2016, by far, has been the most troubling and challenging election cycle I’ve experienced. I originally harbored a certain amount of glee that the Republicans didn’t just fill their clown-car with, well… clowns, but that they ultimately decided to let Donald Trump drive. He even had the clown-hair. It was rich indeed, although not in the way Trump likes to bandy about. However, as the election has dragged on, my amusement has transitioned to bewilderment as to why Trump continues to gain popularity with certain demographics, Christians in particular. Yes, there are always a few morons who will support just about anything, but we’re talking about close to half of eligible voters in our nation. It’s not a lunatic fringe. Neither is it mere idiocy that’s driving these tens of millions of Trump voters. I don’t understand them, but it is a categorical mistake to assume that all these people are just idiots. As Trump himself likes to say, “There is something going on here.” I just have no idea what’s driving it. I am tempted to say “fear” or “basic gullibility,” but I recognize that neither of these are significant improvements over “idiocy.” So I’ve interacted with a few acquaintances to see why they support Trump, and inevitably two things come up: Trump’s alleged business acumen, and Hillary Clinton.
It’s the same thing on radio and TV: “Trump’s a great businessman, and Hillary Clinton blah, blah, blah.” Yes, there are also the odd policy proposals that resonate with some people, like Trump’s promised wall-building, refusal to act on climate change, and banning Muslims etc., but as I’ve listened to Trump speak, and seen a series of interviews with his surrogates and spokespeople, none of them are able to say anything substantive about how Trump will accomplish any of his plans, how they might be at odds with the U.S. Constitution, or why Trump’s own business dealings and foreign operations are plainly at odds with his rhetoric. Trump and his folks cannot even answer any questions about his own words or behavior without desperately trying to pivot towards Hillary Clinton. I just keep asking myself, “Who finds this guy even remotely credible?”
But I’ve been drinking the liberal Kool-Aid (and I like it), and it’s clear that millions of people, for whatever reason, find Trump to be a credible candidate, so instead of focusing on all the peripheral garbage that clings to Trump like stank on crap or his complete inability to describe how he will try to accomplish his stated purposes, the focus here is on his number one claim to credibility as a candidate for the Office of President, namely, that he’s a business person. And on that front, there are three questions that deserve the attention of anyone who believes that Trump is qualified to be President because of his experience in business. If you’re a Trump supporter, and you haven’t decided to ignore those who challenge you (nicely done!), then consider this your invitation to answer some questions. Clearly you are no moron, and you may even help me gain some insight into your voting for Trump. And if you haven’t made up your mind yet, these questions are just as relevant for your consideration:
1) Is being just a business person a sufficient qualification for someone to be President?
The primary force driving business is to turn a profit. Oftentimes, that purpose is served by making all other priorities secondary (including what might otherwise be best for its employees, the environment, and broader social contexts). In contrast, the primary role of government is not to turn a profit (or even sell anything at all) but rather to protect and serve its people (ALL its people).*
Of course there are businesses built on merging core values with profitability. The outdoor company, Patagonia and their profitable passion for producing quality gear in environmentally sustainable ways comes to mind. I’m not suggesting that all business leaders and their enterprises are slaves to money or that they sacrifice all decency to worship at the shrine of gold, but that brings us back to Trump. His businesses don’t appear to have merged any higher values at all into his pursuit of money. In fact, it’s a pretty easy case to make that at least one of Trump’s primary business endeavors (casinos) are not even morally neutral, but rather socially questionable at best. The same can be said of Trump’s other business schemes, especially his fraudulent “University.” Trump’s businesses don’t seem to serve any purpose at all beyond making money, and that is a curious thing to make as the core “qualification” for anyone looking to engage in government service, much less the Office of President. In fact, the slavish pursuit of money at the expense of everything else is completely antithetical to the purpose and mission of good governance. It seems to me that Trump fails pretty hard by this measure.
For the sake of comparison, it’s worth mentioning that previous party candidates who ran on a business background (like Mitt Romney most recently) also had strong, relevant experience in publicly held offices. I’m no fan of Romney, but at least he was the former governor of Massachusetts. He also seems to have decent character and general values, but not Trump. Trump has never been elected to ANY public office. He doesn’t even run a publicly traded company that would otherwise be accountable to a constituency of shareholders. He has zero experience working with anyone he can’t boss around or fire.
It seems to me that if just being a business person was a sufficient qualification to run for President, then we would literally have tens of millions of qualified candidates, and that is a pretty big overstatement. Unlike Trump, even if a businessman were exceptionally honest and trustworthy, and had a spotless record of impressive profitability (and no bankruptcies), welcomed transparency and open tax-returns, had a history of paying all his bills, treating his employees and subcontractors well, supporting domestic businesses rather than relying on overseas operations and taking advantage of undocumented workers, it STILL would not mean that this experience made him qualified to be our nation’s chief diplomat, or our military’s Commander in Chief, or that he would know how to work with people he needed but could not dismiss (you know, like Senators and Supreme Court Justices, etc.).
In addition to failing in all the ways the ideal businessperson would succeed, Trump has never held elected office, knows virtually nothing about foreign affairs, domestic policy, or even the basic tenets of the U.S. Constitution or how the Office of the President works. Trump has never served in the military, never had to take orders, and has never had to work with anyone he couldn’t fire or at least manipulate or cheat out of their paycheck if he didn’t like them. And now, just because he claims to have made a lot of money, we’re supposed to take him seriously for the highest and singularly most powerful publicly elected office in the land? We’re really supposed to grant him access to our nuclear launch codes, count on him to be our chief diplomat on the world stage and put him in charge of signing legislation that impacts all U.S. citizens (the 99% who aren’t billionaires like he claims to be)? Are we really going to expect him to be able to work with the other branches of government (whom he can neither hire nor fire) to compromise and get things done? This strains a lot of credibility, and I think Trump supporters and any undecideds need to take this question very seriously. Merely being in business does not qualify one to be President.
2) Does Donald Trump run his businesses in a way that we would want applied to our government?
Pursuit of money is one of the core differences between a CEO of a private, for-profit business enterprises and the Office of the President. There is not a simple transition to one office from the other, but what about serving and protecting people? Does Trump have a record of serving and protecting people within his business operations and personal dealings? That might not seem to be a fair since Trump has never held public office and does not run a business for any purpose other than making money, but the question is absolutely relevant.
I don’t have any special insight here, but it’s enough to consider what we already know about how Trump conducts himself. He has made use of racist and sexist epithets throughout his career, most of which have surfaced during his recent presidential bid. One of the oldest ones to surface was a lawsuit that Trump settled in 1975. It was brought against him by the Department of Justice for his refusal to rent apartments to people of color in New York City. When Hillary Clinton pointed this out in a recent debate, Trump bragged that he settled the suit without having to admit any wrongdoing. Is this the kind of person we want at the helm: a racist cheat who refuses to admit wrongdoing even when caught red-handed? And the 1975 case is not the only example. Trump has been caught in lie after lie this election cycle, and he almost never apologizes. The closest we got was in the aftermath of his bragging about sexual assault on the Access Hollywood tape, in which he ultimately said he was “sorry if someone was offended” by his behavior, which is itself an underhanded move that puts the blame on someone’s reaction to his sexual misconduct rather than the conduct itself.
Additional issues indicative of billionaire-Trump’s quality are his proud remarks about gaming the system to pay zero dollars in federal income tax (how much did you pay last year?), his accusing a federal judge of bias against him for no other reason than that the judge had Mexican-American parents, his categorical denial of climate change while simultaneously preparing his golf courses for rising sea levels, Trump’s bragging that he was able to capitalize on one of the United States worst financial meltdowns in history even as millions of our citizens lost their homes, and his hypocritical sales pitches to supporters about bringing American jobs back home even as he has dozens of enterprises (including manufacturing jobs) abroad. And then we have the fraudulent “Trump University,” his systemic abuse and non-payment of contractors, investors, and debt holders. Trump also refuses transparency on his finances and has consistently made false excuses as to why he won’t release his tax returns.
I could go on about Trump’s character, how he runs his affairs, and how he treats people, but I think any moderately intelligent person can get the idea. Simply put, in addition to Trump’s lack of qualifications to lead a nation based on his status as a businessman, his character and approach to how he deals with people and runs his business is equally concerning. It seems to me that the last thing we want for our nation is to let it be run like Trump’s runs his business.
3. Is Donald Trump even good at business?
I’ve already suggested that merely being a business person is an insufficient qualification for the presidency. I have also made a quick case that character and business ethics matter, and that Trump has a sordid and alarming history on both counts. But for the people who still aren’t quite sure, I think it’s relevant to ask if Trump is even very good at business. This is the weakest of my three questions since it is fairy obvious that Trump is a billionaire even by relatively conservative measures. It is widely speculated that he doesn’t have as many billions as he claims, but even if it’s just 1 billion, that is the equivalent of 1000 million dollars, and that is more money than 99% of the rest of us will ever have. So yeah, that pretty much means that Trump has done okay for himself and is not a fair representative of the average American citizen.
Even so, it begs to be asked, if he is such an awesome businessman, why has Trump had to declare bankruptcy no less than four times? Once is bad enough, but four? There are always extenuating circumstances for bankruptcies, but at the very least it shows that Trump is not the financial wizard that he wants everyone to believe he is.
And perhaps the even bigger question to ask regards why Trump won’t release his tax returns. There are two main reasons he might not want to, the first of which is that it may reveal a serious conflict of interests for his presidency. Odd ties to Russian subsidiaries or scandalous, poll-hurting dealings in so-called “sin” industries like pornography or arms sales are theoretical (although admittedly unlikely) possibilities. Alternatively, and this is largely speculated to be the most probable, disclosing his tax returns might reveal that Trump is not as great at business as he wants his followers to believe. This could be a real problem for Trump since he has indeed built his entire candidacy on his alleged business wits. After all, that is precisely why I put together this blog post. If Trump kind of sucks at business, and business is his only claim to legitimacy, then what’s left of his credibility?
I think it likely that Trump is no more a genius as a businessman than he is as a political outsider. Yes, he still has assets worth at least a billion dollars and probably more, and that is certainly not nothing, but assets are not the same as liquidity. No need for a deep financial discussion, but to explain the difference, let’s say you live in a $200,000 house that you own outright (paid off -good for you-). You are also a stellar budget master and have managed to save $10,000 in your savings account. Assuming no other debts or income, you technically have a net worth of $210,000, but only $10,000 of that is what is referred to as “liquid,” or money that is easily accessed. So, for example, you are worth $210k, but you couldn’t go out and pay cash for something like a $125,000 Porsche GT2 unless you first sold your house (which takes a lot of time and may create other problems for your situation).
Your house is a financial asset, but it is not liquid, and that brings us back to Trump. Trump may well be worth several billion on paper in assets, but it is also quite possible that he is cash-poor and doesn’t actually make that much money or have many liquid assets from year to year. This would be fairly devastating to the image that Trump desperately needs his followers to buy into. That Trump basically admits that he has figured out a legal way to pay no federal income tax is an additional piece of the puzzle that provides a clue into Trump’s questionable finances. He’s probably just not that good at business.
If you’re still with me, what do you think?
1. Is just being just a business person sufficient qualification for Donald Trump to be President?
2. Does Donald Trump run his businesses in a way that we would want applied to our government?
3. Is Donald Trump even good at business?
I’ve spilt a lot of ink and used what would have otherwise been a glorious pre-election Monday afternoon, but in addition to all of the insanity and frustration that this election cycle has brought us, my three questions regarding Trump’s candidacy have been burning in my head and now they are out there for everyone who follows my glorious and keenly insightful blog to consider and perhaps respond to. So, to all 3.5 of you who’ve made it this far… thank you.