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Promoted to Scapegoat
They were hardly going to give me the job when everything was going really well, were they?
Admiral Dönitz, delivering the news of his 'promotion' to fuhrer to his wife, That Mitchell and Webb Look

A character has just been promoted to a position within his workplace that he is very clearly unqualified for, as part of some scheme by the higher ups or because no one else is stupid enough to take the job. They may even get promoted on their very first day of a new job without having any experience. This may be because the job has a High Turnover Rate, or because it's extremely dangerous, or the character could be being used for something more malicious. The person who receives the promotion will usually never suspect that there is anything fishy going on, despite their lack of credentials.

Note that this trope is only for when there seems to be some kind of ulterior motive for the promotion. A person who is too highly positioned for their level of competence (due to either The Peter Principle or The Dilbert Principle) is a Pointy-Haired Boss. A person who receives a promotion simply to get them out of the way is Kicked Upstairs. Placing a relative in an important position is Nepotism.

Also contrast The Uriah Gambit, which is putting someone on the front lines during combat in the hopes that they will end up dead, Reassigned to Antarctica, when a person receives a job as a punishment, and You Are in Command Now, when a person in a military position is forced to take control because everyone else is unavailable. This trope is a common tactic in Springtime for Hitler scenarios.

Examples:

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     Film  

  • In The Hudsucker Proxy, the protagonist gets promoted to president of a company on his first day working there after the president commits suicide, as part of a stock scheme set up by a member of the board of directors. Unfortunately for the director, it backfires, as the stooge ends up being really successful.
  • The plot of The Flintstones live action movie is Fred Flinstone being promoted to an executive position, chosen solely for his high level of stupidity. It turns out that he is being used by a Corrupt Corporate Executive to embezzle money out of the company and leaving Fred to take all the blame.
  • Blazing Saddles involves a plot by the state Attorney General to run the inhabitants of Rock Ridge off their land and resell it to the railroad at a huge profit. To this end, he appoints Bart, a black man awaiting execution, as the (extremely racist) town's new sheriff in an effort to sow confusion. To his frustration, Bart actually manages to do his job quite well.
  • The Jim Carrey movie Fun With Dick And Jane has Carrey's character Dick Harper promoted to Vice President of the company just in time to see the company go into a nose dive.
    • Specifically, he's shoved in front of a camera for a live news interview about 3 minutes after getting the job; 30 seconds into his interview, the truth of the company's financials breaks and he ends up as the face of the corporate cover-up (making it impossible to get a new job) because he's literally the one on TV telling everybody the company is doing fine as the stock tanks and the shit hits the fan.
  • In Transcendence, the FBI and the military reluctantly work with RIFT to stop Will, planning to use them as a scapegoat when everything goes south. RIFT seemingly remains oblivious to this possibility. Whether or not that actually happened, however, is completely ignored.

     Literature  

  • In the Belleville books by French author Daniel Pennac, Benjamin Malaussčne gets a job in a publishing house as an actual scapegoat. That is to say, whenever someone gets into the building to complain, he appears, says it's all his own fault and looks so miserable that the complainer feels sorry for him and goes away.
  • Professor Mmaa's Lecture: The termite psychiatrist Dr. Sigismund Kraft-Durchfreud receives the honor of providing therapy for the Queen herself. His enthusiasm disappears when he learns that the higher-ups have done so in order to have someone to blame (and shift the termite society's attention away from valid concerns) in case the Queen goes ill or infertile.

     Live Action Television  

  • Admiral Dönitz from the That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch The New Fuhrer is thrilled to have been promoted as Fuhrer, oblivious to The Battle of Berlin raging in the background, and eager to implement his ideas about pensions and the housing shortage. It lasts until his second in command gives him the items he needs to take his first decision: a tactical review of the dismal position of their armies "summed up in one rude word"; Eisenhower's phone number; and a written translation of 'We give up' in English. He does get a "Heil Dönitz" for his troubles, though.
  • On The Office (US), Dwight is promoted to a VP position as a reward for overseeing the Sabre Store project. Unbeknownst to him, Robert California is planning to shut down the project and fire him because a store for Sabre proucts would be an awful idea. Jim manages to keep him from the meeting where it's supposed to go down long enough for Todd Packer to take both the promotion and the fall.
  • In the final season of How I Met Your Mother, Barney's job is ultimately revealed to be to sign documents claiming responsibility for every illegal thing the company does, so if they get caught (again) he will go down and the company will be completely free. except that he's actually working for the FBI and is reporting everything he signs to them, in a 10 year long sting. because his boss stole his girl friend.
  • On Halt and Catch Fire, Joe publically trumpets Cameron's role in developing the Lovelace BIOS code... right before staging a very public accident that appears to wipe out the code, and which appears to be a result of Cameron's slovenly work habits, so that he can have her fired and keep the rights to the code for himself (he, of course, kept backup disks of the code in case it couldn't be restored.)

     Tabletop RPG  

  • In Nomine supplement You Are Here. When Jeanne Delarue was made director of the Board of Trustees of Progressive Banking, she was being set up to fail. The trustees intended to declare bankruptcy, blame her for it, split up the remaining money and leave her to face the music.
  • In the setting of Exalted, the incompetent Regent of the continent-spanning Scarlet Empire was appointed because nobody knew what had happened to their vanished ruler, the Scarlet Empress, and nobody else was stupid enough to risk being found in charge if she ever turned up.
  • Paranoia: "Congratulations, Troubleshooter Uwe-R-DMD! You are now the Assistant Squad Leader! Your job requirements are simple!" (Two hours later:) "And so you see, Friend Computer, if Assistant Squad Leader Uwe-R-DMD hadn't led the charge against the rampaging cleaning bot, we might have come back alive. Hmm? I was the primary squad leader, so where was I? Well, sir, I was busy leading a detachment to the rear, which was vitally important to what success we did have".

     Video Games  

  • In Final Fantasy VI, Geshtal effectively uses Kefka for this. He puts him in a position of power just so he can blame the Empire's crimes on him and have him arrested as a sop for the Returners. This does not go well.
  • In Modern Warfare 2, Private Allen is promoted to a CIA agent from General Shepherd, who is then assigned to a dangerous undercover mission to get close to the Big Bad. Allen is abruptly killed near the end of said mission by said Big Bad. It's revealed that Shepherd intentionally predicted the mission would fail and use the repercussions of the mission as an excuse for America to become war-hungry.

     Web Comics  

  • At the end of the Sluggy Freelance arc "Dangerous Days", Heretti research scientist Chen gets promoted just as the corporation comes under federal investigation
    Daedelus: You're going places, Chen. All the way to the top.
  • This is the reason people like Advisor Devon get high ranking positions in the Collective of Anarchist States (CAS), in the webcomic S.S.D.D. The CAS has a system similar to non-lethal KlingonPromotions: If you don't agree with the "advise" of a superior you can challenge him with your own ideas, if your peers side with you get promoted to your superior's position while he gets demoted. While ideally the system will only get competent people in leadership roles, often advisor will support the advance of incompetent people with the intention to challenge them later or using them as scapegoats should something turn wrong.

     Western Animation  

  • A common gag in cartoons is when a ship is sinking, a less-than-noble captain may promote someone else to captain in order to avoid the tradition of Going Down with the Ship.
  • In the Family Guy episode, "Mr. Griffin Goes to Washington", Peter is made the president of the El Dorado Cigarette Company just to distract him from his complaints about the company. Also, as an idiot, he's equipped to deal with politicians.
  • In Squidbillies, Early was promoted to CEO to fill a minority quota and to act as a scapegoat for the company's many misdeeds.
  • In Tom Goes To The Mayor, Tom took a position of "CEO" with a mining company, only to discover later that the position was actually "Chief minEr On duty."
  • The Simpsons episode "C.E.D'oh" is a good example but also a subversion. Homer learns that the nuclear power plant's legal owner is a canary with a name extremely similar to Mr. Burns, so he takes the fall if things go wrong. Homer then releases the canary and convinces Mr. Burns to make him the new patsy...at which point Homer fires Burns and takes full control. Burns takes it surprisingly well.
  • An episode of Phineas and Ferb sees Doofenshmirtz put in charge of Danville for the day by his brother in order to take the blame for a supervillain presently on the loose.
  • On Futurama, Zapp's incompetence causes the space cruise ship Titanic to get sucked into a black hole, and while everyone is evacuating, declares that a captain should go down with his ship. He then promotes Kif to captain and flees.
  • On Avatar: The Last Airbender, Azula allows Zuko to take credit for killing Aang, which allows him to return home with his honor restored... because she's not entirely confident that Aang's dead, and doesn't want to be the one who gets blamed if the Avatar turns up alive.

     Real Life  
  • During World War One the German Supreme High Command ran the country as a virtual military dictatorship. On realising the war was lost, however, they handed over power to a civilian government which was forced to agree to the unpopular terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Hindenberg and Lundendorf then promoted the idea that an undefeated Germany had been stabbed in the back by those same civilians, a myth eagerly taken up by the Nazis.
  • Obvious parody elements aside, the "Admiral Donitz" comedy sketch discussed above is more-or-less how the real situation went down at the end of the Second World War. The real Karl Dönitz became President upon Hitler's death less through merit and more because everyone else who might have been in the running was either dead or fled... and the field was pretty small to begin with as Hitler thought that the Navy was the only military branch that hadn't betrayed him. The real Dönitz was, of course, a tad less oblivious to The Battle of Berlin, but for three whole weeks he was the leader of Nazi Germany, and even held cabinet meetings despite having no communications with the outside world, no forces to lead, no resources and being surrounded by Allied troops the whole time.
  • Likewise, Admiral Kantaro Suzuki became prime minister of Japan in the final days of World War II. He was an octogenarian naval hero from the Russo-Japanese War fifty years prior and a long-time moderate politician (which made him the target of several assassination attempts). As prime minister, his only job was to arrange Japan's surrender to the Allies.
  • French Marshal Petain falls into this trope as well. He was recalled from his post as ambassador to Franco's Spain to become the prime minister only when it became clear that France was hopelessly beaten. In fact, Petain told Franco in parting that his job was to make the best of the mess that other politicians had created. While he was (pretty fairly) castigated after the war for embracing fascism too eagerly after the surrender, he was indeed placed in a situation where avoiding blame would have been next to impossible.
  • In the final months of the USSR, in the aftermath of the GKChP coup, Mikhail Gorbachev was restored to his position as President of the USSR only to find that he had no power and his plans to preserve the Union as a looser confederation were beyond hope. His only job was basically to abolish his own post, but many people still blamed him for accepting the fall of the USSR.


The ScapegoatBlame TropesSilent Scapegoat
The Peter PrincipleThese Tropes Have Been PromotedPromotion Not Punishment
The Peter PrincipleI Need an Index by MondayPromotion Not Punishment
Princess for a DayNarrative DevicesProtector Behind Bars

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