Dangers from Trump’s narrow hinterland

Donald Trump speaking with the media at a hangar at Mesa Gateway Airport in Mesa, Arizona. / Gage Skidmore
Donald Trump speaking with the media at a hangar at Mesa Gateway Airport in Mesa, Arizona. / Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump is currently in what might prove to be the most comfortable spell of his post-Election years. It is the honeymoon period when people set aside or play down their misgivings about the new person’s weaknesses and instead encourage voters to give the President-to-be a chance and to wish him (as always hitherto, it is a male) well. That is a good-natured as well as a sensible thing to do, recognising as it does the fact that, like it or not, he is going to be President and for at least four years. Nonetheless, it is equally important to quickly and continually highlight limitations that could, once the President is in office, harm or even hobble the governmental machinery, so that others at least and maybe even the man himself can be fully aware of them in advance.

During the Election campaign, a large number of VIPs from Barack Obama downwards, not to mention many in the electorate, highlighted a significant and varied number of negative factors about Trump. However, two features that could affect his performance disastrously received relatively little publicity, perhaps because it was widely thought that Trump would never be in the role for people to worry about them. Now that he is about to be, they should be focused on with the sharpest of lights.

The first is that Donald Trump had never been elected to public office, nor appointed to a political office. That is not unprecedented. Some of his predecessors were in similar situations: Zachary Taylor; Ulysses S Grant; William Howard Taft; Herbert Hoover; and Dwight D Eisenhower. However, in each instance the new President had at least experienced a role that was enmeshed in government and meant working closely with civilian officials: four of them as senior military officers and one (Hoover) as Secretary of Commerce. Trump brings no such experience to bear. He will enter the White House entirely new to the workings of US administration and legislating, the potential and limitations of civil bureaucracy, the subtle complexities of international political relations, the US’s various worldwide military alliances and commitments, and so on.

The second weakness is that his entire career has been as a businessman. The fact that he has proved very capable in his various business appointments does not obviate the risk of harm that experience only in this one arena could bring to governmental processes. On the contrary, it could increase it. Trump has already shown he has the prejudices of many business people about government: that it is a hindrance to productive business.

This was shown when Trump announced that for every new regulation affecting the private sector, two existing ones would have to go. This is an ill-considered, sledgehammer approach to the ever-important nexus between Government and business. More astute business people the world over learn that it is best to work in a reasonably loose harness with Governments so as to enhance their understanding of business and to minimise the chances of their introducing damaging regulation. But Trump appears to perceive regulation as intrinsically harmful.

If he maintains this attitude his Presidency will be skewed too much in favour of private sector organisations and activities, whose sum value amounts to much less than a good government of a powerful country.

He would probably be unsympathetic to increased concerns over the ‘revolving door’, the allegedly under-supervised movements of individuals between the public and the private sectors, in America and elsewhere, including the UK. This subject has, of course, gained prominence through the now long-established (though not wholly buy neurontin over the counter evaluated) interaction between Governments and private sectors resulting from outsourcing services and privatising State assets. It is difficult to imagine Trump giving much credence to, say, the international anti-corruption body Transparency International, not because he would favour corruption but because he would probably view it narrowly as an antagonistic, anti-business force. He might not discern the bigger picture that all successful ruling politicians must see.

This is not at all to say that business experience is a political handicap, far from it. With healthy business activity being indispensable to the prosperity upon which good government in part depends, a valid criticism of Western Governments, not least in the UK, is that too many of their leading politicians and officials have lacked business experience. Also, Trump is far from being alone in being a President with a background in business. In the 20th and 21st centuries, Warren Harding, Harry Truman and both Bushes had had careers in business.

Also, it may be noted that Truman, who is generally agreed to have been a great President, did not have a conspicuously successful time in business. Conversely, Harding was very successful in business but has consistently been rated one of the worst Presidents. George W Bush has also received poor ratings, though it is perhaps too soon to make a definitive judgement on him. Nonetheless, it may reasonably be inferred from all this that business experience is largely irrelevant to Presidential success, and there is no evidence to support any notion that Trump’s achievements in business mean he will be a good President.

Donald Trump’s honeymoon period was being overshadowed in November by reports on what would amount to several conflicts of interest for him as the new US President. This was because of his significant business dealings in at least 20 countries, some linking him to foreign political organisations. On 30th November he tweeted that he would be ‘leaving my great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country in order to make America great again.’ He felt it was ‘visually important, as president, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses.’ Accordingly, legal documents were ‘being crafted which take me completely out of business operations.’ This should not automatically remove all concerns over Trump’s financial or company affairs. If others in his family take control, will the business interests be satisfactorily balanced with America’s public interests? Also, Trump’s financial secretiveness should not be forgotten. His refusal to date to disclose tax returns and a list of his lenders make this President-elect less financially transparent than recent holders of the top political office.

He felt it was ‘visually important, as president, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses.’ Accordingly, legal documents were ‘being crafted which take me completely out of business operations.’ This should not automatically remove all concerns over Trump’s financial or company affairs. If others in his family take control, will the business interests be satisfactorily balanced with America’s public interests? Also, Trump’s financial secretiveness should not be forgotten. His refusal to date to disclose tax returns and a list of his lenders make this President-elect less financially transparent than recent holders of the top political office.

And, even if a new openness overcame suspicions on these scores, Trump’s lack of political and public office experience plus his lifelong career only in business would remain as significant handicaps to him as the oldest President to enter the Oval Office.

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John Webster 1 Article
Contact me about national and international politics and about political and military history.

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