Can we finally nix the myth that what this nation needs is a businessman who will “run America like a business”? If mining magnate Herbert Hoover wasn’t sufficient evidence, bankrupt casino hack Donald Trump should be the clincher.
In Florida the other day, a retired banker named John Dudley told CNN why he, like so many other seniors, will not vote for Trump a second time. In his words, Trump “blew it. We were so excited in the beginning. A businessman to run our country like a business, and it hasn’t happened.”
Enough, already, with the nonsensical business-porn! Hoover was the only previous president who’d made his entire living by meeting a business payroll, but he had no leadership instincts and his one-term tenure during the Great Depression was so disastrous that the Republicans got exiled from the White House for the ensuing 20 years.
Here’s a modest insight that should be self-evident: Running a business is very different from running a country – especially when the businessman in question is a well-documented grifter with no social skills.
A lot of people have a knee-jerk antipathy toward “politicians.” In truth, politicians cajole and persuade and make the sausage that grinds governance. The smart ones intuit the national mood and move accordingly. The smart ones know that government, at its best, acts in the public interest, and that people pine for it in times of crisis.
Four years too late, people like that retired Florida banker have woken up. There was scads of evidence in 2016 that if Trump were to run America the way he’d been running his business, he’d run us into the ground. But people didn’t bother to pay attention. They ignored what was patently obvious – that this so-called business “closer” couldn’t close a window if someone showed him the latch.
How could Trump “run America like a business” if he couldn’t even make money running casinos? It was a matter of public record that he’d filed for bankruptcy six times – in 1991, 1992, 2004, and 2009 – a fact that was well aired during the 2016 presidential debates. The Wall Street Journal had reported in detail that none of the U.S. banks would loan him a dime. And it was also well known that, in Atlantic City, Trump had fled his serial failures by stiffing contractors, creditors, and his partners.
It was also common knowledge – or should have been – that Trump the businessman was tight with the mob. He was caught on video partying with mobster Robert LiButti, and in 1991 New Jersey regulators fined a Trump casino $200,000 for indulging LiButti’s demand that all African Americans and women be removed from his gaming tables.
But, alas, too many voters paid no attention, bedazzled as they were by his smoke and mirrors. Granted, there was no pandemic on the horizon (although the Obama administration, mindful of the possibility, had assembled a team that Trump subsequently fired). But there was not a scintilla of evidence prior to the election that Trump, having spent zero minutes in public service, knew or cared about government rules, norms, or constitutional restraints – or understood anything about the difficult but imperative art of governance.
And now we’re sowing the whirlwind, with more than 130,000 dead. He’s fleeing the pandemic the way he fled his business wreckage in Atlantic City, leaving others holding the bag.
A few points of contrast: Franklin D. Roosevelt pulled us out of the Great Depression and won a world war – and he was never a businessman. Twenty three million new jobs were created during Bill Clinton’s tenure – and he was never a businessman. Barack Obama pulled us out of the Great Recession, with a jobless rate as low as 4.7 percent – and he was never a businessman. If you catch my drift.
So let’s bid goodbye, once and for all, to the deified businessman model. Indeed, the warning signs about Trump were evident 33 years ago, in this burst of prose: “You can’t con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.”
So said Trump, in “The Art of the Deal.”