as their group is too low profile for anyone to really CARE what they do with their work days.
At the end of A Passage to India, the mediocre British bureaucrat Ronnie Heaslop is removed from his Indian post in consequence of some of his poor judgments creating public unrest and gets a promotion and is sent to Palestine. Essentially, he's given another colony to screw up.
In 1984, after being arrested and brainwashed by the Thought Police, Party members are often allowed to hang around for several years before being executed, during which time they are given sinecures of no importance whatsoever. This fate befalls three of the founding Party members, Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford, along with the protagonist.
In Harry Turtledove's Timeline-191 series, Hitlerexpy Jake Featherston gives the job of Vice President to the leader of a smaller group the Freedom Party in order to unite their White Power-based voter base while shoving the former rival off to the side (and giving his own right-hand man the position of Attorney General, which holds actual power). When the Vice President figures this out, he attempts a coup to seize power but ultimately fails.
In Animorphs, Visser Three is so ruthless and quick-to-kill his underlings that no one wants to be promoted to a higher Sub-Visser (like a lieutenant) or Visser (like a general) position. Other Yeerks will sometimes get promoted just because the position above theirs was recently vacated by a "fool".
"I can say with absolute certainty that you did not receive this commission due to your skills. Like our friend the ambassador, you have the chancellor to thank for your position. But unlike the ambassador, I have no reason to believe that you might rise above the nepotism. I cannot justify removing you from this post. I can, however, give you a promotion".
Star Trek: Ex Machina explains that this is why Kirk was an admiral in Star Trek The Motion Picture. After a particularly controversial violation of the Prime Directive (for the purposes of saving a civilization from destruction), Kirk became a household name. His career was dissected in the media to the point where his reputation - as both a hero and a troublemaker - was blown out of all proportion. Half of Starfleet Command wanted him dismissed from the service, the other half idolized him. Admiral Nogura eventually solved the problem by promoting Kirk, acknowledging the good of his actions while keeping him behind a desk, and so out of trouble. It seemed the safest compromise.
The same author indicates in Forgotten History that the situation was engineered by a Starfleet Admiral who wanted the Enterprise's original engines for time-travel experiments. He assigned an by-the-book auditor to that mission because he knew Kirk couldn't resist being a hero and the auditor would file an outraged report that would get Kirk out of the captain's chair.
And in Star Trek: Vanguard, made the subject of a joke at Nogura's own expense. What happened to Nogura after Project Vanguard concluded? Answer: just what you'd expect to happen to an officer who had a starbase shot out from under him - he was promoted.
In The Dresden Files, it's outright stated that Karrin Murphy was given a promotion to Lieutenant in charge of Special Investigations as a way of tacitly getting her to quit (Special Investigations is where cops go to watch their careers die). That she was actually good at her job, despite being in the worst possible position, results in various people looking for other ways of bringing her down. By book nine, she's been demoted to Sergeant for dereliction of duty, and in the aftermath of Changes, she's been fired for alleged incompetence. Admittedly the incompetence charge isn't her fault, but a trumped-up farce dreamed up by the ex-SI cop Rudolph, who enjoys using his powers in Internal Affairs to make SI's life hell.
In Tse-Mallory's flashback from The Tar-Aiym Krang, the officer in charge of a stingship squadron is promoted to commander and re-assigned to a desk job on a backwater planet after he opts not to intervene and prevent a massacre of innocents, rather than risk being blamed for any resulting diplomatic upset. In contrast, Tse-Mallory and Truzenzuzex are demoted for defying orders and engaging the would-be invaders anyway, then awarded medals for their heroism.
Edge Of Destiny reveals that most Asurans view the Arcane Council as this as dealing with bureacracy takes time away from their own research.
British statesman Lord Chesterfield tells of an incident in Letters to His Son: "This necessary consequence of his view defeated it; and the Duke of Newcastle and the Chancellor chose to kick him upstairs into the Secretaryship of State, rather than trust him with either the election or the management of the new parliament." (Letter 199)
One of the Red Dwarf features an inadvertent example; two admirals in the Space Corps, one extremely capable and the other a complete incompetent, share the same last name, which is then mixed up by a hungover clerk — with the result that the incompetent keeps getting promoted for the capable man's successes and the capable man keeps getting assigned crappy jobs due to the incompetent's failures. It ends reasonably happily, however, since when the capable man finally gets sick of the situation and resigns, the mix-up means that the incompetent's pay gets slashed as he goes on the capable man's retirement pension, while the capable man keeps receiving full pay; since the incompetent has been utterly bewildered by his rise in status he assumes that he's just been found out and justly punished, so doesn't question it.
The Reynard Cycle: The often drunk, hot-headed Count Terrien is named Lord High Admiral after leading an entire army into disaster. His fleet, it turns out, is only thirty ships strong and doesn't participate in the war.
Elaine from Seinfeld, after having repeated problems with her mail, is finally fed up and decides to fire the mailroom clerk. But once she sees him, she's intimidated by his demeanor and appearance and, needing a reason to explain her summons, promotes him to copywriter. Unsurprisingly, he's terrible at it, so she's forced to promote him again - to Director of Corporate Development, a sinecure if ever there was one. But when Elaine informs the other copywriters of this, they're outraged that their hard work went unrewarded while he gets a cushy office upstairs, so they all quit in disgust.
Felicity from Arrow is "promoted" to Oliver's executive assistant.
"Did you know I went to MIT? Guess what I majored in? Hint - not the secretarial arts!" — Felicity Smoak
In an episode of Yes, Minister, a worried Hacker contemplates his future during a reshuffle being kicked into a "useless non-job" (like Lord Privy Seal or Minister for Sport). He's also threatened with a specially-created role of "Minister for Industrial Harmony" in one episode, the position's primary responsibility being to take the blame every time there's a strike, but that probably crosses into Reassigned to Antarctica territory.
As mentioned above, a running joke throughout the series is that almost every politician is terrified of being sent up to the House of Lords, it being the ultimate kiss-of-death for a political career.
In one episode, Hacker asks a friend what its like to have moved from the Commons to the Lords, to which the friend sardonically replies "[Its] like moving from the animals to the vegetables."
Another one had a reference to a politician being kicked upstairs due to falling asleep in Parliament. While he was talking.
The Christmas Special "Party Games" had the Home Secretary kicked upstairs for getting into a traffic accident on the way home from the Christmas office party. While drunk. After having been behind a "don't drink and drive at Christmas" campaign. The press naturally got wind of this, calling him "drunk as a Lord" when he was pulled over (leading Sir Humphrey to joke that they might as well make him one), and the only solution to the press firestorm was to grant him a peerage. The real kicker? Jim Hacker was also pulled over for driving drunk (although not for overturning a lorry full of nuclear waste, and the evidence was scanty enough that the Express could only get away with calling him "overwrought as a newt") and not only got away more or less scot-free, he ended up with a real promotion: becoming Prime Minister.
Apparently being appointed a European Commissioner is viewed as a similar way of being kicked out of the way by politicians, although it's a slightly more appealing option than the House of Lords due to the better pay, official Mercedes, Henry VIII-level banquetting, and frequent travel to exotic locales that come with the position.
These days, being a Commissioner is, while not exactly a promotion, not exactly a step down, as the European Commission has much, much more actual power than it did in the '80s. On the other hand, it will still likely kill your domestic political career, which is why most British ECs have been Lords who were retiring from politics anyway (with the bizarre exception of Peter Mandelson—ahem, coughDarthcough Lord Mandelson—who seems to still have his eye on absolute power at home).
Another episode has Hacker promote a troublesome young Minster for Health pushing for smoking law reform to a position in the Treasury (where he'll simply fall into the status quo), while the Minister for Sport (who is an avid smoker and has close ties to the tobacco industry) is made Minster for Health.
Although if Hacker's diary is to be believed, he genuinely does want to do something about the smoking issue, and his decision does not rule out the possibility of the younger minister using his position to the bill's advantage
In the episode, "The Bishop's Gambit", Sir Humphrey is offered the position of Master of Baillie College upon the current Master's retirement, which is about the same time as Sir Humphrey's planned retirement from the civil service. The only stumbling block? The Dean hates him and would block it from happening. So Sir Humphrey manipulates circumstances so that the Dean gets offered a bishopric. With the Dean out of the way, Sir Humphrey's future is now brighter and he even scored points for being "selfless" by recommending someone with whom he shares a mutual dislike.
Gareth Keenan's position as 'Team Leader' in The BBC's version of The Office is viewed and described by everyone else as a pointless, meaningless job title that someone's given him in order to get him to do something that they don't want to do for no extra pay whatsoever. However, as Gareth is a humourless jobsworth who craves any hint of authority, no matter how inconsequential, he absolutely revels in it.
It's also likely that this is the reason the partners of Wernham-Hogg wanted to promote David Brent to the position of UK manager, while his more competent Swindon counterpart would take over running the newly merged branches. David only doesn't get the promotion because he fails the medical exam.
The same was true of the American version's Dwight Schrute, who, technically held the title of Assistant to the Regional Manager. This job title was a meaningless honorific which seemingly involved no real duties except those delegated by Michael because he didn't want to do them himself (such as scheduling the weekend workers or picking a health care plan for the office). He retained absolutely zero extra authority and was paid the same as any other salesman, but he routinely left out the "to the" in his title and behaved as if he was second in command.
Gabe is another example from the American version. Initially he is only there to oversee the merging of regional offices, but afterwards is asked by Jo to stick around and supervise for her. His only real job is letting her know what's going on at that branch, but he has no authority whatsoever. He cannot hire people, fire people, or even perform disciplinary action. He's literally a snitch without anything resembling power.
In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Kahless the Unforgettable, founder of the Klingon Empire, "returns" and is seen as a political threat by Chancellor Gowron. After Gowron proves clone-Kahless is not the strongest warrior of them all, the spiritual rebirth sparked by his return is still seen as a political threat. Instead of killing clone-Kahless and making him a martyr to his followers, Worf suggests installing him in the currently empty ceremonial but politically powerless seat of Emperor, as the "true heir" to Kahless.
Being Kicked upstairs is basically how Dr. Beverly Crusher was Put on a Bus for the second season, as head of Starfleet Medical. Fortunately the bus ride only lasted one season.
Picard and Riker suspect that Lt. Barclay's glowing performance reviews from his previous ship were issued as a way to foist him on the Enterprise (seeing as Barclay's actual performance is mediocre at best, at least during the episode in question).
In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Sisko's assignment to the station is implied to be because of this mixed with Reassigned to Antarctica. After losing his wife when his ship was destroyed in battle against the Borg at Wolf 359, Sisko was burnt out and wanted a quiet, out-of-the-way command where he could finish up his tenure and retire from Starfleet. However, the Prophets decided that he was their new messiah (a long story that's actually far more complicated than that) and the whole thing turned into a Reassignment Backfire against himself.
After disobeying orders to stay at DS9, an admiral threatened to either court-martial Sisko or promote him, both of which he seemingly considered horrible punishments. Sisko was eventually promoted (from Commander to Captain), but continued as the station CO.
Most of DS9's crew seemed to be roped into this somehow. Kira was given the post as liason officer because she was an outspoken critic of the provisional government. Quark was blackmailed into a "community leader" role. There's also Bashir's dirty little secret...O'Brien and Dax were likely the only ones who volunteered for the job.
This would also seem to be how Worf's son Alexander got himself posted on Martok's ship, upon which Worf happened to be serving. Certainly, he did not get there on his own merits, and neither Martok or Worf had a hand in it.
In the three-part Season 2 opener, a Bajoran war hero was assigned as Sisko's new liaison officer to keep him off Bajor—so he couldn't interfere with a xenophobic plot to get rid of The Federation.
In Babylon 5, Londo is given a post as adviser to planetary security. He recognizes that the promotion is actually "a leash" intended to force him to return to Centauri Prime where he can be watched and kept under control.
Later, Londo ends up being granted the title of Emperor, but it's really a political ploy by the Drakh to keep him under control, as the real power is vested in the mind-controlling Drakh Keeper attached to Londo's body.
Londo only got the job of Centauri Ambassador on Babylon 5 in the first place because nobody else wanted the job. It got him out of the way of the hub of Centauri political power, and nobody expected him to survive the job very long given the fate of the previous Babylon stations.
Vir got the job of Londo's attache because his family wanted to get rid of him, presumably because of his unpopular progressive political views. He says at one point that his uncle told him that he and Londo were "made for each other."
In Battlestar Galactica, even though he was technically kicked sideways, William Adama was given command of the Galactica specifically because the ship was about to be retired, along with Adama's career. However, the Cylon attack changed all of that...
In the first episode of The Brittas Empire, incompetent new leisure centre manager Gordon Brittas explains to the assistant manager that the way to get rid of a problem employee is to write a glowing reference and recommend him for a managerial position at a different leisure centre. She deadpans "Is that how it happens?"
Richard's promotion in Gilmore Girls was of this kind, stoking his fears of becoming obsolete. Instead of going through the motions, he decided to retire from this position. It didn't take and after a stint as an independent consultant, he was back with his original company.
A kind of subversion; according to Richard, it was an established procedure at that company. Rather than keeping him in that position, it was part of a track that would end with him being forcibly retired, i.e. it was a slow, ignoble way of firing him.
In The Thick of It, MP Julius Nicholson tries to get involved in the government's public relations activities, treading on the toes of the press officers whose job it is and who actually know what they're doing. He antagonises everyone with his mad policy ideas, to the point where they start to believe he is actually unhinged and dangerous. He is promoted to the position of "Blue-Sky Thinker" to the Prime Minister... a meaningless job title given to him to make him think he has some actual power and to keep him quiet.
"I'm spending half of my time now dealing with that rubbish that Nicholson's putting out there... If he does stick his baldy head 'round your door and comes up with some stupid idea about "Policemen's helmets should be yellow" or "Let's set up a department to count the Moon," just treat him like someone with Alzheimer's disease, you know? Just say "yes, that's lovely, that's good, we must talk about that later," okay?" — Malcolm Tucker
In From the Earth to the Moon, Joe Shea, director of the Apollo Space Program, is "promoted" to Washington to assist in making policy in the wake of the Apollo 1 fire, but it's really a move to keep him out of the way of the congressional investigation into the accident. Once he's in his new job, he realizes he has no responsibilities and eventually moves on to the private sector. It's dramatized but pretty much historically accurate.
In The Shield this is Vic's final fate. In exchange for his confession, he stays out of prison - provided that he shows up for work at 9AM sharp for three years writing reports as a desk jockey.
Marita: "We're suit and tie here, so on your lunch hour, go home and change."
For the first season of Due South, Fraser reports to the incredibly incompetent Superintendent Moffat. In S2:E2 Vault, he finds out there's been a change.
Fraser: Superintendent Moffat. Did he...Uh, did he retire?
Ovitz: Promoted. The man spends seven years in that office, doesn't make one valuable contribution. One day he slaps a Mountie hat on a Mickey Mouse doll and...
On Stargate SG-1, there was a Jaffa named Her'ak who first showed up as First Prime of the minor Goa'uld Khonsu who turned out to be a Tok'ra operative and was killed for it. Her'ak later reappeared as First Prime of Anubis, and Jack O'Neill accused him of "failing upwards".
In Rome, Caesar attempted to do this to Brutus by assigning him as the Governor of Macedonia. However, it backfired as Brutus saw through what Caesar was trying to do and felt betrayed as he rejected it.
Farscape: When last seen in the series, Commandant Mele-on Grayza—who up to that point had proven to be utterly incompetent trying to recapture Moya and her crew, consistently ignored and overruled her Reasonable Authority Figure first officer Braca, and was wholly inept handling the Scarrans politically—was about to commit suicide by Scarran and let her entire Command Carrier go down with her, before Braca stepped in and forcibly removed her from command (needless to say, none of the soldiers whom she ordered to gun Braca down made a move to obey). When next she appears in the Peacekeeper Wars miniseries, she's been elevated to a council position and is apparently the lover of Grand Chancellor Maryk, commander of all Peacekeeper forces, but clearly has no power aboard the ship and isn't even taken particularly seriously as an adviser (though given her track record...). And then she murders Maryk when she believes he's faltering and seizes control anyway, leading the Peacekeeper fleet into the apocalyptic final battle. She seems to have learned her lesson, though: although initially intent on continuing the engagement when Crichton fires the wormhole weapon, she's the first commander to order her ships to stand down when she realizes that continuing to fight is hopeless.
The Flipside Of Dominick Hide after his rule-breaking time travelling in the first instalment, Dominick is kicked upstairs for the sequel to curb his impetuosity. Sadly all it does is make one of his students want to emulate him.
In The Good Wife, once Peter Florrick is elected Governor of Illinois, Marilyn Garbanza is brought in as part of his ethics committee. Eli Gold, his campaign manager and image consultant, recommends that he get rid of her, not because of any ethics problems but because of his past sex scandals involving women on his staff. Obviously, firing her would look bad, so Peter tells Eli to invoke this trope. Eli informs Marilyn that she has been promoted to the head of the Transit Authority... Board (yes, he keeps making that pause, as he's just invented the position). Marilyn, however, is not an idiot and immediately realizes what's being done to her. She tells Eli that they will regret this decision. Later, though, Peter decides to bring her back, but she makes sure that the ethics committee stays with him in order to be on top of things.
In M*A*S*H, this is the ultimate fate of Major Frank Burns, resident incompetent surgeon and wannabe commander after his adulterous affair with Major Margaret Houlihan is ended by her getting married to someone else. After having a mental breakdown that leads him to accost a general's wife mistaking her for Margaret, he is promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, discharged from the army, and given a job stateside in a Veteran's Hospital to keep him out of anyone's hair.
Several seasons earlier, this is the fate of crazy two-star General Steele played by Harry Morgan (who, ironically, became a series-regular as Colonel Potter). After he charges Captain Pierce with insubordinationnote for refusing to let him use a helicopter needed to evac a dying soldier to instead scout out a new place to move the unit to, he disrupts the court martial hearings by accosting the African-American pilot with demands for a musical number, since it's "in his blood", and then promptly launches into a song himself and dances on out of the hearing when the pilot is too stunned to reply. The next we hear, he's been sent back stateside, bumped up in rank to a three-star general, and given a cushy deskjob.
At the end of The Unit, Colonel Ryan receives an unwanted promotion to General after enacting a successful but reckless plan to stop a domestic terrorist group.
In Borgen, Birgitte arranges for Jacob Kruse to get an EU Commissioner post when she discovers that he's disloyal to her, which is superficially an honour but actually puts a stop to his political career. Unfortunately, it doesn't work.
Cosmos 2014 shows Humphry Davy doing this to Michael Faraday out of professional jealously when Faraday creates an electric motor and becomes the toast of the scientific community. Davy assigns him to work on glass optics to keep Faraday from showing him up again, since Faraday is no good at it. (Decades later, a souvenir from this failed effort allows Faraday to make one of his greatest discoveries.)
The final episode of Law & Order: UK ends with the possibility of this happening to DS Ronnie Brooks. Having been accused of making an error during a murder investigation, his superior officer suggests calming the furor by transferring him to a position that is technically more senior, but would involve nothing but desk work. He recognizes the move for what it truly is and is genuinely hurt that this is the thanks he gets for years of dedicated service. The episode ends with Ronnie having not yet decided whether to take the new job or retire—and the series with Brooks' portrayer deciding to leave the show, so Ronnie's fate is completely up in the air.
The Dungeons & Dragons supplement Fiendish Codex II reveals that Devils are at risk of having this happen to them. A devil starts out as a mindless weak creature known as a Lemure, but through time and patience can be promoted to more intelligent and powerful forms. Since devils are natural schemers, they tend to plot against and backstab their superiors a lot. If a devil's superior wants to be rid of him, but can't come up with a good reason for punishment, he may instead promote him to a stronger but less intelligent (and thus less troublesome) form. Devils call this "lateral demotion". Although devils love gaining more might, they hate the thought of becoming dimwitted brutes incapable of plotting against others, so lateral demotions are considered undesirable.
In early editions of AD&D, druids who advanced to the "hierophant" levels ceased to play any part in the official druidic hierarchy, becoming freelance troubleshooters for Nature and/or philosophical recluses.
Also in early editions, myconids (fungus-men) dreaded the thought of assuming the role of king of their clan, because that meant leaving the organized structure of melding and was thought of as a lonely job. Nonetheless, if a king died, the most powerful remaining myconid assumed the position without question.
Queh-Nomag the Skull King resurrected Orcus after the demon prince's demise. For this, he received much power and many rewards. But then he wouldn't stop bragging about it. So as the final reward, Orcus put him in control of a city in Thanatos, his realm... a city that, unbeknownst to Queh-Nomag, means absolutely nothing to Orcus.
This is the fate of those who become heads of the Great Ministries of the Seers of the Throne. Having become one of the most powerful mages in the world, you become sequestered away in a hidden pocket realm, and spend almost all of your time oscillating between utter insanity and making vague divine pronouncements.
Everyone in the Seer hierarchy is looking to usurp their superiors, often by proving that they can do a better job than the superior is currently doing. A Seer with an ambitious underling is likely to promote them to a position that either a) lacks any significant responsibilities and offers no opportunity to make oneself look good; b) is completely mismatched to the underling's abilities (such as a battle mage being sent to do delicate surveillance and investigation); or c) likely to kill them.
In Rogue Trader, this is a common explanation for how the eponymous Trader received his Warrant of Trade, which empowers its holder to go beyond the reaches of Imperial space and basically do whatever the heck they like there. Frequently, a Lord Militant, Inquisitor, or Administratum Adept will begin amassing too much power for the comfort of his superiors and rivals, but be too powerful to be safely assassinated. Solution: grant him a Warrant of Trade. It's way too big an honor to be turned down, and will keep the Trader well away from the corridors of power for the foreseeable future. (Of course, since a competent Rogue Trader can rapidly acquire both a personal empire and more money than seems reasonably possible, this tactic also has a tendency to backfire on those who try it.)
In roleplay groups in general, it's not uncommon to have the least competent/interesting/useful member of the party be promoted GM (or equivalent term). An incompetent DM just makes monsters somewhat easier to kill, an incompetent party member can be a lot more dangerous.
In Exalted, this was one of the Scarlet Empress' favorite ways of dealing with rabble-rousers: give them a seat on the Deliberative. At first, this may seem quite attractive ("I'm part of the legislative body. Finally, I can make some real change!"), but then one comes to realize the Deliberative is just a puppet government of the Empress, and any potential law she doesn't like will be lucky if it makes it to the Scarlet Throne to be vetoed.
Willy Loman, from Death of a Salesman, is most likely an example of this. Given that he's a salesman, he can't literally be kicked upstairs, but his boss just can't fire him outright. So instead he sends Willy out on the road, where the man can live in his delusions of being the greatest salesman the world has ever seen (when the truth is the complete opposite).
In Disgaea 3, Nether Academy ultimately deals with Beryl and her squad of delinquents this way, by letting them graduate. Note that the academy usually encourages its students to skip classes and goof off, endlessly paying the tuition; since Raspberyl and the girls insisted on attending every class and doing all their homework, they wound up becoming the first ones to ever graduate.
There is some justification here: Anderson was in command of the Normandy, and it was determined that Shepard, as the new human Spectre, needed a ship. Anderson accepted a promotion to a desk job in lieu of retirement, so that Shepherd would be able to take command of the ship. There is also a political dimension (Anderson was considered too emotionally invested in bringing down Saren, among other things), but he admits that, while he's saddened about losing his command so quickly, he knows that it's the best possible option to help Shepard since it insures that there will be someone working on Shepard's behalf instead of leaving Ambassador Udina as the sole voice of humanity on the Citadel.
In Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Hot Coldman, the main villain for most of the game, as well as a former CIA Director, implies that his getting the job of the CIA Station Chief of Central America was actually him being Kicked Upstairs / Exiled as a result of his involvement in the planning of Operation Snake Eater and presumably the Virtuous Mission.
Also, Lt. Cunningham was placed at a Desk Job at the CIA after an unknown FOX mission that he participated in resulted in the loss of his leg, which also acted as one of the reasons why he ended up deciding to work with the Department of Defense in smearing the CIA's reputation.
Suikoden IV: Snowe is eventually given a ship of his own to command and sent out as Razril's official pirate hunter. This was done to keep him from seteing just how much Razril was suffering from his new Kooluk allies occupying the town.
The Nancy Drew game Stay Tuned for Danger is partly set at a TV studio in New York City. While there, Nancy encounters the prop master, an eccentric old woman who seems to serve little to no purpose except as another, quite unlikely suspect in the mystery (one of her first lines is basically "No one is allowed in the prop room except the people allowed in the prop room"). However, if you pay attention while in the studio lobby, you'll find a painting of the woman there proving she was the studio's founder.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: Several of the Guild Hall Leaders (which sounds important, but all they can really do is write recommendations for newcomers) were given their position as such because Traven didn't want them around the Arcane University itself. Between the incoherent seer Dagail and the suck-up Jeanne Fransoric, you can almost understand why people say Traven has weakened the Guild as a whole.
The Arcane Council of Guild Wars 2 which governs the Asura is supposed to be their best and brightest. In truth the best and brightest of the Asura would much rather focus on their own projects, so the Council consists of those lacking the savvy to create an excuse for themselves or trick another into the position.
In The Order of the Stick, Hinjo states that the reason Miko is sent on important journeys to distant lands is basically that no one in Azure City can stand her. The drawback is the bad publicity.
Hinjo: You didn't really think all paladins were like her, did you?
Similar to Invader Zim, the eponymous character of Vexxarr is send to conquer earth by the Bleen emperor, to make sure he either dies or becomes the lord of the most remote outpost of the empire. In a variation of the Reassignment Backfire, he is captured, and released after giving up all his technology, allowing earth to curbstomp the next Bleen invasion by a (slightly) more competent warlord.
In El Goonish Shive after some loud mishaps —most of which he's not guilty of— Mr. Verres was promoted to "Head of Paranormal Diplomacy". Such position didn't even exist before. They really don't want to get rid of him, though, just keeping him away from the current events for a while.
Freefall: In one strip, a security guard notes how screwed up the system is, with examples like Varroa Jacobsini and Mr. Kornada working for Ecosystems Unlimited in high-level positions in spite of their obvious incompetence. Considering that Kornada's official job title is Vice President of Paper Clip Allocation, it's pretty obvious that this is what happened with him.
Peter Griffin was promoted to president of the entire cigarette/toy company when he questioned why they tried to get kids to smoke. This backfired when part of his job, playing lobbyist, ultimately ended in him condemning the company for getting kids to smoke.
Lois also tried this on Peter when he kept interfering with her play by promoting him to producer so she could direct. It backfired though. Peter, being an idiot who shouts loud enough to be heard (and most people aren't smart enough to not listen to him), had no idea what a producer was, and still ended up taking the director's role anyway.
When Peter went to work for a beer company, he initially got a position on the factory floor. As free beer was part of the deal, Peter was hammered in record time. He was then moved to administration, which doesn't have that benefit.
In Invader Zim, Zim is given the highly important task of taking over the Earth. Except his superiors didn't even know Earth existed when they sent him out - they just picked a random location in deep space and sent him there to make him stop interfering with the actual mission, fervently hoping he would die en route to his "assignment".
When the Pixies take over Fairy World in The Fairly OddParents, they figure they need a fairy in an important-sounding but useless position to keep dissension down. Therefore, Cosmo is given the position Rice President (not a typo; he is given power over rice, which mostly seems to consist of Pixies bringing him random objects to be identified as rice or not).
In the finale of Avatar The Last Airbender, Fire Lord Ozai rewards Azula for her loyal service by naming her the new Fire Lord... moments before he makes the position irrelevant by crowning himself Phoenix King. Azula knows exactly what's happening to her and doesn't take it well ("You can't treat me like Zuko!") and it's one of the contributing factors to her Villainous Breakdown.
She was indeed treated like Zuko, since Zuko was sent to hunt down the Avatar, a seemingly important position, until you realize that the Avatar had been missing for one hundred years. One wonders how many people before Zuko were Kicked Upstairs in the same fashion. Zuko just managed to be sent off on that quest at the same time it stopped being a Snipe Hunt, which did not please other, more competent members of the Fire Nation military, such as Admiral Zhao, who did everything in his power to try to take over Zuko's mission after learning that the Avatar was still alive.
This happens, in a way, to Optimus Prime in Transformers Animated. After the unfortunate loss of Elita-1, which he took responsibility for, he was kicked out of the Elite Guard then promoted by Ultra Magnus to Prime and given command of a starship... assigned to the fringes of space repairing space bridges. Even though the promotion was technically a favor, it still served to stick Optimus far from any worthwhile command.
However, the starship included in the deal was also the (apparent) corpse of the most powerful Transformer in existence. Whether or not this was a bonus or an insult depends on the Autobot morals concerning such things.
Arguably, Sentinel Prime. It is implied that Ultra Magnus keeps him this close to make sure he can't do much damage as his second in command. This would also explain why Jazz, who is implicitly older than either Prime and a graduate of the cyber-ninja academy, is ranked below him.
Buddy Boar's few appearances in the second series of Taz-Mania reveal he was removed from being a character on the show and made a director.
Probably part of the reason for middle management in many corporations. When someone works at a company for a decent amount of time, they need to do something to keep them around, so they give them a "promotion." You can end up with a company that has a few dozen assistant managers that never really seem to do anything.
Popular in Britain for relatively lowly positions as well, as whilst firing someone for blatant misconduct like downloading porn or stealing stationery is quite straightforward, firing them for mere incompetence involves a certain amount of paperwork and mandatory severance pay.
Also known as "yellowing" in naval jargon. Until 1864, the Royal Navy promoted captains to flag rank by strict seniority. They couldn't promote a competent captain to rear-admiral until they had promoted everyone ahead of him in the Captains List. To get around this, the Admiralty would kick incompetents upstairs by promoting them but not giving them any command, i.e leaving them "on the beach". They had the half-pay of rear-admirals but no prospect of command or promotion. Now, the senior commands were organized (again by seniority) into "red", "white", and "blue" squadrons, and those officers not given any command were made rear-admirals "without distinction of squadron". They were spoken of as the "Yellow Squadron" (because of yellow beach sand).
Isiah Thomas in his former job at the New York Knicks. Amongst many other restrictions, he couldn't have any contact with players.
The office of being the Vice President of the United States was for the longest time viewed as powerless. Putting troublesome politicians and renegades in this position was common for two reasons. First, the position has little responsibility so it is a good way to neutralize someone. Secondly, presidential candidates will often choose a running mate who is very different than them (and possibly disagrees with them) in order to secure a broad base of support both within the party and the public. The problems begin when the president dies. In chronological order...
John Tyler. He left the Democratic Party but still retained most of their ideology. He became running mate to William Henry Harrison, who died thirty days after his inauguration. The Whig-controlled congress was most dismayed.
Republican party bosses made Theodore Roosevelt vice president mostly to get rid of him; his incessant Progressive grandstanding as Governor of New York was incredibly embarrassing to the plutocrats who ran the GOP, and the VP position was thought to be a good way to shut him up. Then William McKinleywas assassinated....
Mark Hanna, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, warned the party against nominating Roosevelt, saying that shutting up the irascible Governor of New York wasn't worth it: "Don't any of you realize there's only one life between that madman and the presidency?". Sure enough, upon hearing of McKinley's assassination:
Hanna: I don't believe it! The Goddamn cowboy's President!
Following Harry Truman's ascension to the Presidency during World War II following Franklin D. Roosevelt's death in 1945, American voters have started to look at Vice Presidential candidates with a more careful eye, judging whether or not they would be able to take over the Presidency if needed. This was reinforced when Vice President Lyndon Johnson assumed the Presidency in 1963 following John F. Kennedy's assassination.
To illustrate the attitude of even the government before this point, one of the first briefings Truman received upon being inaugurated as President was the fact that the United States had almost finished building its first nuclear weapon. The Vice-President of the United States did not know that the United States had a nuclear weapons program.
Another example involving the American presidency: Andrew Jackson supposedly said of his appointment of James Buchanan as minister to Russia: "It was as far as I could send him out of my sight, and where he could do the least harm. I would have sent him to the North Polenote where no human being had ever been at the time; in modern terms it's more or less equivalent to "I would have sent him to Mars" if we had kept a minister there." Unfortunately Buchanan's constant Kicked Upstairs status gave people the impression that he had extensive experience in politics. Instead of getting kicked out of politics altogether like he should have been, he eventually became one of the worst Presidents in American history. The secession of the Southern states might have been crushed in 1860 were it not for Buchanan's dithering. By the time Lincoln took over as President, it was too late to stop the Civil War. Indeed, the main reason Buchanan was elected president to begin with was that, due to being ambassador to Britain in 1854, he was not associated with either side of the debate over the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
Ken Kutaragi is the father of the highly successful PlayStation and its iterations. When the PlayStation 3 did not meet expectations after overspending on R&D and releasing it at a $2-300 loss/unit, Sony "promoted" him to a software position, because it was clear Sony was going to lose a lot of money, even if their other plans for supplemental revenue worked as they hope (and unfortunately didn't). This led to his resignation a few months later.
For years, many thought that this was the sad fate of Yokoi Gunpei after the mismanagement of the Virtual Boy. Turns out this was never the case - the man had planned to retire from Nintendo after the Virtual Boy was released, but when it failed, he decided to stay on due to the fact that it felt like that if he retired it would have been a symbol that he failed. He stayed on to make the Game Boy Pocket before moving on.
Idi Amin Dada was promoted to the rank of army commander of Uganda by then-president Milton Obote because he believed that Amin was easier to control. It backfiredbadly. Very, very badly.
Former (WW)ECW commentator Joey Styles got promoted to head of WWE.com mostly because WWE CEO Vince McMahon didn't feel his commentary worked well with WWE's style of wrestling, but knew that he was way too popular with the fans to simply fire. For his part, Joey seems to be fine with the move, and mentioned on his blog that he is far more comfortable with his new position and wishes that his commentary career died with the original ECW.
Another wrestling example: Jesse Sorenson from TNA Wrestling was given a job as a production assistant after a major injury prevented him from wrestling. He was eventually fired and returned to wrestling
A particular case of a Parliament kick upstairs: after World War II started, Neville Chamberlain was handed the vaguely-defined job "Lord President of the Council." It was a polite way of getting him out of power.
In point of fact, the position of Lord President (or, in full, Lord President of the Privy Council) has powers entirely dependent on what the Prime Minister feels like; these days, it tends to be held by a senior party member the PM wants to have around but either doesn't trust or for other reasons doesn't want to have formal power (e.g., a trusted advisor who's too much of a generalist to be of any use in another position) In this sense, it is usually a form of kicking upstairs when sending the kickee to the Lords is not an option.. Although Chamberlain was given the job as a way to quietly move him out of office (he lasted all of six months — admittedly, he had terminal cancer when he resigned), Winston Churchill, while Chamberlain still held the office, decided to give the Lord President a meaningful job, running the Lord President's Committee, which more or less ran the British economy for the duration of the War. Because of wartime politics, Clement Attlee held the position for most of the Committee's existence.
It should be noted that Nick Clegg currently holds the office of Lord President. Clegg is Deputy Prime Minister, although that makes him a moderately powerful man -though not as powerful as the title suggests- the position doesn't officially exist (well, it does and it doesn't; such is the British Political System). As a result, Clegg was given the position of Lord President—which exists but has no power—so he would officially have a job and a place in the order of precedence befitting his actual level of power, and the position of Lord President comes, in practice, just after that of the PM (assuming that no other Commonwealth Prime Ministers are present). Thus, he was kicked upstairs and given a non-job because his actual powers would not be otherwise adequately reflected. This is classically British constitutional engineering.
Ironically, the role of Lord President was originally a hugely powerful office. It was originally created by Henry VIII for his friend Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, the idea being that if the King was too unwell to govern (or simply couldn't be bothered), Brandon would have virtually all the same power and authority as the King.
Incidentally, the Prime Minister is in a rather similar situation—the actual position of PM didn't technically exist until the term of Henry Campbell Bannerman, and even now, most of the perks of the position, including its position in the order of precedence, are derived from its linkage with the office of First Lord of the Treasury, which as the first position of the office of Lord High Treasurer in commission (long story) is entitled to the Lord High Treasurer's position, immediately before the Lord President.
Notably, the Deputy Prime Minister does not have an automatic right to the top spot should his superior die or resign, either in law or by tradition; it's actually fairly rare. Whether it occurred to David Cameron to give Clegg this post to reduce his chances of Klingon Promotion, which is probably becoming increasingly attractive given the strained relationship between the coalition partners, is a matter for conjecture.
Since it is technically impossible for an MP to resign his/her seat in the House of Commons, MPs who wish to resign are appointed by the Chancellor to "an office of profit under the Crown" which automatically disqualifies them from sitting. Thus, an MP who wants to resign is given a rather impressive Large Ham Title with no duties or income, either "Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham" or "Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead." These positions are held until someone else wishes to resign, which may be mere minutes if someone else wants to resign. or, in the case of multiple resignations on the same day, the appointee can request the Chancellor release them from their "duties" within minutes of their appointment. This legal fiction is so entrenched that when Gerry Adams, a Sinn Fein politician who didn't want to be an officer of the British Crown resigned his seat without applying for these offices he was appointed to them anyway, with an apology and a pittance cheque, since the office has to be "an office of profit", i.e. at least nominally paid, for the exemption to apply from the British government which stated that there was no other way in which he could leave the Commons.
By the first half of the 20th Century, the House of Lords was clearly the subordinate House of Parliament, and any aspiring politician had to make their way through the House of Commons instead. However, this created a nuisance; until 1958, appointing a life member of the House of Lords was practically impossible unless you were making someone a Law Lord; a seat in the Lords came with a hereditary peerage which would be inherited by the Lord in question's son, along with the seat. Inevitably, some sons of Lords ended up wanting their own political careers, only to be effectively barred from doing so because their fathers died and they inherited their seats in the House of Lords. The most famous (and last) of these cases was Tony Benn, whose father had been a WW2 government minister who had been rewarded with a peerage for his service. When he died, Benn inherited the peerage and was stripped of his position as an MP. This was given an added dimension by Benn's own political stance: he was committed to the abolition of peerages and the House of Lords altogether. In 1963, a bill was passed allowing for the disclaiming of hereditary peerages, and Benn subsequently retook his position as an MP. This is, however, largely moot since the Lords Reform of 1999; as hereditary peers are no longer automatically Lords unless having been elected by other hereditary peers. A person in Tony Benn's position can just decide to not run for Lords, at which point they have the same right to elect and be elected to the Commons.
Speaking of World War II and the UK: during WWII, Edward, Duke of Windsor (former King Edward VIII and suspected Nazi sympathizer) was accused of leaking Allied plans to the enemy and had German guards appointed to his home in France during the occupation. Churchill made him Governor of the Bahamas to get him out of Europe to somewhere where he couldn't help the Nazis. Considering that Edward was already a duke, he might have been sort of kicked sideways, rather than upstairs. In the end Churchill could only get him to go to the Bahamas and take up his duties with a threat of court-martial (the Duke was a gazetted major-general).
After the fallout of the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal, Cardinal Bernard Law, the Archbishop of Boston, was "promoted" from his prior office to the Roman Curia in Vatican City, where he serves on several committees and holds a few offices with no real authority.
This commonly happens when a sports team's coach is long-serving and/or popular with the fans, but isn't bringing in the results. Often the coach will be given some vague, nondescript position and pushed to one side while a new coach is bought in. The same method is also used when a high profile coach that the team's owner wants to bring in becomes available, but the current coach hasn't done anything wrong - they'll be kicked upstairs so that the owner doesn't look like a total Jerk Ass.
This is what the Chicago Blackhawks did with Dale Tallon during the 2009 offseason. After some poor salary cap management and a paperwork snafu, he was replaced as General Manager and made "senior advisor" During 2010, he left to become GM for the Florida Panthers.
A version of this happened in 1993 after the French national team's attempt at qualifying for the 1994 World Cup ended in total disaster. Word has it that the French Football Federation kicked the team manager, Gerard Houllier, into a role in charge of "football development" largely out of sympathy, because he was so catastrophically unpopular that they thought no club would ever employ him again. Ironically, he did well in his role and was widely credited for playing an important win in France's victory in the next World Cup in 1998, and went on to have success as manager of Liverpool and Lyon.
Another reason for kicking coaches upstairs (sometimes outright stated to the press) is if the coach has an iron-tight contract with the club, and if he gets fired, he'll ask more than he was (or wasn't) worth. They're forced to keep him, but (strangely enough) the contract doesn't state in what position.
In Association Football, contracts are iron-clad, you can't fire a manager for poor performance and anyone who is fired has to be paid out their entire contract. To avoid this, most teams often kick an under-performing but under-contract manager to a "Director Of Football" position.
Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, was Kicked Upstairs after the release of Star Trek The Motion Picture, of which he was producer and co-writer. Roddenberry got a big share of the blame for Star Trek: The Motion Picture being so badly received, but the studio contractually couldn't fire him: instead, he was given the position of "Executive Consultant", where he could make as many notes and suggestions as he liked and his replacement, Harve Bennett, could ignore them as much as he liked.
Roman Polanski's Troubled Production, Pirates, was only that way because of his rape of a teenage girl and subsequent exile to Europe. Initially, he was supposed to be both the director and one of the two lead actors, but when all was said and done he wound up merely directing the final product.
There is a new term floating around the Washington, DC intelligence community for the act of stripping someone of all real power and relevance without actually firing them: "Zorning" them. The origin? The city's beloved football team, the Redskins, retained head coach Jim Zorn but gave all play-calling duties to Sherm Lewis, who had only recently been dragged out of a peaceful retirement calling bingo for the other senior citizens (of course, taking away Zorn's play-calling abilities didn't fix the fact that the Redskins just weren't a terribly good football team, so naturally Zorn, Lewis, and everyone else on the coaching staff got fired).
After Stalin completed the Great Purge, he next got rid of the people who made the purge. One of the first steps was to weaken Yezhov by putting his first deputy in command of the Navy - a job he knew absolutely nothing about.
Stalin was given the seemingly harmless job of General Secretary of the CPSU by Lenin, who did not like him. At the time of the appointment, the General Secretary kept the minutes of Party leadership meetings and maintained membership records—people at the time jokingly called Stalin "Comrade Card-Index." Lenin also sent away many of Stalin's supporters to ambassador posts.
This one turned out to be a subversion, in that while General Secretary was a position that didn't carry a lot of ideological power within the new Soviet government, which was what made everyone view it as worthless, Stalin was quick to realize that it did in fact come with a lot of practical power that no one had otherwise realised. It essentially gave him the ability to staff key positions with his supporters or people who owed him favours. Once Lenin was dead and Stalin's political rivals realized what they'd done, it was too late — Stalin had a power-base that they lacked.
Eamon de Valera was President of the Executive Council / Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland intermittently from 1932 to 1959 — finally, when he was 77, his party colleagues managed to kick him upstairs to the near-powerless role of President of Ireland.
"Dev" might not have been to unhappy about that, however. He was the principal author of the Irish Constitution and used to claim he had specifically designed the Presidency to be "a nice easy job for my old age."
Francisco Franco promoted Juan Yagüe, one of his best army commanders, to the position of Air Force Minister so he wouldn't threaten him in the future.
Former mayor of La Coruna Francisco Vazquez (Spain) a well-known Catholic before he became a socialist, was promoted to Ambassador to the Holy See so he would embarrass the socialist prime minister with his ideas about abortion being a crime.
Anton Drexler was founder of the German Workers' Party until he was "promoted" to Honorary President by the guy who took his job, Adolf Hitler.
In government, a high ranking executive official who is out of favor with the current government may be promoted to a position called 'Minister without Portfolio': a member of the cabinet with no responsibility except to take up space. (Though as a member of the Cabinet, the Minister without Portfolio still gets to vote on government policy, making this position more worthwhile than some of the other examples. In fact the position is often given to the party chairman - who does hold a full-time job, but not one that's part of the government apparatus as such.)
During the production of A Passage to India, David Lean became so unhappy with cinematographer Ernest Day's work that he "promoted" Day to being the film's second unit director and sent him off to film shots of the Indian landscape (most of which didn't even make it into the finished film), while another cinematographer was called in to finish the film.
There is a phrase in Latin: Promoveatur ut amoveatur - "Let him be promoted to get him out of the way." It was apparently a pretty common one, not unbelievable considering the nepotist bureaucratic nightmare that was the Roman Empire.
In his book "From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Pearl Harbor" Jerry Della Femina describes an ad agency that had "The Floor of Forgotten Men". They were guys with long term contracts who they didn't want anymore. They moved them to their own floor, gave them one secretary and no work.
In post-1952 Egypt, the position of Vice President was used to reward military officers who were loyal members of the regime but were seen as harmless schmucks not really in contention for power. This backfired twice: once when Gamal Abdel Nasser's VP Anwar Sadat proved to be a devious Magnificent Bastard who eliminated his competition quickly, and then when Sadat's VP Husni Mubarak turned out to be a boring, heavy-handed, and not particularly intelligent leader.
Speaking of the military, President Morsi attempted to do this in August 2012, when he looked to consolidate power and win points among people who were uneasy about the still-great amount of influence the top generals had by stripping them of their power but also gave them a bunch of medals and big fat pensions. Those generals promptly folded under pressure. After large anti-Morsi protests started to spread in July 2013, their replacements didn't.
Comics artist and writer Evan Dorkin once did a strip about his experiences in Hollywood: he kept getting attached to projects that never got made, but this gave him an incredible "track record" which resulted in his eventually becoming too expensive to hire and so he had to return to comics work. (It's probably humorous exaggeration on his part.)
Following the controversial decision by NBC to remove Ann Curry as co-host of Today, the network invoked the trope by naming her National and International Correspondent for NBC News, only for the Peacock to bar her from doing live appearances (meaning she could only appear in a pre-recorded segment).
This happens in the modern US Army on occassion: if a line officer (those who lead troops in to combat) has proven themselves to be incompetent on the battlefield, they will often then be promoted and reassigned to a staff position, where they have only administrative and logistical responsibilities and can do less damage.
It happens in pretty much every army; during WWII, Allied commanders who lost battles were often promoted somewhere else to get them out of the way. This happened to Wavell twice, (in North Africa and then SE Asia) since he WAS competent but had the bad luck to be put into hopeless situations by Churchill, who disliked him. He ended his career as Viceroy of India. Another prominent example is Gordon Bennett of the Australian 8th Division; he escaped from Singapore leaving the rest of his command to the tender mercies of the Japanese, and was given command of Australia proper but never had another field command.
Hermann Göring was effectively kicked sideways and up. For years, he had been Hitler's second-in-command, accumulating such titles as President of the Reichstag, Minister President of Prussia, Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, founder of the Gestapo, along with minister for economics, aviation, and forestries. In 1940, after the Fall of France, he was promoted to Reichsmarschall, firmly establishing him as the second-in-command. However, after failing to establish air supremacy over Britain, he started to fall out of favor with Hitler. After failing to resupply the Sixth Army at Stalingrad, Göring was effectively removed from command decisions and spent the remainder of the war living like a Roman emperor in his many palaces.
Some theorize that this is what was done to John Huntsman when Barack Obama selected him to be ambassador to China in 2009, fearing that he would be the strongest challenger to the Presidency in the 2012 election. Huntsman ended up running anyway and finished a distant fifth in the Republican primary.
Gary Gygax was the victim of this mixed with Reassigned to Antarctica, due to a vicious power struggle between him and Brian Blume. He was sent to Los Angeles and set up in a Beverly Hills mansion to negotiate TV and movie deals (the sole fruit of which was the Dungeons & Dragons Saturday morning cartoon), while Blume consolidated his power in Lake Geneva. After a few years, Gygax reemerged from Los Angeles, kicked Blume out and brought on Lorraine Williams to help salvage TSR from Blume's mismanagement— which didn't go as hoped.
Steve Jobs was technically given this treatment shortly before he left Apple to form NeXT. Having been stripped off all decision-making powers, and office reassigned to a almost empty building.