Watching the Republican debate last night, some of the Republican candidates repeatedly credited their business acumen as advantageous to a job as president of the United States.
When I moved to the USA in 1990, I was surprised at the seeming popularity of this notion. I came from Denmark, a – back then – solidly social democratic society.
It seemed odd to me that the American people often seemed to favor solutions from the business world to those of government.
Even Democratic candidates were careful not to laud the role of government. “Government” seemed to be a four-letter word here, signaling something intrinsically bad and flawed.
One of the front-runners of the Republican Party even talks about how he repeatedly used the bankruptcy laws of the country to his benefit.
As I view this through my lens of an outsider’s perspective, it seems odd that the people of this nation are willing to consider this kind of a person as a serious contender for the highest office of the land. Our president is supposed to be elected as the head of our country as a steward of the laws, not someone who speaks happily about how he seeks to take advantage and personally benefit from them.
I shudder at the thought that this kind of “business smarts” is considered an asset to potentially leading our country.
Think about it: During one of his four bankruptcy proceedings Donald Trump gave up a yacht, an airline, and various other assets to settle the bankruptcy. As the leader of our nation, would he deliver the country into bankruptcy too?
And if so, what might he give up on our behalf? Settle the debt with China by letting them have Florida, West Virginia, and – oh say – the state of Vermont?
To Trump, as a pure-bred, 21st century TV-personality-capitalist, it is often about the applause and the ratings; it is about being noticed. He habitually measures his success as a politician by the amounts of applause he gets.This is the thought-process of a celebrity. Not a public servant.
Is this who we want running the country?
Obviously successful business leaders have qualities that can benefit the President’s office. Among them are good leadership skills, ability to delegate, to hire the right people for the job, and to negotiate advantageous win-win, long-term deals and solutions both nationally and internationally.
Furthermore, it would seem important that a presidential candidate has a broad education and/or penetrating practical experience in fields such as: economics, political science, sociology, and history.
They should be able to motivate and inspire others both inside and outside of Washington DC. This ability ideally should come from being someone who walks their talk: Somebody who can inspire others because they lead by example.
From my vantage point, the people of the United States will benefit from considering if the candidate who earns their vote is someone who wants to serve the people.
Having good business skills is not in and of itself something that benefits the presidential office, because:
Government is not a business:
A business exists to create profit for its owners and shareholders. Businesses offer job opportunities for its employees. But businesses are not made of the employees, by the employees, and for the employees. The workers are often there to create a fat bottom line for those at the top of the food chain.
This is obviously not the purpose of our government.
The notion that “business” and “government” should be conducted similarly, is a bit like saying that water and oil should be able to mix. They don’t.
They have completely different, albeit both very important, functions.
Trying to drink oil while we pour water in the oil tank of our car is not a good idea. It is in fact dangerous to our health and well-being. It leads to dehydration and rusted machinery!
Government takes care of things that are not profitable, but that provide a service to the people they serve:
- Government pays for the ability of the US Military to serve and protect.
- Social Security exists to help all of us when we grow old. It secures that we can face the sunset times of our lives with dignity. It is there so we don’t have to worry about going to the poorhouse, or having to pay for health care when we can no longer work.
- The US Postal Service is a constitutionally mandated service of the people for the people. Where else can you send a one ounce letter from coast to coast for 49 cents?
- The coastguard ensures maritime safety. It watches and patrols our coasts.
- The government provides support and healthcare for veterans.
- Government provides roads and infrastructure that allow businesses and the rest of us to get around without having to pay toll at every intersection.
- Government provides necessary research that benefits the common good.Many businesses later benefit from this research without having to pay for the hard (and unprofitable) ground work.
None of these, and many other, government services are – and neither should they be – profitable propositions!
Therefore they cannot, by the very nature of them, be run like businesses. And this is not a problem. It is the beauty of a system that considers the interests of the people. This notion is at the core of a social democracy, of which we already have many components here in the USA.
The government provides many of the services that we need, but that we really don’t want to pay for directly. It is a way to have a cost-effective, collective buy-in towards the things we take for granted, and we don’t want to think about.
Paying for these services through taxes is a bit like kids begrudgingly eating the vegetables on mom’s table so they can go spend our allowance on the dessert at the ice cream truck:
We are happy to pay for the ice cream in our lives, but really: those old Brussels sprouts and string beans; we only eat them because we have to. Yet our bodies fall apart without the fiber, the trace minerals and micro nutrients in these foods. They are usually not fun to eat – but they are nonetheless vital for our survival.
The government is likewise vital to the well-being of our country.
Thoughtful Republicans, such as Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner, point to what they see as the dangers of hateful speech towards the role of government. They ask:
“Skepticism toward government is one thing; outright hostility is injurious to the health of American democracy itself. How can citizens be expected to love their country if they are encouraged to hold its government in utter contempt?”
The non-applause soliciting Republican presidential candidate, John Kasich calls the lack of serious consideration for real issues in the current conservative debate: crazy.
Imagine how wonderful it would be, if we could have a serious political debate in this country without the snazzy talking points, the finger pointing, the gotcha moments, and the fanciful promises of easy solutions.
Wouldn’t it be nice to hear an honest debate about how to lead our government, rather than the tried-and-true applause-seeking mantra that government is the main problem facing us?
Our government has several problems, most of which are due to insidious influence from the invasion of corporate lobbyists, big money, dubious reports from think-tanks, and special interests in the halls of Congress.
But to look to solve the government’s problems by coming at it as if it were a business is a fantasy from the playbook of a time gone by.
And no, Mr. Trump – it is certainly not personal, but running a country isn’t “just business.”