What is it that makes people believe that someone’s business experience is transferable to being a political leader in a democracy, such as the United States? I found an interesting article in Governing: The States and Localities magazine, written by Louis Jacobson in 2012. I would suggest reading the entire article, but here are the most important, in my opinion, takeaways:
Strengths in Campaigning:
1. Being an outsider
2. Personal wealth
3. Leadership, charisma and experience at selling a plan
Drawbacks in Campaigning:
1. Lack of familiarity and finesse with key policy issues
2. Risk of being plagued by past business problems
3. Difficulty dealing with the media
Strengths in Governing:
1. Experience with numbers
2. A technocratic approach
Drawbacks in Governing:
1. Excessive egotism: "Most of the folks who come in have little understanding of how things work, but are arrogant enough to think they can change 200+ years of American governing," said Eric Herzik, a University of Nevada-Reno political scientist. "It is especially ironic to hear this from folks who also argue we need to get back to constitutional principles. 'Separation of powers' and 'checks and balances' are not business concepts."
"Businesses tend to be dictatorships, where the edict of the CEO is carried out by an army of minions," said Block of the University of California Center Sacramento. "Governance is a messy process where coalition-building is required and governors need to be good listeners willing to compromise. Goals also have social implications that business executives often do not consider when making business decisions. And their constituents in the business world -- their stockholders -- tend to be, for the most part, a homogenous group with one common goal: profits. As governor, the constituency is a varied mishmash with a variety of goals."
2. Personnel issues: Despite two generally successful terms, New Mexico Republican Gov. Gary Johnson had a problem filling key state jobs, a history that one New Mexico political observer traces to his background as a construction executive.
"One disadvantage to being an outsider, particularly a limited-government outsider, is finding a critical mass of cabinet and sub-cabinet level talent that both thinks like you do and has the chops to actually manage big, complex government programs, or knows accounting rules for the government rather than the private sector," the observer said. "It was not uncommon for him to simply leave positions unfilled. Sometimes he had a single political appointee fill two or even three posts."
Do not these strengths and drawbacks not describe perfectly President-elect Trump’s campaign and first few actions as he prepares to take over the executive branch of the U.S. government? In my opinion, the businessperson’s strengths in the campaign are evident in how Trump ran his campaign. He ran as an outsider when the population’s approval of their governing institutions and politicians is low, claimed that his personal wealth made him “beholden” to no one but the people, and sold the people on change that was not detailed (build a wall, drain the swamp, repeal Obamacare). His weaknesses as a candidate were evident in the three presidential debates and the one forum as his knowledge of government policy was limited, and in many cases, just wrong. He also had business practices that were questionable morally, if not legally. His relationship with the media was contentious, making a point to criticize them at his rallies and events.
Now, as he attempts to assemble his staff and cabinet, his problems with personnel are becoming evident. For me, the most severe limitation is his egotism and the inherent and important distinction between leading a business and leading a democratic nation. Businesses are autocratic; there is no need to deal with independent and coequal centers of power and influence. A democratic, constitutional government is different. As Jacobson notes, “Governance is a messy process where coalition-building is required and governors need to be good listeners willing to compromise.” Also, the goals are different and incompatible.