May 8, 2016

CNN's Fareed Zakaria reminds his viewers that Trump's experience as a businessman doesn't mean much when it comes to understanding how to govern. Trump seems to think he can run the country like dictator if we're unfortunate enough find ourselves facing the prospect of a President Trump next year.

As Zakaria discussed in his recent article for The Washington Post, he's going to be in for an unpleasant surprise if God forbid that happens: The problem with Trump as CEO of America: Government is not a business:

There is some debate about Trump’s record as a businessman. He inherited a considerable fortune from his father and, by some accounts, would be wealthier today if he had simply invested in a stock index fund. His greatest skill has been to play a successful businessman on his television show “The Apprentice.”

Regardless, it is fair to say that Trump has formidable skills in marketing. He has been able to create a brand around his name like few others. The real problem is that these talents might prove largely irrelevant because commerce is quite different from government. [...]

In interviews with the New York Times, Trump imagined his first 100 days in office: He would summon congressional leaders to lobster dinners at Mar-a-Lago, threaten CEOs in negotiations at the White House (“The Oval Office would be an amazing place [from which] to negotiate”) and make great deals. When talking about the positions he would fill, Trump explained, “I want people in those jobs who care about winning. The U.N. isn’t doing anything to end the big conflicts in the world, so you need an ambassador who would win by really shaking up the U.N.”

This displays an astonishing lack of understanding about the world. The United Nations can’t end conflicts because it has no power. That rests with sovereign governments (unless Trump wants to cede U.S. authority to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon). The notion that all it would take is a strong U.S. ambassador to shake up the U.N., end conflicts and “win” is utterly removed from reality. Yet it is a perfect example of business thinking applied in a completely alien context.

Success in business is important, honorable and deeply admirable. But it requires a particular set of skills that are often very different from those that produce success in government. As Walter Lippmann wrote in 1930 about Herbert Hoover, possibly the most admired business leader of his age, “It is true, of course, that a politician who is ignorant of business, law, and engineering will move in a closed circle of jobs and unrealities. . . . [But the] popular notion that administering a government is like administering a private corporation, that it is just business, or housekeeping, or engineering, is a misunderstanding. The political art deals with matters peculiar to politics, with a complex of material circumstances, of historic deposit, of human passion, for which the problems of business or engineering as such do not provide an analogy.”

Maybe one of these days someone will get around to explaining to Trump that a president is not a CEO or a dictator.

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